Tuesday was no extraordinary day at Fox News Channel. While much of America went to work, came home, had dinner, and put the kids to bed, Fox worked to put an unlovely face on President Obama’s campaign for reelection—as it has for months.
For television viewers who tuned in to see what was happening at the Democratic National Convention, Fox offered an array of comments, news, and graphics that portrayed the Democrats in unflattering terms.
If you wanted to see Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker ignite the hall with a spirited call for justice that left delegates cheering, crying, and chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” you needed to turn the channel to CNN or C-SPAN. The Fox correspondents were busy ripping the Democrats for leaving the words “God” and “Jerusalem” out of the party platform.
Fox fetched the “national debt clock” from the Republican convention and flashed its spinning numbers. “Ask yourself: Can you really afford four more years of Barack Obama?” warned Eric Bolling, the host of The Five, a talk show in which four conservative gabbers outnumber the single Democrat.
“He’s someone who’s slung some mud,” anchorwoman Megyn Kelly said at the mention of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The Democrats in Charlotte are “a freak show,” said contributor Monica Crowley.
“There is no question the country is worse off today than it was the day that President Obama took office,” said Bill O’Reilly, as the coverage hit prime time.
Wonder why American politics is polarized? Look no further than Fox and its liberal doppelganger, MSNBC. An increasing number of Americans, especially political aficionados, prefer their news stirred—not straight.
Fox was the top network last week, with more than 9 million viewers as Mitt Romney gave his acceptance speech. That’s more than twice as many as watched the proceedings on ABC, the runner-up. It was more than ABC and third-place network NBC put together. “And, boy, are they mad,” O’Reilly noted gleefully.
Fox didn’t build its audience on impartiality. In a study released last month, analysts at the Pew Research Center found that 86 percent of the coverage of Obama on Fox News this summer was negative, and only 14 percent was positive.
Most of the discussion (about 70 percent) on Fox News criticized Obama on three points: “that he had not done enough for the economy (39 percent), that he does not believe in capitalism (18 percent), and [that] he is not honest or a person of integrity (13 percent),” the Pew report said.
Not all of this critique could be attributed to aggressive reporting or the news media’s customary skepticism. The portrayal of Mitt Romney on Fox was markedly better than that of Obama, with a 44 percent positive share.
If past is prologue, then many of Fox’s conservative viewers won’t even bother to watch the Democratic convention, and it will lose the first-place status it seized last week.
But just as troubling was what scholars discovered at MSNBC. It was even more tilted than Fox News, with almost all—88 percent—of its coverage criticizing Romney. MSNBC hosts such as Rachel Maddow and Al Sharpton were big boosters of Obama, with a majority—54 percent—of the network’s coverage rated as favorable for the president.
“The two cable channels are devoting most of their time to harshly and almost unceasingly attacking and criticizing the other candidate,” said Mark Jurkowitz, the associate director of the Pew project.
It’s a reason our politics are fissured. During the GOP convention, the combined cable channels drew more viewers than the combined broadcast networks.
Cable has “taken over ... the political franchises,” Jurkowitz said. Their coverage is “dueling opinions ... in some case dueling versions of reality.”