E.J. Dionne and Media Bias


In his Washington Post column today, E.J. Dionne argues that Democratic presidential candidates have no obligation to go on Fox News. He notes correctly that first John Edwards and then Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton declined to appear on a debate cosponsored by Fox News and the Congressional Black Caucus. Leading Democratic candidates did appear on such a debate in the 2004 cycle, in which the lead questioners were Fox's Brit Hume and a black journalist selected by the CBC. My recollection is that both asked thoughtful and fair questions that gave candidates an opportunity to present their views.

Dionne is, of course, right that Democrats have no moral obligation to appear on any network. He does not notice, however, that they might have an interest in doing so. Fox has the largest audience in cable news, often larger than all the competition put together. So it's not just the Republican base that's watching. And, as Peter Wallsten notes in the Los Angeles Times, some Democratic strategists are noting that they've lost another media outlet on which their candidates were able to appeal to something more than the Democratic base.

And today, with Don Imus's career in tatters, the fate of the controversial shock jock is stirring quiet but heartfelt concern in an unlikely quarter: among Democratic politicians.

That's because, over the years, Democrats such as Harold Ford came to count on Imus for the kind of sympathetic treatment that Republicans got from Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.Equally important, Imus gave Democrats a pipeline to a crucial voting bloc that was perennially hard for them to reach: politically independent white men. With Imus's show canceled indefinitely because of his remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team, some Democratic strategists are worried about how to fill the void. For a national radio audience of white men, Democrats see few if any alternatives.

Anyway, what irks me about Dionne's piece is encapsulated in this passage:

"I admire Roger Ailes' genius in building Fox News. I wish liberals could create a comparably powerful network."

"A comparably powerful [liberal] network"? Uh, E.J., how about (in alphabetical order) ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC? There already are lots of comparably powerful liberal networks. Dionne accepts the networks' fiction that their operations are objective and nonideological. This, despite the fact that about 90 percent of their personnel are Democrats, while I have observed the comparable percentage of Republicans at Fox is much lower. I know something whereof I speak: I have been in close touch with many people working at all these networks for the past 34 years (and from the time they started up) and am now a Fox News contributor. I would like to add that I think it is one of the strengths of both Fox News and of U.S. News that their newsrooms, unlike those of the other networks and those of the New York Times, the Washington Post and many other newspapers, contain appreciable numbers of Republicans and Democrats. Our colleagues make it easier for us to be, in the words of Fox's slogan, fair and balanced–and I think Fox and U.S. News are fairer and more balanced than these other operations.

The Media Research Center has done a splendid job for many years now documenting the numerous instances of liberal bias in these networks. The best Dionne can do to make the same point about Fox is to cite one incident when it ran too fast with another news organization's story that Barack Obama had been educated in a madrasah in Indonesia. Fox quickly skinned back when CNN demonstrated that the story was an exaggeration. You can find many more examples of when CNN had to retract in the face of evidence presented by Fox. And in any case, I'm not sure the real story was so negative. I'd argue that Obama's experience living in a predominantly Muslim country and having exposure to Muslim worship and schooling is a net plus. Sure, he experienced this only as a child, but he was surely an intelligent and intellectually curious child, and I think exposure to Islam in whatever form is a useful experience for a president to have had. No sensible person thinks Obama is an Islamist in any way, shape, or form.

Let me close by quoting from my post on the first anniversary of baroneblog.

"Which brings to mind a conversation with a broadcast network news executive I remember from many years ago.

Q. Don't you think it affects your work product that 90 percent of your people are Democrats?

A. No, no, our people are objective, they have professional standards, they report fairly.

Q. Then doesn't that mean that your work product would be the same if 90 percent of your people were Republicans?

(Quickly) A. No, then it would be biased.

Only liberals, in this view, can see the world accurately." E. J. Dionne seems to subscribe to this view, which is particularly disappointing since, as he points out, he is a regular reader of conservative journalism, and, in my view; he tries to describe conservative viewpoints fairly and accurately. But on the question of media bias, he sticks to the dogma of the old media priesthood.