Monday, October 18, 2004

(Un) Fair and Balanced

So here's something interesting. I was watching television this afternoon, and I turned to FOX News, because I love watching Dayside with Linda Vester (it makes me chuckle and shake my head), but the programming was pre-empted by a Bush campaign speech right here in New Jersey. FOX covered the speech for about 50 minutes (so far as I saw), and then cut it off when it was getting toward wrapping up. They then "interviewed" former U.N. ambassador Dick Holbrooke about the speech. The "interview" basically consisted of a pretty blonde lady quoting Bush's speech in the guise of asking questions, and Holbrooke called her out on it.

The interesting part, though, came when Kerry's speech came on, just about five minutes later. FOX understandably didn't feel the need to cover the opening platitudes of Kerry thanking the town of Tampa for hosting him, etc. They took a quick commercial break at that point, and so I turned to CNN and MSNBC, which were both also covering the speech. After a while, I turned back to FOX, and I saw that they had preempted Kerry's speech for a program about electronic voting machines in Florida. Kerry was still speaking about taxes and health care on CNN and MSNBC (in an admirable attempt, I think, to keep at least some of the public debate on his own terms), but FOX deemed it not important enough to cover.

I watched some more of the speech upstairs and then turned it off and checked in on my roommate, who was watching it downstairs. He was a bit incredulous that FOX had cut to commercial in the middle of the speech, as he just noticed (he'd been watching CNN also). We stayed on FOX until the end of the commercial, and instead of returning to Kerry's speech, they cut to a special report on the latest tribe member to be voted off of Survivor, complete with an in-studio interview.

Now this isn't a rant about the primacy of entertainment over the important issues that news channels should be covering, though there's a case to be made for that. Nor is it a case about how terrible reality television and our obsession with it can be, though there's certainly a case to be made for that. No, what really stuck in my craw was that FOX chose to cover Bush's speech nearly in its entirety, but cut Kerry off after a fairly short time. Both were campaign speeches, and FOX seemingly declared its own political endorsement loud and clear by letting everyone know that while Bush deserved a lot of coverage, Kerry isn't quite as important as an exclusive interview with the latest dude to get voted off of Survivor.

Ridiculous, huh?