In recent days, a war of words has erupted between Fox News and the White House. It began last week when White House communications director Anita Dunn told Time magazine, "[Fox News] is opinion journalism masquerading as news." Last weekend, she told CNN, "Fox News operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party." This set off a blustering reaction from Fox, whose senior vice president Michael Clemente responded, "It's astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part." Fox News host Glenn Beck went further, comparing the White House effort to call out Fox News's partisanship to Richard Nixon's attacks on the press and compiling of an enemies list. The truth is, Fox engages in practices that a legitimate news network would never do, regularly promoting GOP talking points and misinforming its audience on key policy debates.
A GOP TALKING POINTS MACHINE: While Fox infamously maintains that it is "fair and balanced," the fact is that the network often does little more than shovel out Republican Party talking points. For example, its "news" anchors regularly parrot the "where are the jobs?" mantra of the GOP. In July, House Republicans, one after another, took to the floor to engage in political theater by repeatedly asking that question. Numerous Fox hosts, especially America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer, have echoed that talking point time and time again, failing to mention that they borrowed it from the GOP. Another example of the network aligning itself directly with the Republican agenda was its endless promotion of the conservative "tea party" demonstrations. The network even went as far as to "[provide] attendance and organizing information" for the right-wing demonstrations -- hardly the behavior of an objective network. As Comedy Central's Jon Stewart recently pointed out, the network gave wall-to-wall coverage of the anti-tax, anti-government demonstrations, yet completely ignored a similarly-sized demonstration in favor of gay rights. Indeed, Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes has proudly boasted that his network aiming to be "the voice of opposition."
A NETWORK OF DISINFORMATION: Fox repeatedly deceives its audience. A 2003 study found that 80 percent of those who primarily relied on Fox News believed falsehoods about why the U.S. invaded Iraq. In June 2007, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that Fox covered the war less than CNN and MSNBC, and yet, its anchors now claim the network was "very faithful about covering all the bad news that came out of Iraq." A poll conducted last August found that 72 percent of self-identified Fox News viewers believe the false claim that health reform will provide insurance to undocumented immigrants, 79 percent believe it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions (it won't), and 75 percent believe that it will allow the government to put the elderly to death. This isn't to say that the network always misinforms people. In a recent exchange with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Fox host Shepard Smith rightly corrected the senator and disproved his own network's talking point that a public option would mean a "government takeover" of the entire health care system. As Smith pointed out, the public option is simply a government-run health insurance plan that people can choose. This left the Barrasso flummoxed and clearly surprised that a Fox anchor would ever challenge Republican disinformation.
A HYPOCRITICAL NETWORK: While Fox claims to be outraged over the White House pointing out that certain news networks are blatantly partisan, the fact is that it was singing a different tune under the Bush administration. In May 2008, White House counselor Ed Gillespie sent a scathing public letter to NBC News President Steve Capus, claiming that the network was guilty of deceptive editing and blurring the lines between the "news" and "opinion," a charge not unlike the one the Obama White House has leveled against Fox News. Rather than attacking the White House for calling out the press as it is doing now, Fox's hosts supported the Bush White House. Fox contributor Laura Ingraham even went as far as to say, "Why would the White House agree to do an interview with [NBC correspondent] Richard Engel?...I mean, why really bother at this point?" Then-Fox host E.D. Hill heartily agreed, "NBC News basically panders to the left and is, in essence, in the pocket for Barack Obama. Why go on a venue like that to begin with?" Gillespie has changed his mind now that Fox, and not NBC, is the target of White House scorn. Beck asked him about the White House effort to "blackball Fox," adding, "You don't see Republicans doing that to NBC, do you?" "No, and sometimes I question why," replied Gillespie. "It is beyond me, frankly."