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Why Propaganda Is Good For You

I missed it last week, but Wonkette quotes a Fox News internal memo:

The President and the PM of Canada meet today and will make remarks at midday. Take the remarks, even if Jacko is singing on top of a truck with no pants on at the time.
Funny, eh? This is what I like about Fox.

It's become fashionable among people who aren't conservative hacks to say that the real reason Fox is good is that it's snappy, fun, and other good things that CNN isn't. Perhaps that's true. What I like about Fox is that for all its problems -- see other liberal blogs for more on the problems -- it's actually way more substantive than its competitors. Over the course of a 24 hour cycle you will see a lot more discussion of politics and world affairs on Fox than you'll get on CNN or MSNBC, and Special Report With Brit Hume packs a lot more actual news coverage into its first half hour than do the CBS/NBC/ABC broadcasts. Back in my former place I had DirectTV so I got CNNfn which, during the weekends, broadcasts CNN International (the channel you may have seen in hotel rooms while traveling) content, which is also very substantive compared to CNN/MSNBC/CBS/NBC/ABC for reasons that are slightly obscure to me.

But among US outlets, Fox really and truly does devote the most airtime to covering serious things (and for those of you worried that blogs "don't add reporting" to our views, I can report that Sidney Blumenthal said the same thing on Friday when I saw him in the office). This not despite the fact that it's done by a bunch of ax-grinders, but because it is. After all, Rupert Murdoch doesn't really have an ax to grind about pantless Jacko singing on a truck. If you want to influence the way people think about politics, you need to do a lot of political coverage. If you're CNN, you wind up doing a lot of People In The News and other such crap.

None of which is to say that I'm glued to Fox News most of the time. It's pretty repugnant stuff, in my opinion. But part of what's so bad about it is the pretense of fairness and balance. Forthrightly conservative media like The National Review and The Weekly Standard is much better than Fox-style pseudojournalism. But there's something to be said for Fox's brand of pseudojournalism as opposed to CNN's. At least with Fox you're getting more coverage of something. So rather than seeing Fox become more actually fair and balanced, I'd like to see them drop the bullshit and just be what they are -- a television network with a point of view. And I'd like to see that point of view balanced by other networks with other, better points of view. People who want to change the world are at least people who are going to talk about the world, and not fill the air with silly horserace coverage and sillier celebrity coverage. We need more people like that (and, of course, better ones) bringing us the news, not fewer.

July 20, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Good points. During periods when I have cable, I often watch Brit Hume while I'm cooking/eating dinner, though I often rant about it later. Though FOXNews also has this obsession with car chases in the mornings.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Jul 20, 2004 11:23:20 AM

Honesty? How quaint. I think part of the thrill for FOX watchers is the demonstration that news can be biassed, ads can lie, and the lefties can't do a thing about it.

Posted by: A different Matt | Jul 20, 2004 11:34:01 AM

OK, did you just call the National Review "forthright"?

Posted by: DJW | Jul 20, 2004 11:54:32 AM

Over the course of a 24 hour cycle you will see a lot more discussion of politics and world affairs on Fox than you'll get on CNN or MSNBC, and Special Report With Brit Hume packs a lot more actual news coverage into its first half hour than do the CBS/NBC/ABC broadcasts.

So it has more "discussion" than the cable news networks, and more news than the broadcast networks?

Well, yeah, that's probably true. It also has less actual hard news -- as opposed to endless propagandistic "discussion" on the same bits of news (and sometimes, not even actual news, but rumor or innuendo) -- than the other news networks.

Back in my former place I had DirectTV so I got CNNfn which, during the weekends, broadcasts CNN International (the channel you may have seen in hotel rooms while traveling) content, which is also very substantive compared to CNN/MSNBC/CBS/NBC/ABC for reasons that are slightly obscure to me.

The US market for "news" media is less interested in actual news. What is "obscure" about that?

What I like about Fox is that for all its problems -- see other liberal blogs for more on the problems -- it's actually way more substantive than its competitors.

Having watched quite a bit of all three major cable news networks (CNN, MSNBC, Fox), I don't see it. All tend -- barring a major unfolding story -- to have about an hour worth of news which gets covered with a slightly different slant all day, mixed in with some amount of discussion, and some amount of fluff (entertainment-centric news programs, etc.).

Fox seems to have more quantity of discussion and less fluff than the other networks, but, at least compared to CNN, less diversity in angles in coverage and less diversity in (or at least, less balance) in the discussion.

But there's something to be said for Fox's brand of pseudojournalism as opposed to CNN's. At least with Fox you're getting more coverage of something.

More, though, is not necessarily better. Yes, Fox probably has more minutes of coverage of political news or political discussion each day than MSNBC or CNN (but probably less than CNN Headline News). But its bad coverage in the most case, that puts propagandization ahead of facts. Example: the adoption of the term "homicide bomber" for what most people use "suicide bomber" for. When a terrorist attack kills people, adding the modifier "homicide" to "bomber" doesn't add any information to the story; "suicide" does. But Fox has deliberately, as a network decided to substitute a term that adds no information instead of no modifier at all or one that adds information.

So rather than seeing Fox become more actually fair and balanced, I'd like to see them drop the bullshit and just be what they are -- a television network with a point of view.

The thing is, propaganda works a lot better if you don't tell people that you are deliberately spinning everything for propaganda purposes, so admitting their point of view would undermine their ability to serve it.

And I'd like to see that point of view balanced by other networks with other, better points of view.

As long as one of them has the point of view "the media's role is to do its best to uncover the facts and present them to the audience so that the audience can make informed decisions", sure. But conflicting propaganda efforts don't make it easier to figure out what the truth is.

People who want to change the world are at least people who are going to talk about the world, and not fill the air with silly horserace coverage and sillier celebrity coverage.

Instead, they fill it with deliberate misinformation.

I'd love a public affairs news network dedicated to reporting facts. Well, besides the unfiltered eye of C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 -- something that filtered for significance (which itself, of course, introduces some bias) without deliberate spin. But deliberate, consciously manipulated propaganda -- even lots of it directed to public affairs topics -- is not a substitute for public affairs news.


Posted by: cmdicely | Jul 20, 2004 11:58:13 AM

"I'd like to see them drop the bullshit and just be what they are -- a television network with a point of view."

No Matthew, this is exactly the point, FNC is the Republican Party R & D in the art of covert propaganda.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 20, 2004 12:07:16 PM

cmdicely said what I would like to have said.

If we are to have 'point-of-view' news (which I don't mind some of), why is it that no national cable channel speaks to the 50% of the population that is Democratic /liberal/ progressive/ moderate/ independent?

Why do CNN, MSNBC, and FOX all slant right?

If competition really drives markets, who is competing for the middle or left end of the spectrum? And if noone, why not?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 20, 2004 12:08:22 PM

Matt,

If you have digital cable you can also get CNNFN with the CNN International feed on the Weekend.

I really wish they would offer this channel full time. A week ago on their regular program, Inside Africa, they devoted an hour to post-civil war Angola. It will be a cold day in hell before the domestic news networks do any kind of international coverage like that.

They also have the lovely Monita Rajpal and arguably, the news reader with the sexiest voice, Rosemary Church.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Jul 20, 2004 12:14:37 PM

Interesting observation. Thinking about it, the political divide in my office is not so much Lib/Con as much as it is Fox viewer/non Fox viewer.

The Fox viewers are invariably armed to the teeth with the day's talking points, and blow everyone else out of the water in discussions of current events and politics (it also helps that most are insufferable boors).

Most of what they say is of course bullshit ( a good proportion begins with "Mansoor Ijaz says"), but they get away with it because no one else is informed enough — ill or otherwise — to have a strong opinion.

Posted by: Sven | Jul 20, 2004 12:16:12 PM

I've gotten an opposite impression watching Fox. It's obvious that they push those missing-adorable-white-girl stories harder than anyone. Oftentimes, they devote literally hours and hours each night to covering the Scott Peterson trial, the Kobe Bryant trial, and so on (CNN certainly does not).

And Laurie Dhue's weekend fluff show is 10X worse than anything ever run on People in the News.

So I dispute the premise: Fox News may have its substantive moments, but these are counterbalanced by its decidedly tabloid-ish approach to covering the news.

Posted by: david | Jul 20, 2004 12:20:43 PM

So rather than seeing Fox become more actually fair and balanced, I'd like to see them drop the bullshit and just be what they are -- a television network with a point of view.

Yeah, right. First of all, it's not a "network with a point of view" but a garden variety propaganda outlet, like the Soviet Pravda. Pravda also had a lot of "discussion of politics and world affairs". If tomorrow the RNC decides that Saddam Hussein's face needs to be carved on mount Rushmore - that'll be Fox's "point of view".

So, would it satisfy you if they started calling themselves "a conservative network"? That would be exactly as dishonest as "fair and balanced", only "fair and balanced" is much funnier and sillier. I say - let'em stick with "fair and balanced"...

Posted by: abb1 | Jul 20, 2004 12:23:27 PM

I really wish they would offer this channel full time.

They do, or at least used to. I used to get CNN International on my cable, long ago. It then got split with -- of all things -- the Playboy channel taking its spot from 5 PM to 8 AM, and then replaced with Playboy full time.

Posted by: cmdicely | Jul 20, 2004 12:27:52 PM

Rosemary Church may have a sexy voice, but her teeth give Mr. Ed a run for his money. Monita Rajpal is indeed quite lovely, though.

Posted by: things fall apart | Jul 20, 2004 12:30:54 PM

There's a really great news program out there that nobody watches -- Jim Lehrer. It quite regularly invites smart and knowledgeable people on to discuss topics of great import. I remember seeing a good discussion about Iraqi Shi'ites between Juan Cole and Reuel Marc Gerecht, for instance. On the Sunday talk shows, we instead get blather between Hack A, Hack B, and journalist-who-knows-nothing C.

Watch PBS. It's quite good.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 20, 2004 12:32:16 PM

Does anyone ever think about getting BBC World on cable(can you?) or CBC from Canada? Or looking at their sites on the net? Why this insular obsession with American networks, an obsession by the way that seems almost as parochial as Fox? American liberals and the conservatives they belittle seem equal in their navel-gazing attention to their own networks, hapless in their insularity.

Posted by: g-lex | Jul 20, 2004 12:50:16 PM

Fox does two things much more than CNN and MSNBC and the networks:

1) As said above, cover the "missing attractive white girl" stories like crazy. I figure it must get ratings or they wouldn't do it. Fox must devote an hour or two a day (if you add it up) to Laci Peterson. How long ago was that?

2) Cover hypothetical stories. For example: Bin Ladin May be Targeting our Salad Bars for Terrorist Attack! The bad guys may do something. Have an "expert" or two on and talk about it. How is that news? This sort of fear mongering is useful for the Bush administration, naturally.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 20, 2004 12:56:05 PM

I liked Frank Rich's column the other day, where he made the salient point that the execrable techniques of the local news have wormed their way into the national news. That explains Brian's (1) and (2), which are really just larger variants on "omigod the blakc people are going to hurt you" that peddled by the local news.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 20, 2004 1:14:15 PM

"Over the course of a 24 hour cycle you will see a lot more discussion of politics and world affairs on Fox than you'll get on CNN or MSNBC, and Special Report With Brit Hume packs a lot more actual news coverage into its first half hour than do the CBS/NBC/ABC broadcasts."

Yup.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 20, 2004 1:26:46 PM

Thanks, Matt for verbalizing where I come down on the cable news options - I try (and try) to watch CNN, but the acres of blah nothingness make it hard. I may yell at Fox, but at least their covering something much of the time. And I wish Fox would cop to being what it is - opinion programs with news content.

If I could have my way with a CNN senior team meeting, I'd say: drop Aaron Brown and Lou Dobbs, both because they are dull and because their biases are making their programs all but unwatchable. De-emphasize Wolf Blitzer. Give Anderson Cooper more to do (he's your Shep Smith, and he's better at it). Pull Bill Hemmer forward (and preferably into the field). Find a better format (and timeslot) for Paula Zahn (why, for instance isn't she going up against Hume, where she'd have a shot?). I don't love Larry King, but he works, and he could probably take O'Reilly. And can the yelling shows (Crossfire, Capitol Gang) or make them deeper and more relevant (Fox barely bothers with a lefty view - um, who IS Alan Colmes, anyway? - why give a Paleo like Novak so much room to maneuver?).

I don't mind Fox as propaganda or talking points; like many propagandists, they tend to sell their line even when the facts don't fit, and the seams show. The blowhards (Cavuto, Hannity, O'Reilly, even Hume at times) are so self-satisfied they can barely see past their own images. Guests foolish enough to line up for the takedown are fair game (although Charlie Rangel can play to a draw with Hannity). But their biggest flaw is the non-critical tendencies on the GOP mistakes. As things got worse in Iraq, Fox had no choice but to follow the story, and it's made them look late often, and sloppy. And they still don't have CNN's depth in many foreign locations and areas like science reporting. I wish CNN would get better just to provide good competition.

Posted by: weboy | Jul 20, 2004 1:29:01 PM

The O'Reilly Factor, btw, is one of the worst offenders in terms of O.J.-type stories. Sure, O'Reilly tries to argue that there really is political significance in the strategies of Jayson Williams' defense team, or Pepsi's employment of Ludacris, but come the eff on.

Posted by: son volt | Jul 20, 2004 1:34:51 PM

They also have the lovely Monita Rajpal"

Sorry, Monita Rajpal is outclassed in the hot newsreader sweepstakes by Mishal Hussein of BBC World.

Posted by: Tom | Jul 20, 2004 1:41:50 PM

Watch PBS. It's quite good.

Posted by: praktike | July 20, 2004 12:32 PM


...I agree. Jim Lehrer is clearly the best and least biased newscaster around and the guests are very interesting and informative. FOX, CNN, and MSNBC are really just crap-filled networks, liberal or conservative.

Posted by: Alex | Jul 20, 2004 1:48:58 PM

Ms. Hussein, is a looker, but Monita is a Goddess.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Jul 20, 2004 1:50:04 PM

Nice thread, but I'd want to add that, if Michael Jackson drops his pants in public, while dancing on a car roof, I'd just as soon watch Bush alienate another country's head of government instead. Frankly, I can't think of a thing that would make me want to watch a Bush foreign policy blunder, live and as it's excreted, than the fact that the alternative is Jacko dancing on a car top with his pants off.

Posted by: Brian C.B. | Jul 20, 2004 1:51:51 PM

Uhm, Matthew, have we watched the same Fox News network? They devote a disproportionate amount of time to the Kobe Peterson trials, and spend the rest holding debates between members of Cato and Heritege, or having segments with absurd premieses (i.e., "Does John Kerry Look French?")

Posted by: Brad Reed | Jul 20, 2004 2:06:17 PM

"Fox really and truly does devote the most airtime to covering serious things"--by making shit up about them.

Posted by: rea | Jul 20, 2004 2:11:42 PM

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