Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Fox News: 10 Years of Agitating the American Left

Friday marks the 10-year anniversary of the launch of Fox News. As this USA Today story points out, Fox News pisses off liberals not just because of its conservative bent, but because it changed the rules of traditional news reporting, using its in-your-face media personalities and a hot-button broadcasting format to reshape the cable broadcast environment:

In just 10 years, Fox News — the channel liberals love to hate — has transformed the cable news landscape with its in-your-face brand of news with 'tude. In the process, it has reduced granddaddy CNN to a distant second and NBC's cable news venture, MSNBC, to an also-ran. Fox News' combative Bill O'Reilly has become a household name, drawing more than 2 million viewers a night. Sean Hannity, Shepard Smith and Greta Van Susteren are cable news stars. On-air barbs by them and Fox News correspondents have ignited debates in journalism circles about whether objective news can stay relevant, particularly in an Internet era that gives ordinary Americans the power to vent about anything in blogs.

The ultimate sign of respect: Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert riff on Fox News on any given night.

"Many Americans had built up a perception that mainstream American television journalism routinely displayed a liberal bias. Roger knew it and tapped into it," says former MSNBC president Erik Sorenson. "Fox News convinced millions of those viewers that Fox's reporting was indeed fair and balanced, when compared to CNN and broadcast news. That resonated, especially in the wake of 9/11, and was underscored daily with strong, opinionated program hosts in prime time, on their morning show, and even during the day."

Fox, which went on the air Oct. 6, 1996, "didn't want to be an international network," says Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a non-partisan media research organization. "They were going to be an American network, which is what their audience was looking for."

Hosts such as O'Reilly and Hannity "bring passion and sincerity to a much-needed discussion of critical issues," CNN's Lou Dobbs says. "And even though those are usually conservative voices, they are important voices."
Read the whole piece. The article points out that outside some of Fox's high-profile talk shows -- like the O'Reilly Factor -- the network is actually very much in sync with cable broadcasting norms of objectivity. One thing interesting is that Fox anchors have a more relaxed, down-home feel to their reporting, often providing a distinctly American perpsective to the stories they cover:

[Tom] Rosenstiel, who has studied programming of all the cable news channels, says his most recent study shows Fox News journalists "were more likely to offer their opinions about the news, but often those opinions were fairly innocuous, like 'If there's an American victory in Iraq, that's good news.' I don't know anyone who would argue with that, but it's unusual to hear someone say it on TV news."

Besides, Rosenstiel says, "one person's bias is another person's telling the truth on TV. And the way Fox anchors and correspondents talk is very informal, not the stiff, omniscient narrator of traditional broadcast news. They talk like regular people, use plainer language.

"If it's a military conflict, they refer to American troops as 'our' troops. It's hard to argue when an American network does that. It is different from traditional broadcasting, but it's stylistic — not conservative or liberal."
I've just recently become a big fan of Fox News (see this post on my ideological transformation for some background). I'm enjoying Bill O'Reilly more and more though -- he's very firm in his support for Iraq, for example, but he's not so doctrinaire as to avoid making tough criticism when appropriate). I also like Special Report with Brit Hume The show has a classic feel to it, offering tart commmentary and analysis, and is capped each night with an smart panel of regular speakers -- such as Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Mara Liasson. It's a 6:00pm broadcast, but it's reshown at 9:00pm on the West coast, and I'll often settle down for the night while tuning in (or do a little evening blogging while listening).

Most of all, though, I get a kick out of how Fox just alienates the heck out of liberals. It's fun to watch and actually does provide some balance from the New York Times-type of commentary that's so common (to be fair, though, I like CNN as well, despite what some of my more conservative brethren have to say about it).

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