Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fox News and the Nevada Democratic Debate

The Democratic Party in Nevada recently broke off plans to work with Fox News to host a Democratic presidential debate.

The proximate cause of this is a 'joke' from Fox News CEO that confused the names of Osama bin Laden and Democratic contender Senator Barack Obama. However, there is a much better reason against involvement in anything that Fox News is involved in. Its executives and major personalities display an appalling lack of intellectual integrity.

A Highway Example

Walk up to a busy highway. Close your eyes and, ignoring (or reinterpreting) all evidence to the contrary, convince yourself that there are no hazards in crossing the street. Then, start across the street. Continue to ignore anything you may hear or see.

Anybody foolish enough to follow these instructions would discover that reality will impose itself rather violently on those who choose to ignore it. Reality has no capacity for compassion or forgiveness. It does not care who lives, who dies, or the quality of that life. It will kill, maim, or otherwise harm anybody who will not take it seriously.

If enough people follow these instructions, pure chance will eventually allow somebody to get across the street. Let us then imagine a group of people who hear about this story. They grab every microphone they have available to announce to the world that somebody crossed the street. They attribute her success to something like a special relationship with God (rather than pure dumb luck) or invent some other story. The story does not matter. The only thing that matters is to get more people to try to walk blindly across the street.

If you are the type of person who can enjoy this type of work – convincing people to blindly cross the street by promoting those who were successful – then you might be the type of person that Fox News is looking for as either an executive or a broadcast personality.

Fox News and Conservatism

I want to make a point right away that my complaints have nothing to do with Fox News being conservative. It is quite possible to have an intellectually responsible conservative publication. Conservatives make a number of valid points – some of which I agree with.

For example, legislators are human. Like all humans, they act so as to fulfill the more and stronger of their desires, given their beliefs. This principle governs every intentional action, including their vote. The person who wins an election – whether for the Democrats or the Republicans – is not always somebody who desires only to serve the public good. Chances are, he desires such things as power, sex, money, to make his friends happy, and to make his opponents miserable. Resources handed over to a legislator for his control will not be used for the public good. It will be sold to the highest bidder. It will be exchanged with those who can best fulfill the more and the stronger of the legislator’s desires, whatever those desires happen to be.

Accordingly, it is absolutely foolish to think that people interested in buying influence in government are only going to try to manipulate Republican politics. People who want money and power in an era when Democrats have money and power to give are not going to ignore the possibility of manipulating liberal politicians and liberal ideas to their benefit.

So, there is a place to be had for an intellectually responsible conservative voice.

Fox news is not that voice.


Fox News is the paradigm for intellectual recklessness and deceit in the pursuit of profits. Fox News is the nesting ground for people whose moral character is very much like that of individual who convinces people to blindly cross a busy street if somebody will pay him to do so.

Some evidence?

A 2003 poll from the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy showed that Fox News viewers were the least well informed about the facts relevant to the case for war. Effectively, Fox was a significant tool in getting the American public to blindly cross the street into war, and for suffering the consequences that followed.

An example where Bill O’Reilly selectively edited an interview featuring Senator Joe Biden in order to misrepresent Biden’s views, where O’Reilly then asserted the position (as his own) that he cut from Biden’s interview.

Without doing any real research, Fox News repeated an unfounded assertion that Presidential candidate Barack Obama attended a Muslim madras as a young child.

The major fault in these last two stories is not that mistakes were made. It rests in the fact that Fox News did nothing to punish the perpetrators of these misinformation campaigns – establishing an atmosphere in which there is no concern with fiction over fact.

Which brings me to the fourth item:

Fox News terminated two employees who refused to insert false information in a report, winning a lawsuit on appeal for wrongful termination by arguing that news organizations have a constitutional right to make false and misleading claims.

Again, nobody was fired. Again, the problem is not that these events happened so much as the Fox News organization showed complete indifference or even a preference for putting provably false and misleading information on the air.

Respectable news organizations discipline employees for knowingly or recklessly making false and misleading statements - communicating its standards to all other employees. Fox News saves its pink slips for those who refuse to make false or misleading statements. It, too, is communicatings its standards to its employees.

These are just some examples.

Ad Hominem Tu Quoque

I would like to remind the reader that, even though there are clearly liberal media outlets that are guilty of the same crime, this is no defense of Fox News.

This practice of saying, “You cannot condemn me because you are just as guilty,” (spoken, in this case, by Fox News against liberal propagandists) has a name. It is called ad hominem tu quoque meaning, “Oh yeah! Back at you, buster.” The claims made in this family of arguments are irrelevant.

Imagine a murderer claiming in his defense that the reason he cannot be condemned for murder is because he knows that there are other people in the world who also commit murder – or a rapist claiming that his rape should go unpunished because he is not the only person who commits rape. This is the type of claim that Fox News is making when it says that its intellectual recklessness and deceit are morally permissible because they are not the only ones who engage in intellectual recklessness and deceit.

Of course, since fallacious arguments are the stock in trade at Fox News, we should not be surprised to see them haul out this fallacy in their own defense.

Sleeping with the Enemy

One of the arguments being offered against the Nevada Democratic Party and the Democrats in general is that they have an obligation to go to the enemy and meet the enemy on their own grounds.

This is hardly the case. The victim of immoral behavior has no obligation to show up and permit himself to be further victimized. Certainly, the victim of a robbery or rape has no obligation to walk into the house of the person who victimized her to do battle. In the case of Fox News, we are talking about an organization that cares nothing about intellectual integrity or truth. The victims of their deceptions and distortions have no obligation to walk into the den of those who would victimize them to suffer yet another round of deceptions and distortions.

Unless and until Fox News decides to do something to promote intellectual integrity – such as firing people who are clearly caught clearly lying or engaging in intellectually reckless reporting (by refusing to check important facts before broadcasting them), nobody who cares about truth and intellectual honesty has any reason to deal with that organization. Indeed, all decent people have good reason to avoid such an organization. People who are so clearly willing to urge people to blindly cross a street, getting many of them maimed and killed, do not have a right to any form of social interaction with more morally concerned and sensitive individuals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

um, it's Barack Obama, not Mareck Obama.