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Fair Does Not Have to Mean Balanced

Posted on November 3 2009 9:18 am
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Fox News brags that it is “fair and balanced.” You hear it on “The O’Reilly Factor” virtually every night.

Fox should come up with another slogan. Neither Fox News, nor MSNBC for that matter, has any obligation to provide forums for a balanced presentation of opinions from the Left and the Right on their opinion shows.  Yes, journalistic ethics does demand objective, non-ideological news reporting.  But opinion shows such as “The Factor,” “Hannity’s America,” and “Glenn Beck” are just that – opinion shows.  They should reflect the host’s political ideology. Bill O’Reilly in particular should stop trying to prove how fair-minded he is. His lame attempts at even-handedness and tries to distinguish himself from Beck and Hannity are growing tiresome.

The so-called Fairness Doctrine, which the Federal Communications Commission had once imposed on the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that was (in the FCC’s view) honest, equitable and balanced, was eliminated in 1987. Let it stay buried and not come back through the back door as a result of the Obama administration’s intimidation tactics or attempts by the media to stave off government regulation by voluntarily imposing the “fair and balanced” mantra on itself.

Of course, I am not suggesting that lies be presented as facts in order to support an opinion. Nor is there any place for race-baiting. Any host or guest on a show who does anything like that should be called out for it in no uncertain terms.   But so should President Obama, Congresswoman Pelosi, Congressman Frank, Senator Reid, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod etc., especially since their lies have real consequences for the American people.

The marketplace of ideas provides its own corrective in this age of the Internet and many hundreds of cable stations. The blogosphere has demonstrated the power of ordinary citizens who keep a watchful eye on the establishment purveyors of mass information, whether the government or the traditional news media, and report what they see as distortions of the truth.  The NewsReal Blog is part of that exchange, and  has plenty of company representing all points along the political spectrum.

Trust the people to use their common sense in choosing the outlets for their information and in evaluating what they read and hear.  As Thomas Jefferson said:

Let common sense and common honesty have fair play, and they will soon set things to rights.

Bernie Goldberg, Fox’s media commentator who appears weekly on “The Factor,” claimed last night that cable TV was causing the intense partisan divide that we are witnessing in the country today.  That is completely wrong. Intense partisanship has played a central role in American political discourse since the founding of the country. Opinions on individualism versus collective responsibility, and less government versus a strong centralized government, were passionately debated among supporters and foes of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The media of their time – newspapers and pamphlets in particular – reflected the divide and added fuel to the fire, but the media did not create the conflict.

The same holds true today.  So lets welcome sharp-edged ideological warfare and clash of ideas on the air and on the Internet.  Our democracy will not only survive it but be better for it.

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