Of Course Fox News is Biased, Jon, but It Doesn’t Matter

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Jon Stewart was on Fox Sunday, boring viewers by lecturing Chris Wallace on Fox’s bias and media sloppiness.


Stewart has done this a few times now, most famously on CNN’s Crossfire years ago. The schtick is that “the bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict and laziness” In other words, that while Fox is certainly right-leaning, the real problem in news media is that they all feed off the conflict.

First, so what if Fox is a partisan right-wing news outlet? Is there a law against that? If you don’t agree with what they are saying, then you shouldn’t be watching it, so what do you care if it’s partisan? And when you ask a critic of Fox this question , the answer comes back in the form of “Because the people who do watch it aren’t getting the truth.” In other words, what they consider to be the truth. But there is not “truth.” There is only the perception of it.

The truth is that all media coverage is biased. CNN, ABC, MSNBC. All of them. The bias in inherent in the humans who report on the story. It’s impossible to report a story without bias. Bias is what motivates reporters to ask certain questions, but it is also the psychological and ideological framework that prevents reports from conceiving of other questions they don’t ask. The question is not is Fox too biased, the question is why don’t other networks make their biases as obvious, so we can choose which bias we want coloring our news.

And this is really the only thing Fix does that is different than CNN or MSNBC–making their bias obvious. This is what you will get from us. If you don’t like it, change the channel. People forget that Fox was created in the 1990s to respond to the left-wing bias that many viewers perceived in all of the other networks. News Corp. saw that there was a huge market of news viewers dissatisfied with the current choices and chose to satisfy that demand in the market. The “Fair and Balanced” doesn’t refer to the coverage on Fox, it refers to Fox’s coverage relative to everyone else, which they and their viewers believe skews left. Fox on the right balances the rest of them on the left (so the story goes). And similarly, it is in response to the perceived center-right bias of Fox, talk radio, and CNN that MSNBC has chosen to run overtly left.

And Jon Stewart is successful for the same reason. He gives people what they want. He claims that “I’m given credibility in this world because of the disappointment that the public has in what the news media does,” he asserted, but that isn’t really true. Stewart sells a product just like Fox and MSNBC do. If Stewart was popular because of our disappointment with the rest of news media, that would suggest that Stewart is delivering the news better, straighter, and free of the conflict and sensationalism he criticizes.

But that isn’t even close to what Stewart sells. The people who watch The Daily Show don’t just want comedy, they want news as comedy. They want everything happening in the world to be cast a joke, and he does it for them. How do I know that’s what they want? Because that’s what the show is and it is successful. Fox delivers the news with a right wing slant, Stewart delivers it with a cynical, sarcastic slant. Cynicism is as much an ideological positions as conservatism or progressivism. You watch the Daily Show and you are shown a world in which nothing is ever serious, because in your mind, you don’t really see this stuff as being that serious. Everything is fodder for the Daily Show, which means that nothing is so serious that it isn’t at least a little bit funny. And if nothing is that serious, so what if Fox sensationalizes it? They can’t sensationalize it, but you can make jokes about it?

But Stewart isn’t telling you the full story. He works for Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. Guess how many news networks are owned by Viacom?

Zero. Viacom, the company that owns BET and MTV, has chosen not to operate any news channels. As of 2006, Viacom no longer owns CBS. The only fact-based reporting you are going to get from Viacom is the Daily Show and MTV Cribs.

And that’s why the Daily Show is allowed to exist. It is basically a half-hour a night of trashing competitor’s products. Maybe they deserve it, may be they don’t. If Viacom ran a news channel, then Stewart wouldn’t be allowed to do what he does, because that would mean, in all fairness, trashing his employer’s product as much as the competitor’s.

If Stewart’s criticism is the lack of honest, in-depth, serious reporting, maybe instead of going on Fox to trash their successful product, he should take it to his boss upstairs. 

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22 Responses to Of Course Fox News is Biased, Jon, but It Doesn’t Matter

  1. beast says:

    “…there is not “truth.” There is only the perception of it”, breathlessly followed with “[Stewart] asserted, but that isn’t really true.” Either there is a truth and you’re trying to provide it, or your narrative is just as much “only a perception” as everything you are critiquing. If the latter, then what is it that you are trying to persuade us of, from atop this here soapbox? The concluding lines of the post aren’t it — if you’re seriously suggesting that Jon Stewart should try to counteract the effects of products that tens of millions of people consume on a daily basis is to go have a frank chat with the man upstairs, then you misunderstand power/Foucault worse than the rest of us.

    “If Stewart was popular because of our disappointment with the rest of news media, that would suggest that Stewart is delivering the news better, straighter, and free of the conflict and sensationalism he criticizes.” That simply does not follow. Satire is not offered as a replacement for what is being satirized, but rather as a catharsis for the kind of tension created by what is satirized. If exposing misinformation and reporting in a “better, straighter” way were a useful tactic in undermining the corruption and laziness in the media, then we’d be talking about Media Matters and not The Daily Show. Your binary of “serious”/”not serious” is an illusion; it is simply false that there is no space between discussing things straight and sober with no inflection or levity on the one hand, and, say, Jackass on the other. TDS is popular precisely because people take the issues so seriously. Now, I think it’s true that TDS is popular because humor is a defense mechanism against Joe Average’s basic powerlessness to effect change in an insane political climate. But it is precisely not because Joe Average doesn’t take the issues seriously. For analogous reasons, it’s easier for people to buy the We Are the World single than to join the Peace Corps or to watch the whole starving-children-in-Africa infomercial and donate at the end.

    • Pastabagel says:

      Look closely at your second paragraph. you took my statement about why people watch TDS, and misinterpreted it as why Stewart is doing it. I don’t care why Stewart writes the jokes he does or structures his show the way he does, I care only that other people watch it. That it is popular says something about the market. That is the focus.

      You do not know why Stewart is offering satire, but I’m 100% certain that the people watching his show watch it because it is an alternative to the news being offered straight. Media Matters is a pointless organization because it amounts to criticizing Fox for offering exactly the kind of product that Fox was created to offer. You might as well attack Coca-Cola for their insistence on selling carbonated sugar water.

      The point about him asking his boss to put on a sober news channel is obviously rhetorical (seriously, is there confusion about this?) The reason Viacom doesn’t run such a channel is the same reason FOX, MSNBC, and CNN don’t run such a channel. Because almost nobody would watch it. Because you wouldn’t watch it.

      The reason we have Fox news, MSNBC talking heads, and yes, even TDS, is because that’s what you, collectively, want to see.

      • beast says:

        No, there’s no confusion, I was merely insufficiently clear in expressing them.

        First, the facile deployment of Nietzsche’s “there is no truth, only interpretation” is used to undermine the very idea of truthful news reporting, yet you lean heavily on your insight into what people “really” (truthfully) get out of TDS, and what Jon Stewart and Viacom are “really” doing/selling. Now, I’m not claiming a reductio on your position so much as questioning why you’re employing that tactic at all, and to what end you see this post as contributing toward.

        Second, the quoted bit sets up a conditional: if people are disappointed with X and turn to Y, then they turn to Y for these reasons. The ‘Y’ rhetorically supplied and undercut, as well as the imputed lack of seriousness you replaced it with are unnecessarily reductive and psychologically misleading. I prefer the type of Marxism that ignores mental states altogether, personally, because it feels more honest.

  2. Adrian says:

    I don’t like this kind of argument: “And if nothing is that serious, so what if Fox sensationalizes it?”

    First of all you can make fun of things, even of serious ones, let’s say a comic makes some 9/11 jokes, that doesn’t mean that a “serious” news stations can lie about 9/11, for example by making people believe that Saddam Hussein was the co-author of the attacks. It’s one thing to make jokes about an event, it’s totally another thing to lie about it. Jokes and lies are not equivalent, one doesn’t excuse the other.

    • ThomasR says:

      I don’t completely agree with Pastabagel, but I also dislike straw-man arguments. For instance,
      PB says: “if nothing is that serious, so what if Fox sensationalizes it?”
      You say: “It’s one thing to make jokes about an event, it’s totally another thing to lie about it.”
      “sensationalizing” something and “lying” about something are two completely different things. I think your irrational kneejerk response to PB says a lot more about you than the “news.”

      • sunshinefiasco says:

        “sensationalizing” something and “lying” about something are two completely different things.

        Exactly. All 24-hour news outlets sensationalize things. Fox News sensationalizes things and lies about them with an ideological goal in mind. PB can aruge that Fox sensationalizes things, and no one will fight that… what makes them more deplorable than the next network is that they lie and sensationalize with an intent to influence the political arena.

    • ThomasR says:

      P.S. I also dislike PB’s argument. Just because one person/corporation/company does something, does not excuse or allow someone else to do the same thing.

      It does weaken the first person’s rhetorical position. But it’s not like Jon Stewart was gonna change anything anyway.

  3. W.Kasper says:

    Although I can’t stand Stewart and his smug pseudo-hip style of ‘journalism’, Fox News is far from simply ‘giving the people what they want’. Murdoch’s been using that schtick since the 70s, but as with all his operations, it’s the result of serious political favours, criminal/semi-criminal rackets (like the wiretapping scandal he has here in the UK, involving our ruling party) and a concentrated propaganda machine in accordance with a wider international agenda:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-roger-ailes-built-the-fox-news-fear-factory-20110525

    The ‘market’ ain’t that innocent, and definitely not free.

  4. So, you want Jon Stewart to convince Viacom to have a news channel, for which purpose? And it’s not like I like Jon Stewart’s politics all that much, but expecting that from him is kinda absurd.

    Also, there may not be truth in this world, but lies sure exist.

  5. statelymulligan says:

    If Stewart was popular because of our disappointment with the rest of news media, that would suggest that Stewart is delivering the news better, straighter, and free of the conflict and sensationalism he criticizes.

    Subjunctives aside, this is just incorrect. Stewart is popular because he very cleverly articulates the absurdity of the incestuous relationship between news media and political forces. Fox is simply an easy target: they are overtly biased; they offer soapbox “news” shows to almost all major Republican presidential candidates; and the lies they broadcast (both by omission and positive falsehood) have elevated their coverage from biased to deliberately misleading. Fox isn’t selling their content, their content is selling the Republican party. That’s called propaganda.

  6. DJames says:

    Heh. PB, I’m sure you knew these sorts of responses were coming. That’s what happens when you tip the sacred cows. Jesus Christ, “[T]heir content is selling the Republican party.” Really? And the New York Times might have an agenda/bias, too?? In my America?

    That’s what I like about Partial Objects. Although I suspect a significant portion of the readership leans leftward, they mostly tend to respond analytically and impartially even when they prefer to believe Bush lied, people died, etc.

    But if you touch Jon Stewart, something wicked this way comes.

  7. sunshinefiasco says:

    The only fact-based reporting you are going to get from Viacom is the Daily Show and MTV Cribs.
    And that’s why the Daily Show is allowed to exist. It is basically a half-hour a night of trashing competitor’s products. …If Viacom ran a news channel, then Stewart wouldn’t be allowed to do what he does, because that would mean, in all fairness, trashing his employer’s product as much as the competitor’s.

    This is ridiculous. First off, The Daily Show takes potshots at Viacom and its subsidiaries (MTV?! Are you kidding?) all the time. Before Viacom, I’m pretty sure he took potshots at Time Warner. This is what would happen if Viacom had a news channel: they would make money from the news channel and from the Daily Show.

    Secondly, let me get this straight: Viacom keeps the Daily Show because it trashes competitors in a market (News) that Viacom isn’t competing in? That doesn’t make much sense, and it implies that jokes from TDS have a lot more power than they do.

    Sure, TDS beats up on news channels owned by not-Viacom. But the people who pay for 24-news coverage aren’t gonna up and stop because Jon makes a joke. If the Daily Show didn’t exist, the people who watch it would most likely go online for news coverage, not to CNN/CBS.

    Thirdly, let’s be real: The Daily Show is on the air because it gives unfettered access to the coveted male 18-34 year old demographic. It’s so strong at drawing that group that it, along with South Park, revitalized Comedy Central as a network (though the days with 5 hours of Kids in the Hall). TDS was trusted to carry Colbert until he got his own following (which, to be fair, wasn’t long), and it has encouraged Comedy Central to completely re-engineer their late night programming to retain access to that demographic, starting at 11pm EST.

  8. xiphoidmaneuver says:

    Pastabagel, your suggestion that all biases have equal value is a philosophical kill switch. It lets you dismiss anything. If you applied that belief consistently and to its ultimate conclusions you wouldn’t avoid walking into oncoming traffic – after all the oncoming vehicles aren’t necessarily there, you only perceive them. And your own perception is no more valid than the perceptions of the vast majority who don’t see the vehicle and others still who might even want you dead.

    Stewart is not making an error by opposing Fox’s bias. Suppose I agreed with you (which I don’t) that Fox gives its consumers the bias they want but doesn’t create demand for its bias and also doesn’t give them bias they don’t want. Still, the political beliefs of a large demographic affect everyone else. If those beliefs and biases harm Jon Stewart and his associates, he has some degree of justification in trying to change those beliefs – even if the believers desire their biases and beliefs.

  9. johnstricker says:

    “Stewart sells a product just like Fox and MSNBC do.” Yeah, but his product is entertainment while their product is supposed to be news and isn’t. Depending on one’s definition of journalism, of course. The part about Viacom not being in the news business is more interesting. But they are of course free to cater to those markets they see as the most profitable. Incidently, nobody is stopping Fox from broadcasting a right-leaning comedy show on news, but they are not doing it. Depending on one’s definition of comedy, of course.

  10. cauchies_br says:

    “The truth is that all media coverage is biased” Yes, indeed.
    Here in Brazil people never debate anything on television, or in any midia. We got left and extreme left and the only thing they don’t agree is where to expend the taxpayer money.
    I got on cable CNN and Foxnews. The simple fact that both of them let people with different ideas debate a subject is great, and was really surprising to me.
    The fact that when foxnews says something wrong you can get the truth all over the internet is also great, but the ideia that only you – and you know who you are – can save the other ignorants from the evil foxnews is just pretensious, and that is my problem with the left, they belive they know what is better for everybody else.
    I agree with PB and from the commetaries I belive saying foxnews and not following it with some kind of bad comentary is a mortal sin.

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