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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Media bias becomes hot political campaign issue

Democrats call Fox the FAUX news channel. Republicans used to refer to CNN as Clinton network news.

Democrats call Fox the FAUX news channel. Republicans used to refer to CNN as Clinton network news.

With U.S. elections a month away, TV viewers have been getting a steady diet of gloves-off politics that experts say serves both politicians and programs.

It works especially well for cable television where anchors of news shows both real and imaginary rankle and rile in a way shunned by major networks more prone to balance opposing views.

A July survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press confirmed more Republicans watch Fox News and more Democrats watch CNN.

Michael Wolff, media columnist at Vanity Fair, said bias was not so much linked to the ideology of the journalists or even the corporate owners as it was driven by a desire to boost ratings.

"I don’t think Fox says, ‘We’re here to promulgate a political agenda.’ I think they say, ‘We’re here to get ratings … and we do that by speaking to this particular demographic, which happens to be conservative and right wing,’" he said.

The ratings translate into dollars — not only for the programs but also for Democrats and President George W. Bush’s Republicans, the country’s two main parties hoping to win control of Congress in the November 7 vote.

Experts say politicians aim in their TV appearances not so much to change views as to get partisans angry enough to vote.

Increasingly politicians have decided the way to win is to raise the passions of the base rather than engage in discourse, said Lee Miringoff, director of Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

"They’re not after converts so much as getting their supporters to show up," he said. "You can see by the fact that those candidates show up on these shows, from Bill O’Reilly to Jon Stewart and everything in between."

Wolff said politicians like doing the shows to draw campaign contributions as much as votes, adding: "From a media basis, it’s related to having highly targeted audiences … it keeps the enthusiasm among your most committed supporters who will then support you financially."


O’Reilly, host of the popular Fox cable show "The O’Reilly Factor", is author of "Culture Warrior," a book that argues America is in the midst of a fierce culture war between those who embrace traditional values and those who want to change America into a ‘secular-progressive’ country.

"The media is firmly in the S-P (secular-progressive) camp," O’Reilly writes in a message on the Web site.

Charges of media bias came to a head last month when Bill Clinton accused a Fox interviewer of pushing a conservative agenda when asked whether as president he did enough to combat al Qaeda.

"You did Fox’s bidding on this show, you did your nice little conservative hit job on me," Clinton told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace.

Michael Dimmock, research director at the Pew, said Stewart’s political satire program "The Daily Show" attracts a very liberal audience and O’Reilly draws more conservatives even if most Americans turn to more mainstream outlets for their news.

"The kind of shouting and argumentative segment of the American news media is only a segment of it," Dimmock said, adding that network news and newspapers were much calmer and Internet readers relied heavily on wire service stories generally considered among the least partisan.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said conservative skepticism was fueled by the likes of O’Reilly and like-minded politicians.

"There is some core legitimacy to the complaint of a liberal press," he said, adding that surveys showed there were more liberal and Democrat journalists than conservative and Republican ones.

"Over the last 30 years the United States politically has become a more conservative country and newsrooms have moved in the other direction," Rosenstiel said.

 © Reuters 2006. All rights reserved

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