Fair and balanced? Don’t think so

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Bob Stannard

I was sitting here strugglingto come up with an idea for a column. Coming up with brilliant material twice a month is no easy task. It’s mind boggling to think how folks like Maureen Dowd, David Brooks and Paul Krugman are able to do it a couple of times a week, or more.

When in doubt watch or read the news. That’s generally a stocked pond in which to fish. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the Sunday morning talking heads, so I decided to tune into "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." George was on vacation and Barbara Walters was filling in. As is the case with this show there is a panel of experts who come together to offer their thoughts on a variety of issues of importance.

This week the panel consisted of Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, George Will; a weekly regular, Paul Krugman of The New York Times and Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News. All of these folks are seasoned members of the press and know how to get their position(s) across to the public.

Huffington and Krugman would be considered liberals and Will and Ailes conservatives. They advocate strongly for their respective positions, but every once in a while they go over the top and give themselves away.

Today was one of those times. Ms. Walters posed the question to Mr. Ailes regarding the newly hired Sarah Palin. She asked if he thought Palin was qualified to be president since he thought she was qualified to be a talking head on Fox News. He danced around the question for a bit and then blurted out the Fox News was "fair and balanced." That drew an aghast from Ms. Huffington.

He attempted to justify his comments by saying he has had employed former vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferarro, the first Democratic woman who ran for the job, and now they have the first Republican vice presidential candidate. This is fair and balanced in his eyes. Oddly enough, he either winked or had a nervous eye twitch at the exact moment he said this.

The wink seemed to say more than any words he could come up with. If you’re a Democrat and are looking for work in the "fair and balanced" news/entertainment business your chances are greatly increased if you say something like, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

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Yes, that’s a real quote from the former female Democratic vice presidential candidate talking about another Democrat who was running for president. She also said she might abandon her lifelong party loyalty and vote for the Republican John McCain if Mr. Obama was confirmed as the nominee. That statement alone would qualify her for a slot on Fox News.

Mr. Ailes was probably jiggling with glee as he heard these words from a former Democratic vice presidential candidate. He might have tripped over one of his chins racing to grab the phone to call her.

The fact is that saying something is so doesn’t make it so. Mr. Ailes can say that Fox News is "fair and balanced" until he is blue in the face, but that does not make it any more fair and balanced than the Huffington Post, which to the best of my knowledge makes no such claims. This paper is decidedly liberal and makes no bones about it.

That’s the difference. It’s fine if a person or media organization wants to stand up and scream out their bias positions to the world. It’s not fine, however, when a person or media organization does the same thing and tries to convince us it’s unbiased news. It’s not unbiased news. I understand that people will tend to watch or listen to media with which they agree, but let’s not kid ourselves.

Roger Ailes has been a Republican operative for most of his professional career having worked for Nixon and Reagan. He was the mastermind behind one of the most detestable racist ads in our nation’s history; Willie Horton ads for George H.W. Bush. He was the producer of Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived TV show. There is nothing fair or balanced about Roger Ailes.

We all know that any business, government and/or organization reflect the will of those in charge. Fox News is no different. It’s owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by Roger Ailes; two folks who wouldn’t know the meaning of fair or balanced if it winked at them.

Apparently they seem to have a struggle with the word honest as well, but one only needs to look at Mr. Ailes actions of the past to understand the disconnect that exists between the message and the reality. The scary thing is that it works on many Americans. There are those who will believe just about anything; even an in-the-trenches conservative declaring that his TV station is "fair and balanced" when it’s anything but.

Bob Stannard lives in Manchester.


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