Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Fox News responds to charges of bias

In the September 1, 2004 USA Today article "Fox newspeople say allegations of bias unfounded," Mark Memmott provides responses from Fox New reporters to allegations that the network has a conservative bias.
NEW YORK — The pundits were merciless.

President Bush's twins daughters, Barbara and Jenna, "came off, frankly, as ditzes" when they spoke to the Republican National Convention, one commentator said.

Laura Bush's speech "did not help" the president's campaign, said another.

The first lady and her daughters "had no place up there" on the convention stage, said a third.

It wasn't the liberal Air America radio network doing that skewering Tuesday night at the Republican convention.

The setting was Fox News Channel's skybox inside Madison Square Garden. The show was Special Report, moderated by Brit Hume. Morton Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, dissed the twins. William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, gave Laura Bush's speech a low rating. Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, thought the women shouldn't have been addressing delegates because "we're not electing a family."

All three are known for their conservative or independent political views. Their comments couldn't have been more opposite what conventional wisdom would predict a Fox News panel would say.

Fox News, its critics say, is a cheering squad for Republicans and the Bush administration. The network is the most visible American arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. global media empire, which also includes the New York Post.

Fox's critics are counting the number of minutes the network devotes to speeches at this week's Republican convention compared with its coverage of the Democratic convention in July. The first two nights here: 2 hours and 9 minutes. The first two nights at the Democratic convention: 1 hour and 46 minutes. One reason for the difference: former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani went overtime Monday.

A documentary released this summer, Outfoxed, shows former Fox staffers accusing their old bosses of ordering them to slant the news in favor of conservatives. And Tuesday outside Fox News' studios in Manhattan, protesters held a "Shut Up!" rally to express their anger at what they see as the network's conservative bias.

The people at Fox News see things differently. While the hosts who are paid to give their opinions make no attempts to hide their politics, the reporters and anchors on the news programs say they're traditional journalists who don't buy into attempts to spin the news:

• "The only marching order I've had is to do the best news show I can, and there's never been a single eyebrow raised (from management) about what we've done," says Chris Wallace, who joined Fox in 2003 after 15 years with ABC. He hosts Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.

• "The only time in my career that anyone ever told me I had to say something was when I was with a different organization," says senior White House correspondent Jim Angle, who worked at ABC for three years and National Public Radio for nine years before joining Fox in 1996.

• "I swear I'm not biased, and I know that no one (at Fox) has ever told me what to say," Fox Report anchor Shepard Smith says.

Bill O'Reilly, host of The O'Reilly Factor, is the lightning rod who catches many of the charges hurled at Fox News. He dismisses allegations that he sometimes makes up things to support his opinions and that Fox News is too conservative.

"If Fox News is a conservative channel — and I'm going to use the word 'if' — so what?" O'Reilly said Tuesday night as he removed his makeup following a broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor from inside Fox's skybox in Madison Square Garden. "You've got 50 other media that are blatantly left. Now, I don't think Fox is a conservative channel. I think it's a traditional channel. There's a difference. We are willing to hear points of view that you'll never hear on ABC, CBS or NBC."

Some critics say Fox and other cable networks overplayed the story of the veterans who accuse Sen. John Kerry of lying about his war record — and gave too much attention to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group even after some of its claims had been contradicted.

But Hume, who's been with Fox News since its beginning in 1996, said Fox took the story seriously because "you had Vietnam veterans, on the record, who were there and who were making serious allegations. How can you not do that story?"

Tom Rosenstiel, director of Columbia University's Project for Excellence in Journalism, warns of the "Foxification" of cable news. He says Fox News' ratings success — it attracted more convention viewers Tuesday than MSNBC and CNN combined — is pushing the other cable channels to be more like it by cutting back on news and adding more conservative opinion.

Even some who say Fox News gives them a fair shot at expressing their liberal opinions question the network's objectivity. A lion of the Democrats' liberal wing, Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, was on the Hannity & Colmes show Tuesday. Afterward, he made no effort to hide his feelings. "I go on Fox because a lot of Democrats won't," Rangel said. "Listen to me, Fox is not conservative. They're an extension of the Republican Party. Do they give me a fair shot when I'm on? Yes, because they need me. I'm red meat for their listeners."