From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
WSJ documents the "assault on Fox News"

July 20, 2004 9:34 AM

Brent Bozell isn't pleased: "They're doing the dirty work of the Democratic party and everybody knows it." And the Heritage Foundation's Mark Tapscott calls it "corporate guerilla harassment."

Karl Struble, a Democratic media advisor responds: "For years, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and the other right-wing bozos have been rabble-rousing people on the right. Now, Democrats and progressives are fighting back."

With a vengeance, I might add.

Liberals Step Up Political Assault Against Fox News
July 20, 2004; Page B1

During presidential election years, conservative politicians have often attacked the media for their liberal bias. But during this year's campaign, liberals are fighting back with what they see as a powerful issue -- the alleged conservative slant of the Fox News Channel, a unit of the media conglomerate News Corp.

The assault on Fox News started on July 8, with a report from media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting claiming that in the six months through Dec. 19, 2003, 57% of guests on Fox News's popular evening news show, "Special Report with Brit Hume" were conservatives.

The next week, left-leaning advocacy groups MoveOn.Org and Center for American Progress sponsored the release of a documentary "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," which uses clips from the cable channel to show what the filmmakers claim is a pattern of right-wing bias and support for the Republican agenda.

Yesterday, MoveOn.Org and political watchdog Common Cause filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that Fox News Channel's slogan "fair and balanced" violates the federal agency's prohibition against deceptive advertising. At the same time, the Independent Media Institute, an advocacy group for alternative journalism, announced it had filed a challenge against Fox News' trademark on the term "fair and balanced."

This type of concerted campaign against a single news outlet is rare, but not surprising given the tenor of this year's hotly contested presidential election. "In a razor-thin race like this, you need to fire up your base," says Thomas Hollihan, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. "An issue like this gets those hard-core liberals focused and attentive. It's a kind of issue that people can talk about at work."

The campaign against Fox News Channel partly reflects the growing importance of cable news channels as the main arena in which these elections are played out. Four years ago, more Americans said they got their political news from the broadcast evening news than cable news, according to a study by Pew Research Center, an independent opinion research group based in Washington, D.C. But this year, the study shows that the cable channels have eclipsed the nightly network news. And among cable channels, Fox News Channel wins the highest ratings.

Fox News Channel was founded in 1996 by Roger Ailes, a former Republican political consultant, who wanted to create an alternative to what he believed was the liberal bias of mainstream media such as CNN. Mr. Ailes loaded up the prime-time schedule with conservative commentators such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, but focused on straight news during the daytime lineup.

"If they can attack Fox News to this extreme, then all news organizations are at risk to be targeted by similar attacks," says Fox News Spokesman Rob Zimmerman. "It's best to ignore nuts."

Critics such as MoveOn.Org and Common Cause charge that Fox News leans to the right even during its straight news segments. "We think Fox News is really the poster child for how the concept of journalism in media has been deconstructed," says MoveOn.Org Co-Founder Wes Boyd. "It's no longer about the search for the truth. Fox has taken up a truly partisan role."

Common Cause President Chellie Pingree adds that the campaign against Fox News is meant to highlight increasing media consolidation, which many feel threatens to limit diversity. "That goes well beyond one news network," she says. Both Ms. Pingree and Mr. Boyd point out that their campaign is not linked to the Democratic party.

But conservative strategists say they aren't buying it. "They're doing the dirty work of the Democratic party and everybody knows it," says Brent Bozell, a conservative media watchdog. Mark Tapscott, director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, calls the anti-Fox News campaign "corporate guerilla harassment."

Democratic consultants and strategists say they are pleased that MoveOn.Org is taking a page from the conservative playbook. In 1970, Vice President Spiro Agnew famously attacked the press as "nattering nabobs of negativism," helping boost President Richard Nixon's popularity. Since then, many conservative politicians have found that attacking the liberal media strikes a chord with voters.

"For years, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and the other right-wing bozos have been rabble-rousing people on the right," says Karl Struble, a Democratic media adviser. "Now, Democrats and progressives are fighting back."

Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster who was an adviser to former presidential candidate Howard Dean, says that progressives are finally capitalizing on the fact that "people don't like the media in general." Mr. Maslin says that when Mr. Dean criticized the media conglomerates that control much of the nation's news outlets, his standing in the polls soared.

"That was one of the most popular things he ever said," Mr. Maslin says. "I wish he'd said it even more. The fact is it's potent."

Comedian Al Franken also found bashing Fox News to be lucrative. His book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," became a bestseller last year after Fox News sued him for trademark infringement. Fox later dropped the suit after a federal judge ruled the title was protected by the First Amendment."

In an interview, Mr. Franken says he is pleased with the current campaign against Fox News. "Fair and balanced is like the big lie," he says. "When they sued me on my book, I didn't know if they were suing for infringement of the trademark or stealing the joke of using fair and balanced ironically."

But others say the campaign against Fox News may be misguided. After all, Fox News's top-rated program, "The O'Reilly Factor," only attracts about two million viewers on an average night.

Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent Washington, D.C., think tank says the public doesn't care much about the issue. "This is about elite politics. It's about shaping the way in which politics is covered rather than directly trying to influence the public."

And's legal complaints may not go far. In a statement issued last night, FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said, "I am not aware of any instance in which the Federal Trade Commission has investigated the slogan of a news organization. There is no way to evaluate this petition without evaluating the content of the news at issue. That is a task the First Amendment leaves to the American people, not a government agency."

More from the archive in Media, Outfoxed.

WSJ documents the "assault on Fox News" (07.20.2004)

Next Entry: O'Reilly attacks NY Times over Outfoxed (07.20.2004)
Previous Entry: Variety's review of Outfoxed (07.20.2004)

Read the 13 comments.

Paul Stone:

The Democracy-haters just had to keep poking and prodding the sleeping giant, and now we're awake and darn fed up with their nonsense.

Stop whining, Mark Tapscott and the rest of you so-called conservatives, and take your medicine!

Tue Jul 20 2004 12:08 PM


I truly can't believe the amount of hatred coming from the left these days. What's happening to reasonable poilitcal discourse? Is this the type of rhetoric we have to look forward to?

Do moderates have a voice at all any more?

Sun Jul 25 2004 7:52 AM


Dear Winston13:

In response to your question about a whether there is a place for a moderate voice, I believe there is a place and it is here--in demanding truth and accuracy in media reporting. To me, the issue regarding FoxNews is not about partisanship. In fact, I, for one, hope that the attacks invoke standards for truthful reporting among all media media channels.

The place for a moderate voice is by watching any and/or all media stations, Fox, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, you name it--and investigating the facts on your own. When there seems to be a pattern of misinformation, be it with a Republican or Democratic sway, it is time to speak up and demand standards for truth and accuracy in the media.

Many people have found misrepresentations with the news and are upset--and rightfully so. Having access to unbiased information is a tenant of a democracy. If citizens do not have access to accurate information, our democracy is undermined because voters may not be able to make voting decisions that accurately reflect their views.

Fox News is not the only offender in media misrepresentations, but it is probably one of the most egregious offenders. By bringing out the issue, and trying to invoke standards for journalistic integrity, I believe that both parties, Republican and Democrat, will benefit. More importantly, television viewers will benefit by having access to actual facts rather than opinions or distortions represented as facts.

Sat Jul 31 2004 1:27 PM


Dear Winston13,

What the heck are you talking about? The article above does not indicate any hatred coming from the left. OTOH, just watch Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and you will see plenty of hatred coming from the right.

But you knew that.

Tue Aug 3 2004 5:21 PM

Doug Robinson:

As an Australian media professional I have some inkling as to the style of Rupert and the type of instructions he gives his workers. Although on the whole he tends to encourage the employment of people that think like himself, amorally, it seems that his minders have been getting stronger and stronger directives from some place to swing an otherwise hopeless case. Perhaps he should start using the law on his detractors as the more truth they tell the greater the damage, isn't that how it works there?

Wed Aug 4 2004 5:03 AM

The General:

i can't stomach to watch Fox News, and i'm a republican. just listening to hannity and o'reilly bark and rabble rouse insults my intelligence. if this were 1942 germany, they would have been perfect nazis!

Wed Aug 4 2004 2:04 PM


I really like the formart of the comments on this page. Very tidy.

I did not notice any example of Fox "unfairness" that could be objectively examined by a third party. This article, as well as any articles from other news outlets would do well to give some examples of what exactly they are talking about.

Tue Aug 10 2004 6:39 AM

Micheal Edwards:

By defenition a liberal is more understanding of opposing ideas than a conservative.
This is why it is easier for a conservative to have conviction.
Conviction appears black and white.
Conviction is easy to understand.
Conviction is easy to follow.
Conviction gives a good feeling to the undecided.
The truth requires more examination.
More examination requires a longer attention span.
Most people have small attention spans.
Conviction is mistaken for truth.
Conviction is accepted as truth.
Conviction lingers and is echoed in the brain.
There it is.

Sun Aug 15 2004 11:37 AM

Freedom Lover:

You rock, you site's great. Keep on rocking the free world and the captive world. Currently the Free World does not include the US or Iraq, we hope that will change soon.

Sun Aug 15 2004 4:24 PM


For a very objective documentation of bias, unbalance, lies, deceipt, and overall "unfairness" Media Matters for America (MMFA) documents when a Media Head is caught practicing these methods. The problem is, Why would big media itself document when it's not doing a good job? That's where MMFA comes in to do it for them. There' a plethora of examples on the site using actual media references and quotes.

Mon Aug 16 2004 11:40 AM

one of the previous writers asked about the place of moderation in our political discourse. it probably is true that most of us subscribe (in a genaral way) to the notion that "extreme" philosophies or intellectual approaches are generally less constructive than those ideas that inhabit the middle ground. maybe we feel that conceptually, the middle is normally a compromise position that borrows from the stregnths of either side and moderates their weaknesses. however, many people gauge the moderation(or lack thereof) of a particular postion by the sheer number of people who hold it. ideas that are new to individuals in our society are percieved to be of little value by those individuals, espescially if they havn't been properly vetted by the institutions of our mass culture. (If Siva Vaidhyanathan can't compel Tim Russert to spend 5 minutes with him Sunday morning, how important could he be?) Thus, through todays distorted political spectrum, the actual value of an argument is secondary to its decibel level. In an environment where corpocracy, oligarchy, the margilization of democratic values and civil rights and the preservation of destructive environmental practices (in the face of obviously perceptible ecological consequences) are all considered "mainstream" cultural thought and practice– what meaning does the term "moderation" actually have?

Tue Aug 24 2004 2:34 PM


Uh, I fail to see how the website is in any way objective. I searched vigilantly all of the headlines on the home page and, lo and behold, all of the articles were about instances where conservatives (allegedly) lied, distorted the truth, etc.

So you presume to tell me that the media doesn't ever spin things to the left? Or that infractions are so overwhelmingly on the "right" that not one instance could be found and displayed on their site? Huh.

A more plausible explanation is that is a liberal website bent on trashing conservatives. Don't you think?

Fri Sep 10 2004 9:25 PM

why bother:

By definition, a conservative thinks that one person's rights end where another person's begin--if I'm not affecting you then leave me alone.
Conservatives believe that many social programs are well-intentioned but poorly executed; that they reinforce problems instead of solving them.
Conservatives believe that the federal government should have very narrow purpose, while greater control should be given to state and local governments.
Conservatives believe that those who create wealth for themselves--legally--should be allowed to keep it rather than have it taken away by the government and given to others.
Conservatives believe that the only fair way to tax is by a flat percentage, which ensures that the amount individuals are taxed increases at a rate proportionate to the amount they earn.
Conservatives think logically and rationally, and do not make decisions based purely on emotion.

At least that's what this conservative believes.

The Democractic Party is an imperfect implementation of liberalism. The Republican Party is an imperfect implementation of conservatism. The meanings and platforms of both parties change drastically over time. But basic values do not change.

Fri Sep 10 2004 9:52 PM

Jim Gilliam
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