Media, Politics

FOX News’ Incurable Self-Disclosure Problem (and Jon Stewart)

Prelude (in case you’ve not been following the Jon Stewart-Chris Wallace argument): Jon Stewart’s made waves over the last week for pointing out Chris Wallace’s unintentional unveiling of Fox News’ partisanship (you can catch up on the story’s tit-for-tat here). In an interview with Stewart a few weekends ago, Wallace trotted out usual Fox canards about the mainstream media’s liberal bias, going on to say:

I think our viewers think, finally, they’re getting somebody who tells the other side of the story.

Not fair coverage of the story. Not balanced coverage of the story. Not the full story. ONE SIDE of the story. Stewart’s been hammering away on this ever since.


So what? Well, I watched Fox & Friends during my death-defying Olympic-level ultra-grueling workout this morning, and came across this clip. In short, F&F are concerned that Media Matters for America are in violation of their tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) status. 501(c)(3) organizations cannot engage in political activities in support of any particular candidate or party. F&F pushed a link where viewers can send complaint forms to the IRS.

Fox’s case goes like this: MMFA claims to be a watchdog group that corrects bias and misinformation passed on by media organizations…but in reality, they’re engaging in partisan attacks by “declaring war on Fox News.”

Fox News defender Mark Tapscott breaks it down even further:

David Brock, MM’s founder, was quoted Saturday by Politico promising that his organization is mounting “guerrila warfare and sabotage” against Fox News, which he said “is not a news organization. It is the de facto leader of the GOP, and it is long past time that it is treated as such by the media, elected officials and the public.”

Since Brock classifies Fox News as the “leader” of the Republican Party, by his own description he is involving his organization in a partisan battle.

Under Brock’s definition of Fox News, it appears he is setting MM on a course of actively opposing all Republican candidates.

See? SEE?!? This is the same line of reasoning that Wallace used when interviewing Stewart. Let’s break it down step-by-step:

Option A:
Step #1—Let’s assume Fox News is a media organization.
Step #2—Fox News reports a piece of news.
Step #3—MMFA analyzes Fox’s reporting and finds that it is laden with bias.
Step #4—MMFA publishes evidence demonstrating the aforementioned bias.
Conclusion—No political activity has taken place. No political party is involved. Fox is a media outlet, and does not have a partisan agenda. MMFA is analyzing them. Neither organization is explicitly political. This is not a political act.

But wait…

Option B:
Step #1—Let’s assume that Fox News is a partisan organization.
Step #2—Fox pushes a piece of party propaganda.
Step #3—MMFA analyzes the propaganda and finds that it is opposed to MMFA political objectives.
Step #4—MMFA publishes a rhetorical response to Fox’s propaganda.
Conclusion—This is politics! MMFA is in violation of their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status!
Corollary—This is politics! Fox News is NOT a media organization, but—Jon Stewart’s words—”A biased organization, relentlessly promoting an ideological agenda under the rubric of being a news organization. A relentless agenda-driven, 24-hour news opinion propaganda delivery system.”


Fox can’t have it both ways. MMFA’s “war on Fox” is only “political activity” if Fox is a political organization. If Fox is “fair and balanced,” if they “report, you decide,” then there’s nothing to see here, and MMFA can keep up their relentless attention to any time that Fox misrepresents the news when reporting. If MMFA is violating their 501(c)(3) status by focusing on Fox, then Fox must be an organization with an explicit partisan affiliation.

What’s weird about this—and Stewart pointed it out in Monday’s show**—is that Fox keeps inadvertently disclosing itself this way (first Wallace, now F&F). They used to double down on how fair and balanced they were. Now they’re flirting with outing themselves as an official mouthpiece for American conservatism, if not the Republican Party. Stewart and MMFA must really be getting to them.

**Stewart’s take on Fox’s psyche:

Any editorial judgment in news, or schools, or movies, that doesn’t favor the conservative view, is elitism and is evidence of liberal bias. Whereas any editorial judgment that FAVORS the conservative view, is evidence of merely fairness and done to protect them from liberal bias. And, if you criticize Fox for this game, guess what that’s evidence of? How right they are about how persecuted they are…They can’t lose.

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June 2011
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