Hating FOX

Brent Bozell

2/6/2004 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell

The dominance of Fox News in the cable news ratings -- and what liberals see as its annoying tendency to cover topics and angles that they believe should be buried for the good of liberalism -- has led to a great amount of Fox-hating in the anything-but-"mainstream" press.

These liberal elites love to pretend that the patch of dirt where they stand is the hallowed ground of objectivity, when in reality, their idea of "mainstream" is floating out on a liberal sea, on a fanciful boat where everyone thinks Howard Dean is best classified as a political moderate, as were McGovern, Mondale and Dukakis. As, one is meant to believe, are they.

From their vantage point, which is nowhere within boom-microphone distance of the center, Fox News Channel must look like Right-Wing Kooksville. Unique in standing to the right of the ossified liberal media establishment, Fox is now regularly disparaged as the only ideological news media outlet in the United States. The rest of them are all, to use Dan Rather's self-description, "common-sense moderates."

Anyone with his feet grounded in reality realizes that in fact Fox is fairer and closer to the American center than any of the liberal outlets. Pick an issue -- global warming, taxes, homosexuality -- and Fox demonstrates the temerity to allow both sides to debate, whereas other networks still pretend that only one reasonable, quotable side exists. No wonder their audience numbers are sliding as Fox continues to climb.

The latest sad anti-Fox outburst came when the National Press Foundation decided to honor respected Fox news hound Brit Hume with its "Broadcaster of the Year" award, Geneva Overholser, a former ombudsman of the Washington Post and a whining liberal windbag if there ever was one, resigned in protest since she felt Hume and Fox practice "ideologically committed journalism."

How controversial was the Hume selection? Consider the previous winners of this award: "moderate" Dan Rather, fired New York Times editor Howell Raines, loopy leftist Ted Turner, tiresome PBS propagandist Ken Burns, and NPR bias legend Nina Totenberg, who tried to destroy conservative hero Clarence Thomas with phony-baloney sexual allegations and wished AIDS on conservative hero Jesse Helms in a TV appearance.

No one, including Overholser, resigned over any of them.

But wait, there's even more phoniness in this take-my-ball-and-go-home protest. In the Nov. 28, 1992, edition of Editor & Publisher magazine, Overholser complained that there wasn't enough ideologically committed journalism out there. "All too often, a story free of any taint of personal opinion is a story with all the juice sucked out. A big piece of why so much news copy today is boring as hell is this objectivity god," she complained. "Keeping opinion out of the story too often means being a fancy stenographer."

I saw this riotous act up close on a C-SPAN set a few years ago, as Ms. Overholser sat across the table from me and announced with a straight face and a calm voice that the Washington Post was committed to "presenting the news in a straightforward manner," while the Washington Times was only committed to "representing the conservative viewpoint."

Fox News is routinely disparaged by the Left as a hard-swinging right-wing channel because of its top attractions. Populist maverick Bill O'Reilly is not reliably conservative but is regularly rebellious about liberal pieties. Then there's Sean Hannity, who is so packed with persuasive power that liberals never seem to notice he has a liberal co-host sitting across from him every night. Neither is a news reporter, thus rendering the liberal complain moot. But that won't stop the whining.

Lost in the rage at the prime-time lineup is the performance of Brit Hume, who brought all the heft of his years of fairness covering Washington and politics at ABC to Fox's table. "Fair and balanced" are not silly marketing words to describe Hume. He earned an "A" from the Media Research Center for even-handed coverage of the Iraq war. But we're not alone.

The radical left has trouble complaining about Hume, too. A report by the anti-Iraq-liberation media critics at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting put Hume in the middle in its guest selection: It "had fewer U.S. officials than CBS (70 percent) and more U.S. anti-war guests (3 percent) than PBS or CBS." FAIR's definition of "anti-war" may be ridiculously narrow (in their odd attempt to making liberal networks look conservative), but even FAIR credited Hume's show for giving air time to save-Saddam lobbyists like Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Rep. Fortney Stark.

So credit should be granted to the National Press Foundation for having the courage to resist the Fox-haters and honor Hume's easily recognized professionalism. And shame should be awarded to Geneva Overholser, who, by her actions, is telling the world she doesn't have an honest bone in her liberal-activist body.