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General News    H2'ed 4/8/10

FOX and Their Convenient Moral Relativism

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Message Jeffrey Joseph

A major problem with FOX's general coverage of the news stems from its preconceived narrative filled so saliently far to the political right that its personalities will willfully ignore and manipulate facts to fit the narrative. Part of that philosophy lends itself to couching debates in binaries and ignoring the shades of gray in between, but the substantial criticism of Tea Party protesters has recently forced hosts to reconsider fair reporting -- but only when it proves convenient.

One recent example of a FOX host's inability to look at an issue in a nuanced way came from Sean Hannity. Hannity proved incredulous when discussing President Obama's push to limit any future use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. as if the idea of moving away from nuclear armaments would suddenly welcome attack. As Bob Beckel pointed out, Hannity's hero President Reagan worked toward nuclear disarmament, as well, but Hannity still implied President Obama was naive in his move toward that goal "because evil does exist," a sentiment he kept repeating as his argument. Put another way, Hannity essentially argued that he disliked President Obama's move away from using nuclear weapons because the president refused to look at the issue with the "good versus evil" binary Hannity and FOX would prefer.

The attempt to put arguments in terms of hyperbolic extremes goes far beyond discussion of nuclear armament implementation. When Glenn Beck dislikes a policy from President Obama having to do with housing, he tells his audience it only further represents how the president sells Marxism "with a happy face." Regarding the healthcare debate, the people at FOX & Friends ran a graphic opposing reform efforts by calling it a debate of "Socialism vs. Patriotism." Alleged "straight-news" host Megyn Kelly also justified the calls of socialism on her show -- by pointing to an inaccurate definition of the term. Even dealing with Muslim scholars recently granted entry into the U.S., FOX & Friends went so far as to write them off as terrorists and imply some tacit endorsement by the president of terrorism for allowing them into the country. None of those situations called for looking into a possible gray area, or even just a possible space between the binaries FOX wanted to promote.

When it comes to dealing with the Tea Party coverage, though, FOX demands parity and nuance no matter the evidence to the contrary. Bill O'Reilly reacted to the disparaging of Tea Party protesters by complaining about how the rest of the media "largely ignores crazy stuff generated by the far left because many media types sympathize with liberal politics." For evidence, O'Reilly showed a video of students protesting Ann Coulter appearing on a college campus with students chanting things such as, "No more hate speech on our campus." Anyone with knowledge of Ann Coulter's vitriolic statements recognizes the protesters had a valid point and nothing about rebuking hate speech seems like particularly "crazy stuff."

O'Reilly went on to air a segment of a Louis Farrakhan speech where Farrakhan said, accurately, that "there are Christians praying for God to kill Barack Obama" and "now they got him with a mustache like Hitler." Showing disgust for those particular statements illustrates at the very least a curious ignorance on O'Reilly's part considering he failed to prove leftist hatred in airing Farrakhan stating facts.

Taking his attempt to provide parity to a laughable extreme, O'Reilly concluded with a video of students protesting higher fees in California and commented, "While we cannot brand those students "left-wing loons' because we don't know who they are, the odds are they are liberal people who are now getting hammered because California's in bankruptcy. Why? Because of liberal spending policies. Can you say irony? Can those college students spell "irony'?" Indeed, in a segment dedicated to demanding fairer, more honest coverage of the Tea Party, O'Reilly aired a clip of protesters about whom he admittedly knew nothing, then he imposed a political leaning on them and from his manufactured designation derided them for the artificial irony. Somehow he missed the larger irony of the situation.

As O'Reilly continued to insist on FOX as the only place for "fair reporting," he also argued that the violence from the Tea Party must be media distortions because he had not yet seen video evidence of it. O'Reilly almost certainly avoided watching the heckler at a Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's town-hall meeting. However, as a lone heckler not necessarily self-identified as a Tea Party member, O'Reilly may write off the incident, though he provided similar examples of "hate" from the left with even more tenuous political connections, like the ones he simply imposed on them. Nonetheless, a video of a man amidst Tea Party protesters spitting on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver on his way to vote for healthcare reform exhibited highly unseemly activity worthy of condemnation. O'Reilly could hardly offer a rationalization for that incident; instead, he must choose to ignore it.

FOX holds an altogether contradictory approach to integrity in covering the issues. Against its political opponents, FOX will intentionally lay the issues in the most polarizing terms available, even when the issue hardly fits into those terms and its personalities have to create new definitions to justify them. FOX thus asserts the absolute moral high ground since doubting their authority apparently only questions patriotism. As the media rightfully criticizes the most vitriolic actions of Tea Party members, though, FOX personalities suddenly reach for the space between those binaries, writing off some despicable behavior as isolated incidences and falsely equating much of the rest to actions from the left with little evidence to support connections or comparisons. For the Tea Party, FOX found a place for moral relativism that it could not find on most other issues. As the media arm of the GOP, though, they may only do so as a reflection of GOP leadership's flip-flopping for convenience. Nonetheless, viewers should demand a more responsible approach to the issues and the news for the sake of the nation -- and until then, choose to Turn Off FOX.

Originally posted at Turn Off FOX.
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Contributor to BuzzFlash and writer for Turn Off FOX.
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FOX and Their Convenient Moral Relativism

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