Fox News Channel is one of the most widely available sources of news in the USA; more than 97 million American households can receive it and it’s been the number 1 rated cable news channel for more than twelve years. Of the ten most watched cable news shows, eight are produced by Fox. It’s among the most influential media outlets in the country. So what should we think about the fact it’s frequently accused of being biased?
Fox claims to report the news in an even-handed way, but then they wouldn’t be expected to say anything different. On the other hand there’s a widespread public perception that Fox has a right wing, conservative bias in the way it presents what’s happening. One 2009 poll by the Pew Research organization found that Fox is viewed as the most biased news channel, with 47 per cent of Americans believing it has a conservative slant. Among journalists that figure goes up to 69 per cent.
There’s evidence from inside Fox to support this belief. In 2010, when the debate about health care reform was heating up, a vice president at Fox News sent a memo to staff asking them to use the term “government-run health insurance” instead of “public health insurance.” Not long before, a Republican electoral strategist had explained on Fox’s Hannity show that “government-run” generated a more negative opinion than “public.”
Fox has also been accused of less subtle bias. Among things they’re known to have done are cropping quotes from President Obama and other Democrats to change their apparent meaning, photoshopping images of left-leaning journalists and using stock footage of crowds to make it seem that pro-Republican demonstrations were better attended than they really were. —— Allegations of bias have damaged relations between Fox and the Obama White House. In September 2009 President Obama excluded Fox from a series of appearances on the major news networks, apparently because of remarks made on Fox by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Other senior administration officials have also excluded Fox from press conferences and other events.
Does any of this matter? It’s been argued that it does. Many voters decide which party to support based on what they learn from the news, and if that news isn’t giving an accurate picture of events they might end up casting their vote in a way that, with more reliable facts in their possession, they wouldn’t have done. Some people have argued that this effect isn’t likely to happen in reality but there’s evidence that it does. A study into the 2000 presidential election found that in towns where Fox News was broadcast the Republican vote was from 0.4 to 0.7 per cent higher than in similar towns where Fox wasn’t available.
Fox definitely isn’t the only US news network that’s been labeled as biased – MSNBC is often accused of being pro-Democrat – but it’s the one that’s mentioned most often. The fact is that US news shows tend to be more partisan than in most other democracies; some lean left and others, like Fox, to the right. The big question is how healthy that is for the political system.