COLUMBIA — I doubt it will come as a shock to anyone to learn that I don't see eye to eye with George Kennedy (Missourian columnist and former managing editor), Sen. Jay Rockefeller, President Barack Obama or a host of others who line up on my left flank in their distaste for Fox News. It may or may not also surprise some of you that I am not a particular fan of Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck.
Fox News, the cable broadcast company owned by Rupert Murdoch, commands almost identical reactions from the left as do Halliburton, George W. Bush, tax cuts for the rich, the Patriot Act, talk radio and all things conservative, including those horrid "neocons," whoever they may be. The inescapable fact that Fox News, similar to all visual or voice media, can be shut off with a flip of a switch seems not to matter.
The White House has made no secret of its distaste for Fox, declaring it to be "opinion journalism masquerading as news." Former Communications Director Anita Dunn accused the cable network of operating "almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party," while longtime presidential aide Valerie Jarrett said, "Of course they're biased."
Even the president chimed in to express opposition to the network by declaring in a Rolling Stone interview that Fox News is "destructive" for "long-term growth."
Recently, West Virginia's Sen. Rockefeller proposed that the Federal Communications Commission remove both Fox News and MSNBC from the airwaves for extremely biased and negative reporting.
To his credit, our own Mr. Kennedy merely stated his opinion of prevailing journalistic standards, traditional vs. ideological, in comparing Fox and MSNBC with NPR and the broadcast networks. Conversely, Sen. Rockefeller, with both tacit and overt support, advocates the sacrifice of MSNBC, cable news' traditional bottom feeder in viewer numbers, as a sop to shut down Fox, the nation's leading cable news outlet, which also led all cable and network outlets in 2010 election night coverage.
Where I am at odds with George Kennedy (with whom I often disagree but also respect) and most of the Fox News detractors is in their distortion of just what constitutes news, whether "fair and balanced" or "all that is fit to print." While it may be popular to attack Hannity, Beck, Olbermann, O'Reilly or even the sainted Tom Brokaw as ideologically biased, they are no more reporters of news than are Dan Rather, Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd, Ann Coulter, Katie Couric, David Gregory or Chris Wallace.
Instead, they are purveyors of political opinion — their own personal views of what is right or wrong in the news of the day. Other than in name recognition and, of course, remuneration, their contributions to news are not much different than those supplied by George Kennedy, David Rosman and yours truly. The principal difference in our opinion posting is that George, Dave and I are far more charitable and civil in our editorials, leaving the obnoxious and ad hominem vilification to the more highly compensated "professionals."
The constant attacks on the Fox News network are little more than an extension of the efforts to revive the Fairness Doctrine — the overt attempt to shut down talk radio. The Reagan administration deemed in 1987 that this doctrine was outdated and unnecessary because of the proliferation of visual and voice media outlets — a decision that remains even more viable today.
Whether visual, print or voice, the media divisions of reporting news or opinion journalism share a separate niche, one, however, that is often blurred by those who either fail or choose not to understand the difference. Fox, as do the other cable and network outlets, employs reporters who are as "fair and balanced" in their reporting as are their cable and network counterparts.
While Fox and MSNBC provide a wider range of pure controversy in commentary analysis (Hannity, Beck, Olbermann, Matthews), cable and network media also offer a variety of discussion panels wherein conservative, liberal, and pro- and anti-administration opinions are offered. As a frequent viewer of most political TV give-and-take, and, even admitting to a natural bias, I find Fox's mixture of conservative and liberal analysis more civil, erudite and objective than most.
Additionally, the notion that NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS are by their very nature less ideological and more straight than their cable alternatives is — well, truth, reality and fairness are in the eyes of the beholder. Reporting and analyzing the news have always been separate entities (except perhaps in the New York Times, which is known to editorialize on its front page) and must be guarded by serious journalists and hopefully understood by the public.
Finally, to voice dislike of Fox is as American as apple pie, but to call for its elimination as an opinion source, particularly because those opinions run counter to those in seats of power, is not only ignoble but also menaces the freedoms our founders and their successors in our armed forces have fought and died for. There will ever be a need for Hans Christian Andersen's child who notes correctly, "The emperor has no clothes!"
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.