Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 00:55 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 00:55 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: FOX news


Sam Roggeveen


18 April 2009 06:03

Paul writes (my thoughts follow):

Your observation that 'what is striking about FOX News is not the bias so much (I was prepared for that) but how absurdly transparent that bias is. As propaganda, it is laughably ham-fisted' understates matters considerably. I know FOX is now internationally infamous for its transparent conservative viewpoint, channelling of Bush Administration talking points and perceived willingness to dissemble about the war in Iraq. However, FOX is not the only exemplar of the reversion of American media to partisanship (which was its model well into the 20th century). A couple of hours watching MSNBC gives a very clear sense of what the world looks like from the point of view of the Democratic Party's cheer squad. It's a looking glass world to a FOX viewer, and vice versa. 

I'm not actually making a partisan political point here — I'm an Australian expat who disdains cable news of the left and right persuasion almost entirely — but I think the implications of a bifurcated media aren't fully appreciated by its international consumers, including in Australia where we still get a lot of international feed from US networks. An interpretation of news that appeals solely to partisans of both sides has some pretty unappealing implications, such as the diminished potential to achieve certain democratic virtues like the exchange of ideas, the quest for policy synthesis through open debate, etc. If anything, political blogging  (a much more powerful force in the US than Australia) has amplified the trend, and actually become a force for disintermediation than a medium.

That blogs have contributed to political polarisation is a regular complaint, which I think is overstated. Certainly there is a tendency for blogs to form echo chambers. It becomes clear when you scan the comment threads of prominent political blogs that such blogs mainly attract supporters, not critics. That shouldn’t surprise us, because it has always been the case in political publishing. For instance, with few exceptions, people who read Green Left Weekly do so because they are sympathetic to its political agenda. The same would go for Quadrant on the other side of politics.

So blog readers will tend to expose themselves mainly to political views they already approve of. Yet blogs do have an advantage over print publications in this regard, because of the blogging convention of hyperlinks, which print cannot match. When a left-wing blogger criticises someone on the right, the convention is to link the person being criticised, allowing readers to find out first-hand if the criticism is justified.

Secondly, against any tendency for polarisation, you have to weigh the enormous benefits that blogging brings to political debate. Quite simply, blogs have reduced the entry costs for political debate to almost zero. In theory, anyone with an opinion can now reach an audience as big as that enjoyed by the most prominent columnists and TV anchors. That's a pretty good method for improving the accountability of FOX and MSNBC.