No Longer the Upstart, Fox News Comes to Boston With a Big Axe to Ungrind
How will Fox News, the embattled cable news network that attracts more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined, but also draws more partisan criticism than any television news organization in history, cover the Democratic Convention?
Like a blanket, say Fox News officials, and just as significantly, they maintain, without fear or favor. No one will be able to accuse the network of giving short shrift to the party or its candidates, which many of its most conservative commentators enjoy skewering with impunity.
"We're presenting 35 percent more coverage than we did in 2000, 11 programs, and more than 40 hours of coverage live from Boston," said Fox News spokesman Paul Schur. The network will broadcast live from the convention site for two hours every morning of the convention, and then from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. or later.
Four years ago, Fox News was still the new kid at the conventions. Producers and hosts were scrambling just to get their programs on the air. Now the network's production values rival anyone in the broadcast business, with as much attention paid to the quality of backdrops, graphics, and logos as to news gathering and bookings.
According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 25 percent of the public regularly watches Fox News, up by almost 50 percent from 2000. Ratings for other cable new networks have been flat at best.
Comedian-turned pundit Al Franken and Doonesbury creator Gary Trudeau have been skewering the network's starboard orientation without mercy in books and in the funny pages.
Now a new documentary, "Outfoxed," paints a scathing view of Fox News as biased against Boston's home team -- that's the John Kerry Democrats, not the Red Sox.
"What you get over and over again [from Fox News] is the Bush Republican Party line," said filmmaker Robert Greenwald.
Fox News' strategy in dealing with "Outfoxed" -- the DVD of which, at $9.95, is priced to move on Amazon.com -- is to let its coverage do the talking.
Network spokesman Schur deflected questions about the film. But consider this missive from Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson in an article aimed at Fox News fans posted on the network's website: "This alleged documentary is in fact a third-rate hack-job, full of clips pulled out of context, edited in such a way as to cast Fox News in the worst possible light."
"The fact that they have so many conservative commentators gives [Fox News] definitely a conservative flavor," added Juan Williams, who doubles as a Fox commentator and a National Public Radio correspondent. But, added Williams, "the reporting of Fox at times raises questions that you don't hear elsewhere because they pay attention to a conservative point of view. But it's not that it's slanted or biased" against Democrats.
Democrats, for their part, are caught in a conundrum. Though many believe Fox News favors the GOP, the network is also extremely powerful. So politicians and party officials usually end up dancing with the devil, even if it means getting beaten up by conservatives.
"Do you want to get on Fox, as difficult as that will be, and speak to a few million people?" said Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. "That's the quandary that they raise."
The Kerry campaign is in no mood to bite the hand of Fox News, even though "Outfoxed" depicts network talent as routinely labeling him a flip-flopper who "looks French."
"Sorry, I can't be of any help here," said Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan.
And many Democrats say there is a difference between the more opinionated talking heads on the network and more objective Fox News reporters, such as lead campaign correspondent Carl Cameron.
Certainly, there will be plenty of opportunities at this convention for Fox News personalities to offer their opinions. Much of its prime time coverage of the network will be hosted by its most outspoken talent.
The 8-9 p.m. hour each night will be led by Bill O'Reilly, the combative, rightward-tilting host of the "O'Reilly Factor." The 9-10 p.m. hour will feature the conservative-liberal combatants, Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes.
On his radio show Wednesday, O'Reilly gave a preview of his attitudes about prominent Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.? "She's a nut." What about Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota? "We don't have any respect for him at all."
Andrew Taylor is a senior writer at Congressional Quarterly, which is owned by The Poynter Institute. He is covering the media beat for CQ Today at the Conventions, and his article is published on Poynter Online with permission.