June 21, 2010

UPDATED - (With Apologies to SNL) This Just In: Fox Is Still a Terrible Source for News

NOTE: The reference to "four months" was originally attributed to the Fox News host; that has been corrected to reflect that it comes from the interviewee.  Additionally, language clarifying how to view the source of the Fox News headline - and a screen capture of same - have been added.

Back in October, I wrote a post called Not Necessarily the News.  In it, I documented how, irrespective of whether or not the Fox News Channel has a "conservative point of view" (as its devotees like to say), it is - objectivelty - a failure as a news organization.  Data from a 2003 study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), for instance, as well as 2007 research conducted by the Pew Research Center and a 2009 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, all clearly demonstrated that Fox News viewers are among the worst-informed people in the country.

So, has anything changed? Has Fox News gotten any better at informing its audience?  While no new polls or research have been published in the intervening months, a broadcast story that also appeared on Fox News'  FoxNation.com website provides some strong indicators that if anything, factual reporting at Rupert Murdoch's network has only gotten worse.

The article, which appeared in the middle of last week, has since been mysteriously scrubbed from the site - not updated or corrected or archived, mind you; simply erased - but the wonders of Google caching provide a snapshot of what appeared and what was the topic of outraged conversation for several days among the Fox audience.  Specifically, the article was entitled Obama Gives Back Major Strip of AZ to Mexico (after visiting the preceding link, click on "cached" in the second search result shown to view the original - a screen capture of the page is also provided below), and along with a few paragraphs of text, featured a video clip with the following lede:
A massive stretch of Arizona now off limits - to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico.
Take a look:

 [Click image to view at full size]

One can almost hear Fox fans thinking to themselves "Wow!  Only Fox News is brave enough to battle pervasive liberal bias within the Fourth Estate and report a hard-hitting story about a president who gets a free pass from the rest of the press corps."  Unfortunately for them, the major strip of the Southwest that "critics" say President Obama is giving to Mexico is actually an area that was declared off-limits to the public by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service because of safety concerns.  Back in 2006.  When George W. Bush was in the White House

The nearly-four-year-old closure notice (right click on the PDF file at the link and select "document properties" to view creation date) reads as follows:
The situation in this zone has reached a point where continued public use of the area is not prudent.  The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge has been adversely affected by border-related activities. The international border with Mexico has also become increasingly violent.  Assaults on law enforcement officers and violence against migrants have escalated. Violence on the Refuge associated with smugglers and border bandits has been welldocumented.  Many of these activities are concentrated at, or near, the border. The concentration of illegal activity, surveillance and law enforcement interdictions make these zones dangerous.
One can certainly argue that the border needs to be secured, that federal troops are the right solution to that problem, and even that things are getting worse.  What one can't legitimately do, however, is lay that at the feet of the current president, when current policy clearly originated with his predecessor, and there is a paper trail to prove it.  Further, a headline declaring that President Obama has unilaterally given U.S. territory to another country is, simply put, a lie.

Viewers of this story are never given the information that the Buenos Aires Refuge was closed almost four years ago by the Bush Adminstration - in fact, the sheriff mentions "four months ago" and the hosts doesn't clarify that the closure isn't recent - and while the words "in effect" are used in the reportage to qualify Mr. Obama's alleged ceding of American soil to Mexico, the headline is blatantly false.  In other words, anyone whose only information about the current situation within the Refuge came from this Fox News story would come away grossly misinformed.

This isn't a minor error, and it didn't occur on an opinion program, but on America Live with Megyn Kelly, ostensibly a hard news show.  Likewise, it is not an isolated incident (as the graphic below makes clear), and it really leaves us with just a few possible reasons for the publication and broadcast of the Obama Gives Back Major Strip of AZ to Mexico story: 1) Fox News failed to perform basic fact checking, and is therefore incompetent; 2) Fox News was aware that the story, as reported, was patently misleading, and is therefore unethically engaged in a propaganda-driven smear of President Obama; or 3) some combination of the two. Unless outright lies and gross professional negligence constitute "speaking from a conservative point of view," Fox News continues to be a terrible source for reliable informatior or quality journalism.

[Click image to view at full size]


Anonymous said...

The image at the bottom of the post needs to be hosted somewhere else. It's over the imageshack limit

PBI said...

Thanks - I've got at least a temporary fix in...

Greendayman said...

Riddle me this Batman - what can be done? We all know how much propaganda, bordering on sedition, programming there is on Fox News. I have been bitching about it for TEN YEARS! So, what are we going to do about it? Write a scathing blog? Send an e-mail to Media Matters? I'd tell you what I want to do... but it includes snipers and a lot of explosives.

How much longer is the reality based community going to stand for this? I'm done. Anyone else? Let me know. -g

Anonymous said...

Great post - I emailed a link to every person I know that watches Fox News

PBI said...

Hi Greendayman,

Thanks for stopping by.

As much as Fox News is a blight on the landscape, I would prefer to keep away from the eliminationist rhetoric of which they themselves are so fond, and I think you underestimate the power of ridicule. Sunlight is a great disinfectant, and while Fox still has strong ratings among its committed viewers, I think the overall effort to expose the lies and overt propaganda over the last decade or so has had a positive effect. (Jon Stewart has contributed immeasurably to this effort.)

Like it or not, Fox has a right to promote the views it does, and people have every right to subscribe to that information, accurate or not; there are no laws against ignorance or hypocrisy. That said, I think tremendous progress has been made in demonstrating that Fox is a terrible source for accurate news, and while the diehards are unlikely to stop listening to what they want to hear rather than what is actually occurring, consistent pressure will keep the undecideds and the potentially uninformed from swelling the ranks of Fox Zombie Nation.

I think the larger problem lies within corporate media overall, which is pretty mediocre at best. The anwer, in my mind, is to realize that this is an incrementalist effort, and that everything we do - whether indirectly through blogs and media watchdog organizations, or through the direct confrontation of media companies and lawmakers, it all adds up. It requires commitment and a consistent effort to educate, but I don’t really see an alternative.


PBI said...

Thanks, Anonymous! The more the merrier!

Greendayman said...

I understand, PBI, and I do not take my stand lightly. I have been a passive non-violent participant in liberal politics for over 30 years. I am not getting any younger. I have been waiting over 30 years for things to change in this country and only watched it get worse. My patience is run out and this old dirty fucking hippie is going out fighting, not with a pointed e-mail to Roger Ailes, either.

I remember the Weathermen of the 60's. I thought they were nuts and would have more success trying to change the system from within. I have held this thought for many years. Usually, when one thinks of militias - one thinks of the right wing. Hmmm, wonder why that is? In the middle of an outraged haze, I sought out liberal militias. Guess what, none to be found anywhere in the US. Lambs to the slaughter, that's us.

That's why we never win. That's why we don't have universal healthcare, that's why we don't have financial reform, that's why Guantanamo is still open, that's why we are still fighting two useless wars that should have been over long ago.

No balls - or the 'winger penis substitute - guns.

The violent threat of the NRA right-wing plus their demonstrated success in carrying out their threats - MLK, RFK, etc. combined with a 24/7 conservative media assault carried on the majority of televisions and radios in America - voted the most trusted name in news by the American public, misleads and distorts non-facts to a mostly brainwashed audience who wouldn't know the truth if it bit them on the ass. Then this public carries out their drummed in message either on Wall Street or on skid row.

He who controls the media, controls the message. If the majority of Americans are watching Fox News - as per their ratings - there must surely be something desperately wrong with our culture.

I don't have 30 more years. Will some of you young folk step up? 'cause neither do you.

PBI said...


I would say that our best bet lies in working the actual levers of power rather than in militant posturing. If we are unhappy with the actions of our elected officials, we need to elect better ones, and if we can’t get them elected, we need to work harder to do so.

In my estimation, it takes plenty of balls to stick to one’s principles in the face of an opponent who wants to drag the argument into the muck, and I will happily measure my own testicular fortitude against most anyone else’s. If push actually comes to shove, I’m happy to shove back, but in the meantime, I do not wish to become that which I disdain.

While you may now be more sympathetic to the anger expressed by the Weathermen, do you believe they accomplished their goals? My own assessment is that they did not, and I do not think that rightwing militias are accomplishing theirs, either. It’s worth noting that former Underground member Brian Flanagan has said “When you feel that you have right on your side, you can do some pretty horrific things”; history supports that notion strongly, and I agree with it.

I think it’s important to remember, also, that while Fox News may have the most cable news viewers, the vast majority of people in this country don’t get their information from a single source, and that local news remains the most-used outlet. (See here .) Media consolidation is a serious problem, but one that won’t be conquerred by militia activity of any stripe.


Greendayman said...

You do good work, PBI. Your insights are right on.

My main objective here is to not be taken advantage of because liberals are perceived as weak.

I wrote my letters, made my calls, sat in offices, held up signs and marched in the street. I have not yet been able to be on the right side of the legislation I wanted - ever. I have fought the good, clean fight for many years and been ridiculed for it.

Corporate conservatives are not afraid to threaten liberals whenever they feel like it ie: "The Liberal Hunting Permit".
I believe I am on the cusp of a movement of older liberals who have seen enough. Our kids are grown or almost grown, we have already topped off our earning potential, some of us with no jobs and too old to get another good job. It's easy for us to look back on a simpler time the boss did not make 400 times what you do. A pre-Nixon life that was fairer to all Americans. I was talking to my young-ish neighbor the other day and he can't remember a time when life didn't suck for the average working man. Well.. I do. And it wasn't that long ago (comparatively speaking). I truly believe with all my heart that until liberals are taken seriously as a force to be reckoned with instead of some whiner class to be mollified we will never achieve the progressive goals that could level the playing field for the working American and take this country into the next middle class boom. Sounds weird, huh? Middle Class boom, financially and politically. Just roll that one around on your tounge for a while until you get used to it.

The crux of my argument is that as long as liberals are perceived as weak, we will never see it.

Liberals have been labeled for years as weak-kneed, gunfearing wimps who run at the sight of an armed wingnut. How do you overcome perceived weakness as a group?There is a choice - neither of which options are very good. We can continue to turn the other cheek, write that nasty letter to your rep and blog the daylights out of it - or you can meet it head on and send an equally tough message in response.

I'm done turning the other cheek. The deeds do not have to be done, the guns need not be fired but the reality that we are just as armed and just as ready to meet them in the street as the baggers who write the signs that they are just "reloading" needs to become a reality. I want them to know that I can outcrazy them any day of the week. I prefer not to have to and nothing needs to happen, but business as usual is not cutting it with me and I'll be up in the grill of anyone who threatens me or my way of life.

In this "Warrior Culture", nutured to life by Military Industrial Complex profits - the weak are eaten and the strong, no matter how stupid, are respected.

The strong/aggressive liberal is a mind/sea-change that I feel needs attention and continued exploration. We've tried just about everything else.

Keep up the good fight.

PBI said...


You wrote two things in your last comment that really stood out, and with which I agree completely:

"...business as usual is not cutting it with me and I'll be up in the grill of anyone who threatens me or my way of life."


"The strong/aggressive liberal is a mind/sea-change that I feel needs attention and continued exploration. We've tried just about everything else."

Well said, and thanks for the conversation!