Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is Fox News Fair and Balanced?

I remember when the only television news stations in Indianapolis were CBS, ABC and NBC. There was little questioning of the news that these pioneering talking heads gave; but I remember also some frustration from conservatives that their viewpoints were not being represented. What’s new? My family was made up of Kennedy Democrats and we didn’t really want to hear what the Republicans were saying (Before Kennedy, we did like Eisenhower as President but remember more his golf playing than any opinion he espoused. Those were times of economic growth and as long as Eisenhower was playing golf, we knew he was not doing any harm).

I admired Kennedy for his youth and strength. He seemed to be a man of action and he inspired me to pay attention to what was going on in the world. He elevated politics in this country, at least in my lifetime; but now, I don’t think that was a good thing. Because of Kennedy, politics has become a sport of propaganda and demagoguery, where the only important thing is who wins by any means necessary. The way politics is played today has nothing to do with good government and more to do with money laundering and power politics…racketeering to be precise.

I’d prefer a politics to which we don’t have to pay attention on a regular basis; a politics that leaves the people alone and doesn’t have to be constantly fixing crises; a politics that supports society by making sure it is free rather than constantly seeking to expand its own power over people. It is possible to have such a politics that allows us to live our lives and make our own decisions, over which we don’t have to constantly worry. If people aren’t constantly wondering what government will do to them next, they can live much happier lives.

I think that is the way it was intended to be. I think our founders established the rights of man, individual rights, in order to keep government from constantly meddling in our lives. In fact, for many decades we did not even have a national income tax. Once we did, politicians began spending their time vying for power so they could control the money pit and turn its benefits toward themselves and their friends. It is not about doing good for the people, it is about the cynical use of “good intentions” to launder money.

The public today clamors for honesty and freedom while the demagogues clamor for more power. They lie to us that they are really on our sides, we vote for them, then all the promises dissolve…on to the next election. I find it ironic that during the last election Congress’ approval ratings were in the low double digits while 95% of them were re-elected. Something is wrong and it appears that those who have power have learned how to keep it in spite of low popularity, huge and embarrassing scandals and outright corruption. The scam is pretty simple; smile a lot, lie a lot, ask people to trust you and brag about how much of the taxpayers’ money you brought back to your district. Get people to say, “I like that guy; he’s a straight shooter,” and you can get elected time after time. It doesn’t hurt to also get control of the election machinery. The result: the most corrupt of our politicians, those caught in heinous acts of theft and fraud, are the ones re-elected with the highest margins of victory.

The media is part of the problem. I believe that the role of the media should be to present the facts of any story without ideological or political distortion. It should also select for publication all stories that expose corruption and graft. Instead it selects stories that only make one party look bad while the other party engages in massive fraud and money laundering.

There is a clear bias in the mainstream media and they are losing viewership due to it. It is not that the public has swung to the right. It is that the public is more educated and they are demanding more balanced reporting. People can tell a slanted story when they see one. Hence the welcomed ascendance of Fox News, a network dedicated toward a more open and fair presentation of both liberal and conservative views. Fox has leveled the platform politically and given voice to many people shut out of the mainstream media. But all networks should be “fair and balanced” should they not? Shouldn’t they all present news without bias? Why should there even be such a question as which network is fair and balanced?

Yet, I question whether Fox News is really fair and balanced. Are they doing us a great favor by presenting all sides of an argument? More to the point, are the leftists and the rightists really opposites?

I remember from my Introduction to Logic course that arguments fall into two categories: (1) arguments between contradictories and (2) arguments between contraries. A contradictory represents two opposite points of view. Using the principle of “excluded middle” you are either for a given point or you are against it. The key in such argumentation is for the news network to make sure the two opposing views are true contradictories, that is, fundamental divisions rather than just two opposing views among many. In argument, and in reality, two contradictory propositions cannot both be true.

Yet, with contraries, two propositions can both be false. An argument between two contraries is based, not on opposite principles, but on disagreements over like principles. A contrary might include a liberal and a conservative view on forced charity or welfare. Both parties favor it so there is no real disagreement except how to do it. This is not a fundamental argument. The real fundamental is whether to do it or not. An argument among contraries on this issue does no service to the truth since it leaves the door open to polarization over non-essentials and assumes that all people agree on the fundamental. On this question Fox News may as well be CBS or MSNBC.

Yet there may be millions of people who do not favor re-distribution of income if the choice is properly presented. Society is not improved when we argue for a point that enables politicians to re-distribute without question. On this issue and many others, the question should not be how much or how fast but whether the government should re-distribute wealth at all. This applies to every major government boondoggle; especially government bailouts, government forced bankruptcies, stimulus bills and socialized medicine to name a few. The Tea Parties demonstrate that there is still considerable disagreement on these programs and Fox News and other news networks would do well to take note.

I submit that most Fox News reporting, though a welcome departure from propaganda media, is still not fair and balanced because it assumes, most often, that we all favor a mixed economy; an economy in which there is a great deal of government force and some political freedom. The Fox News talking heads are arguing about contraries, not contradictories.

For instance, what does it mean to be on the left and on the right? Do you know that these divisions were invented in Germany during a time when statism was in full swing, where the only real opposition was among two views of statism? These divisions, left vs. right, were among two contraries, not two contradictories. Commenting on the divisions in pre-Nazi Germany, Ludwig von Mises said the following:

“The mere fact that these two groups (left versus right) are fighting each other does not necessarily prove that they differ in their philosophies and first principles. There have always been wars between people who adhered to the same creeds and philosophies. The parties of the Left and of the Right are in conflict because they both aim at supreme power.”(1)

One thing that can be said of the left (communists) and the right (fascists) in Germany was that at least they both called their systems socialism. Yet, they agreed on one fundamental issue: the government has the right to impose its will on the people...whether they like it or not. "Left versus Right" in Germany was a division among fellow-travelers...not fundamental enemies. These parties were allies vying against each other for power with the basic question, whether the government should engage in coercion, already settled.

In our country, since the advent of the progressive movement, the left has led the country further and deeper into fascism while the right has merely argued about how far and how fast we should go. When Fox News presents two “opposing” views on many political topics it is not really presenting opposing views; it is presenting two parties with essentially the same fundamental views. How can we make a real choice when the only choices presented on the news are among parties with the same opinion; that the government should grow? How can we make real change, let alone have a real debate, when the debate is rigged?

The proper division of opinions, the two contradictories today, are statism versus limited government; not Democrat versus Republican, not progressive versus conservative, not left versus right. Yet, nowhere does Fox News attempt to be truly fair and balanced in politics. There are still many viable positions that are locked out of the debate, even on Fox News, and this is a disservice. Where are the advocates of a truly limited constitutional government that Fox News has elevated into the debate? They are barely heard. If they do promote such people, it is not in debate but in individual interviews (Thanks, Glenn Beck). We should see more of these people taking on both Republicans and Democrats. Then, perhaps, we can get back to a society where we don’t have to worry what government is going to do to us next.

(1) Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government, Libertarian Press, Paperback P 177

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. I would like to see a Cable Channel (or at least a single program) dedicated to Individual Rights. All the news would then be analyzed by that standard. That would open up a whole new world.