Monday, November 14, 2005

The Media: What the Deuce is Being “Fair and Balanced” Anyhow?

fox news
Like many conservatives, I try not to miss Fox News’ “Special Report” which airs daily here at 5 p.m. with repeat if you’ve missed it at 11 p.m. (but I’m in bed by then). Yet the monker “Fair and Balanced” is disturbing because Fox is no more fair and balanced than is the mainstream media. I have for a long time believed that total objectivity is impossible in the media: thus I long for the old days when the media was purposefully biased and made no bones about it. Fox has a brilliant collection of conservatives plus just a dash of liberals to make it interesting. Public television’s Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour is the reverse.

I long to return to the old days when newspapers were outwardly partisan rather than subliminally so. The Chicago Tribune run with an iron hand by Colonel Robert R. McCormick was a partisan Republican paper and an extraordinarily good one when perceived on that basis. Across town the Chicago Daily News run with an iron hand by another Colonel, Frank Knox, was a progressive and Democratic newspaper. McCormick was a Colonel in World War I, Knox a Colonel with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Another Democratic paper was the Chicago Times, the working-man’s, blue-collar sheet while the Republicans were reinforced by William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Herald-Examiner, later the Chicago American where Hearst himself would write a regular front-page column (yes, Hearst himself would write it and he was a phrase-maker). Then Marshall Field started the Chicago Sun as a morning paper to fight McCormick’s Tribune which merged into the Sun-Times while the Trib acquired the American. The newspaper battles were wild and furious and it was fun to read all of them but it was understood that any paper worth its salt would be a partisan paper.

Then liberals decided to canonize the ideal of objectivity. They invaded the journalism schools with the precept that objectivity was the correct canon. Yet they understood that a plain recitation of facts with no conclusion would be terminally boring so they concoted the doctrine of
”interpretative reporting.” That meant that a conscientious reporter should add interpretation to the facts so as to bring them into “historical perspective.” That meant slanting although it was not so stated. One Dr. Curtis McDougall, dean of the Medill School at Northwestern, wrote the bible of interpretative reporting, a text called—you guessed it—“Interpretative Reporting.” I still have a copy someplace and it was used as a text for almost all journalism schools (I never went to one, thankfully).

McDougall was not an unbiased observer himself. He was an active partisan and member of the Socialist Party under Norman Thomas (who ran for president under that label often and who was, incidentally, a newspaper delivery boy for the Marion [Ohio] Star when it was run by Warren G. Harding). Thomas was a great American, far from a subversive whose view of progressive legislation antedated the New Deal: worker compensation, Social Security et al). McDougall wisely switched to the Democratic party but it did him no good as a candidate; he was regularly defeated.

I would sorely like to see a return to outwardly partisan journalism. Fox has done it already but it should shag off the “fair and balanced” misnomer. The Washington Times is a brilliantly edited partisan Republican newspaper. The Sun-Times has all but announced its arrival which it punctuated by getting rid of me. But the big newspapers still hang back: the New York Times is a Democratic paper and should announce it as such; as is the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor and the Boston Globe. The happy emergence of blogs make the newspapers less interesting and to be more so, they should adopt a partisan line and resolve to live more honestly than they have heretofore.

Incidentally, here are the papers I read each day, biased all of them. The Tribune (moderately Republican and getting more so, happily), The Sun-Times (Democratic), The New York Times (Democratic), the Wall Street Journal (a sort of anomaly: editorial pages Republican, news pages establishmentarian and liberal). Then I go to the internet and read portions of the Washington Post (Democratic) and New York Post (Republican). When driving between 11 and 2 or any portion thereof, I listen to Rush who on his good days is brilliantly incisive and on his bad days tiresomely repetitive with an insistence on crediting himself with anything good that has happened to conservatism (he has a point but he’s an egomanical character). When Rush is tiresome, I listen to the cerebral Dennis Prager. Michael Medved is good but he insists on too many debates (if I want to hear the left I will go to NPR; the absolute worst from the standpoint of public radio sneering at us of the unwashed is “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me!” the news show recorded from the auditorium of the old First National Bank, now Chase). Laura Ingraham has become my favorite early morning host, Hugh Hewitt for late night. I never listen to the radio at home, only when driving.


  1. Laura Ingraham, Al Salvi and Tom Roeser are the three best on radio today.

  2. Granted that complete objectivity is not possible, why would we want to encourage partisanship in the media? Let me know what your biases are, but at least get the basic facts right and don't be afraid to present the other side. Treat the public as people who can think for themselves. We don't need the media to tell us what to think or believe.

  3. While Hewitt and Ingraham are great Let's not forget our local talent. Tom Roeser and Teri O'Brien on Sundays. WLS Am appointment radio (at least those two shows). As for the newspapers, the Trib could still stand to get a little more conservative. What's with Garrison Keillor and Molly Ivins? Also the news content is written with a leftward tilt.

  4. Bruno Beherend's Sunday morning show on AM 560 is very polite and well done. He has a more analytical view of politics than louder programs.

    The best program, of course, is Tom Roeser's. Last nights debate between Rauschenberger and Blago's accounting person was the most important thing on the radio all week. Steve Rauschenberger came through as thoroughly informed; Blago's spokeswoman was full of gin and juice, and both were good sports.


  5. What's with it? Forget Fair and Balanced, it's just thin beer. Takes me less then ten mins to read and the only reason to buy it seems to be the ads and coupons.