Article > Test of Balance
Description :: The Press: Right or Left leaning?
I suppose in the interest of full disclosure that I should tell you that I used to watch Fox News (cable was free) and am still a fan. Before you read this, take a look at this:

And this:

And this:

Oh and I'm glad I caught this:

Almost missed this one!

Yes, yes, look at all of them. Browse if you must. :) Okay, now think for as long as you have to to see the irony. If you have to give up, read on and I'll explain.

You gave up huh? :) Okay. So the fun thing is that only two of these things have a section on Allegation of Bias. I personally find one of them to have a more reasoned tone and to be rather defense. The other seems to have one opinion that is being put forth while the other is absent. Allegations of Bias have been made with CNN and CBS. There have also been various scandals (CBS had one recently) that are comparable with Fox News' little cow scandal back near their beginning. Maybe you think a presidential scandal isn't as big of a deal as something regarding our bovine community.

Where's the section on the presidential documents scandal for CBS? How about the ABC memo in which reporters are advised to apply a different standard to Kerry and Bush in regards to the truthfulness of their attacks on one another. If you don't know about them, this is a problem in terms of the news. If you do and don't care....I can't help you there. For those of you who are keeping score, if any memo came out of Fox asking the reporters to question the challenger's claims more than the incumbents it'd be trumpted on the mountaintops.

Another thing should be noted. I continually see people within the New York Times complaining that the Times is biased towards the left. I have never heard anything like that from Fox News. I recently saw several interviews with reporters from Fox News in which each of them Only one of these contains any section regarding "allegation of bias." The problem is beliefs regarding press bias go basically three ways. 1) The press is right wing generally. 2) The press generally leans way left. 3) The newspapers and most of the TV lean left, the radio leans very very right (Air America had 2 viewers last I checked, so they don't count).

Take a look at the overall wikipedia picture. Draw your own conclusion.

Getting to the point

Specifically, I want to talk about this point made within the wikipedia post.

"In 2001, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media "watchdog" group, released a report titled "Fox: The Most Biased Name in News" ([5] ( The report claims that of the guests on the network's signature political show, Special Report with Brit Hume, 89 percent were Republicans, 65 percent were conservatives, 91 percent were male, and 93 percent were white, while, by comparison, on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports 57% of the guests were Republican and 32 percent were conservatives. FAIR also claimed that since 1998, one out of every 12 episodes of The O'Reilly Factor has featured a segment on Jesse Jackson, with themes such as "How personal are African-Americans taking the moral failures of Reverend Jesse Jackson?" A study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, sponsored by the Ford, Carnegie, and Tides foundations, reports that viewers of FOX News were more likely to hold misconceptions than viewers of any other network ([6] (, link in PDF). The study lists three beliefs, which it labels "misperceptions," that are more common among FOX News viewers:
+That evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq had been found;
+That weapons of mass destruction had been discovered in Iraq; and
+That the U.S. had received wide international support in its decision to go to war."

Much should be said here. I could defend against any of these points on behalf of Fox, but that might kill my main point. The most serious is the bulleted portion.

These so called misperceptions can be easily dealt with. The most serious is number 2. During the search for WMD, I can tell you that I was watching like a Hawk for any sign of any WMD at all. I was sure we'd find something right? I watched Fox faithfully. No reports that WMD was found except for the Sarin gas bomb. But lets think for a moment. Many of the major news outlets pounded the Abu Ghraib situation to death and people got sick of hearing about it. Fox News' viewers (as I recall) even got sick of hearing the same old story, the same old spin on both sides. My point is, that if most of the TV News is left wing, they would naturally be pounding the drum of "we haven't found any WMD." Thus, almost no one would believe otherwise.

As to the other two, its really rather silly (and I think that this point has a targetted audience of people who already believe that Fox News is biased). There was a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Indeed, Fox News trumpeted this fact and the fact that the facts were being unreported and misreported. Fox was quick to acknowledge that there was no connection between the two in the planning and execution of 9/11 and pointed out continually (i'm a fan remember?) that that doesn't mean there wasn't a connection. Indeed, the New York Times front page article trumpeted that no connection was found between Iraq and Al Qaeda. You had to read the article itself to get the "fine print." In regards to international support, the entire discussion is silly. We have many many nations that support us. We have a few large countries that don't. There are undoubtedly a large number of small nations that don't support us or don't care. If you can't have an international force without every nation being on board, there is no such thing as an international force: moot point. If you can't have an international force without France or Germany on board, then I'd say I don't care to have an international force.

In other words, this FAIR argument isn't fair. And it doesn't make its point if you are paying attention.

But it did get me thinking since it was worrisome that many Fox Viewers didn't understand that no WMD was found. That's really silly.

And then I came up with this theory.

Press Test

It seems to me that much of the bias I care about (the important bias right?) isn't "they covered the story from a right wing perspective" an argument so frequently made regarding Fox News. How can you cover Abu Ghraib from a conservative perspective? No, the real problem is when an issue just isn't covered at all. I'm told this is called "agenda setting" and i'm told that the NYT does it all the time. Many, many newspapers take their cues from the NYT.

For instance, Bill O'Reilly (i'm pretty sure it was him) was covering an incident in which a straight man was beaten to death by a bunch of gay men. Yeah. Yes, you read that right. No, i'm not getting that other one backwards. Yeah. Seriously. Bill was wondering aloud why this wasn't being reported. Naturally, you and I as well as Bill know why. Incidentally, when I tell people this story they say "that happened?" Ever since I heard that I watched Bill faithfully and critically, watching like a hawk for errors. After all, who's a better one to tell whether Bill is biased, a person who watches his show or a person who doesn't watch his show? If you said "a person who doesn't watch his show" you need to ......nevermind.

So, my theory is that truly dangerous press bias usually results less in issues being covered with a slant and more in issues being not covered at all. Oh, like the situation in Sudan. That didn't get any attention for ages. Yay 24 hour news cycle. People just have a limited amount of stuff to care about. Oh, another one. I'm told that during the Clinton administration, there were almost no reports on, I believe it was homelessness. This despite the fact that this drum was pounded during the "Bush the elder" administration. Yay for agenda setting.

A FAIRER test would be to test viewers/readers to see what important events happened that they were completely ignorant of to see if there is a systematic problem. Say, the fact that there was a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda and that it was so unknown as to be called a "misperception." Maybe...the fact that Kerry was excommunicated. Personally, I think that's a much better litmus test for press bias. Oh oh oh, I got another one. How about "How in the world did the war on terror stop being about terrorism (that's pronounced tearism) and start being only about Al Qaeda????????" Sure wasn't anything the Right was saying...that's a clue. Oh, another one. You'll hear all the time that Fox had great ratings during the RNC's convention. They point to this as though that's evidence of bias. How often on the news do you hear that Fox kicked everybody's butts during the Dems convention as well? Ohhhhhh that'd invalidate that entire point huh? Sorry. You see how omitting one fact can make the rest difficult to understand. Grarrr!