Fox News is looking inward. Last Thursday night on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg brought some no-nonsense analysis to the question of where the network sits on the ideological spectrum. “Liberals are going to play down liberal screwups. Fox News is going to play down conservative screwups,” said Goldberg.
In most precincts, Goldberg’s analysis would occasion a yawn or a shrug: Of course Fox News plays down conservative screwups. It’s a conservative channel.
Yet Goldberg encountered opposition from O’Reilly, who scanned the Fox News schedule for evenhandedness. First off, he pointed out that contributors to “The O’Reilly Factor” are willing to “hammer” Republicans as well as Democrats; second off, he argued that hosts Greta Van Susteren, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier aren’t ideologically or partisan-oriented; third off, he said that there’s “no right-wing jihad” on his network.
One night later, Fox News host Sean Hannity took up the matter. “As far as I’m concerned, I know that the people say that Fox is conservative,” said Hannity. “I’m a registered Conservative. As far as I know, I’m the only one on this channel that has a show that says they are a conservative. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any other network that allows a conservative to have one hour, one hour.”
And in a display of authentic on-air transparency, Hannity said that he runs an “advocacy news program,” as opposed to straight-up journalism. “I am a talk-show host,” he said. Guest John Nolte of Breitbart.com noted that Fox News does more “straight news” than MSNBC, rebutting a claim by President Obama that MSNBC and Fox News polarize the country with their opinion programming. Liberal Juan Williams cited his freedom to express his views on Fox News: “That’s the thing about Fox — they don’t shut you down.”
There’s some merit to some of these claims. Fox News does do a lot of hard news, as the Erik Wemple Blog pointed out in an immersion-watching experiment. Liberals are free to express their views on air, for sure. And some anchors are more ideological than others.
For two reasons, however, Goldberg is more right than even he cared to assert.
1) “Fox & Friends.” This marathonic, massively rightwardly tilted morning program is the grape juice of Fox News: Throw a drop or two in a tall glass of water, and it colors the entire liquid. Just about any “Fox & Friends” broadcast — complete with almost purposefully ill-informed thoughts and idiotic questions — is enough to end any argument about the network’s fealty to its “fair and balanced” slogan.
2) Story selection. O’Reilly can yammer all he wants about Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren, but what matters is the material that crops up on their programs — and on all the other shows around the Fox News schedule. Is Obamacare in trouble? Expect ’round-the-clock coverage. Is there a new report showing that Obamacare may be working? Do not expect ’round-the-clock coverage.