Monday, March 14, 2005

Missing the Point

Howard Kurtz reports on a new study finding that Fox News is opinionated. Most of the examples are fairly silly and "old news". For example, Fox news anchors were caught hoping that democracy takes root in Iraq and cheering Iraqi forces who captured one of Saddam's henchmen. Dear God, what's next? Having a waving american flag added to the little omnipresent logo opn the screen? Allowing anchors to wear American flag lapels?

Oh yeah: Fox made a public declaration three and a half years ago that they were going to do both and that they would not shy away from openly backing America. These are the kinds of bias that most Americans are OK with (the kind that says we are on the side of America). CNN with a worldwide audience might be expected to be more nuetral on taking sides in the war. Note that nuetrality here is nuetrality between Democracy and Islamofascist dictatorship so maybe it is a little different than nuetrally reporting on the social security debate.

On a more laughable note: the study faults Fox for opinionating on the Brit Hume and Bill O'Reilly shows. They then mention in passing that Hume's high rate of opinion comes from the "analysts panel" at the end. In other words, Fox opines on their news analysis and commentator's segments; segments created for the express purpose of expressing opinions. Also laughable is the finding that Keith Olbermann's show expresses opinion in only 9% of its stories. If you look at written transcripts you might get that impression but if you watch his reporting, his snotty, snide ironic delivery makes it abundantly clear where he stands.

I also like how Kurtz reports on the number of positive and nuetral stories about Iraq on cable news but omits the third catagory. Thus, we learn that Fox has about 38% positive stories on Iraq with CNN coming in at about 20%. Fox is just as likely to run nuetral stories (39%) while CNN runs far more nuetral stories (41%). The dog that didn't bark is the omitted catagory of negative stories which run at 23% for Fox and 39% for CNN. A classic trick used to cloak findings from a survey. Without thinking about the negative stories the impression you get is that Fox runs about 77% positive or nuetral while CNN runs about 61% positive or neutral. So Fox is higher but both are high. But there is no underlying logic behind the Pos/N choice which could just as easily be reported as N/Neg (62% for Fox and 80% for CNN).

So the study manages to miss the point by "finding" that Fox is pro-America, a charge they copped to post-9/11, and by "finding" that news analysis done by a panel of op/ed writers and political commentators expresses opinion. Seems like they could have saved a lot of money on this study. Here is a freebie for the Project for Excellence in Journalism: people writing on the op/ed page of the New York Times often inject their opinions, too. By the way, isn't it biased to proclaim a preference for excellence in journalism. What about all the mediocre journalists?

At the bottom of Kurtz post today is a story about a guy canned from Fox who was quoted as saying some nasty things about them. He claims he didn't say any of it and he loves Fox to this day. The editor is standing by the story but offered the guy a letter to the editor or an op/ed with only one condition: he can't criticize the original story. Classic.


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