By:
February 1, 2021

Are Fox News and MSNBC just opposite sides of the same coin?

Whenever the conservative, pro-Donald-Trump or right-wing biases of Fox News come up in conversation or stories, the instinct is for someone to say, “Well, that’s like MSNBC being in the tank for the left.”

In other words, is MSNBC simply the left-wing version of right-wing Fox News?

I admit that I’ve lazily made that reckless comparison myself.

So now I’m going to quote Oliver Darcy, media reporter from CNN. And, as I do, I can see the folks at Fox News and those who watch it regularly already rolling their eyes. Yes, Darcy is often critical of Fox News. And CNN is a rival of Fox News. But to be fair, MSNBC is technically a rival of CNN, too. In fact, I’d argue that MSNBC and CNN are actually fighting for many of the same viewers.

But I’m also quoting what Darcy said on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” because I believe he is spot-on right.

“To equate what MSNBC does or some of these other outlets do with what Fox does is nonsensical,” Darcy said. “There are outlets that have opinion hosts, but they’re playing in the real world — in the world of facts and reality. Fox is spinning its own reality. To suggest there’s an equivalence between the two I think is not accurate and something we should really be careful to avoid.”

There’s nothing wrong with having strong opinions about policies. There’s nothing wrong with not liking a politician for his or her views or actions. And I’m not so naive that I don’t realize it’s the job of primetime pundits to attract viewers and stir up emotions.

But much of what we see on Fox News, especially in primetime, is not based in truth. For example, take the lie that the election was rigged and stolen from Donald Trump. Many on Fox News either told that lie, perpetuated that lie, or didn’t shoot it down — as was their journalistic duty.

Misleading the public, not giving the full story, endangering the public, causing dissension and welcoming dangerous and irresponsible guests is far too common on far too many Fox News shows.

And that’s what separates them, and not for the better, from MSNBC.

Wallace still doing his job

Fox News does have at least one person trying to do solid journalism: Chris Wallace. Case in point, Wallace brought up a fair argument during “Fox News Sunday.” He said to USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page:

“Susan, you know, you’ve got a situation right now where there is more visible outrage inside the GOP over Liz Cheney, a member of leadership, voting to impeach the president … rather than some of these wild conspiracy theories being espoused by Marjorie Taylor Greene. How serious is this for the GOP and what can they do about it? I mean, they take her off committees, expel her? What are their options here?”

Page said, “I think it tells you a lot about where the Republican party is right now.”

A different kind of president

President Biden, leaves church after attending mass on Saturday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Today is Joe Biden’s 12th full day as president of the United States. And he has yet to give a sit-down TV interview. That’s on purpose. And that’s fine.

Instead of Biden, we’re seeing his COVID-19 scientists and economic advisers and his communications team putting out his message and being available to the media.

Politico’s Christopher Cadelago and Sam Mintz explain, “White House aides describe the strategy not so much as delegation but as an concerted effort to restore confidence with a public battered by the contradictory messaging and scorched-earth politics of the Trump years. In just over a week, the White House has booked 80 TV and radio interviews with 20 senior administration officials, members of the COVID-19 response team and Cabinet secretary designates. They’ve had officials on each major network, booking them on every Sunday show in the first week. And they worked with CNN to have three of the doctors in charge of its COVID-19 response take questions from the public during a coronavirus town hall, said Mariel Sáez, the White House director of broadcast media.”

That doesn’t mean Biden is invisible. He has made several speeches and announcements, but he has not given a one-on-one interview yet. Clearly he is putting work ahead of media appearances. That’s quite the switch from the previous president, who often phoned in to Fox News when he wasn’t tweeting.

Politico notes, “Whereas Biden has not done a television interview, Trump had conducted three by this point in his presidency.”

Meanwhile, it has been White House press secretary Jen Psaki who has been informing the media and public, holding press conferences every weekday.

Eventually, Biden will (and needs to) do a major interview. But, for now, his messages are getting out and his presidency is being transparent while he is working.

East Coast bias

Here’s a superb lead to a story from Associated Press media writer David Bauder: “If Tom Brokaw has one piece of advice to leave for television journalists upon his retirement, it’s to get out to more of the country — and not just to visit.”

In an insightful interview with Bauder following Brokaw’s retirement from NBC News, Brokaw said there’s media bias toward the East and West Coast.

“Take some of the people who are only in Washington and send them to Salt Lake City or Kansas City, or St. Louis for that matter,” Brokaw told Bauder.

Brokaw isn’t wrong. There is a tendency for the news to center on the East and West Coast. In fact, you could make a case that the news is especially skewed toward just the East Coast — particularly New York and Washington.

“I don’t want to knock what they’re doing now because they get on an airplane and go to these places and they do a good job,” Brokaw said. “But I always found it was best to invest yourself in different parts of the country and get to know the politics and culture.”

Meanwhile, Brokaw had this dire warning when it comes to attitudes toward the media following four years of constant attacks from Trump.

“I don’t think there will be a full recovery,” Brokaw said. “I think this is baked in.”

Interesting interview

Dana Bash is a welcome addition to Sunday’s “State of the Union” on CNN. She is now a co-host, along with Jake Tapper. On Sunday, Bash had a solid interview with Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

Bash asked Ducey what responsibility Donald Trump had for the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Ducey said, “Well, I’ve said he does bear some responsibility. So do those that organized the rally, the Stop the Steal rally. So do those that financed the rally. So do those that were giving him misinformation. Ultimately, I think his legal team really failed on this front. But, ultimately, the people that bear the responsibility are those that committed the violence and vandalism at the people’s house. So, we have denounced that in all possible terms. They should be held accountable to and prosecuted to the highest extent of the law, those that broke into the Capitol. It should never, ever happen again. I think that’s something we can all agree on.”

Calling out a conspiracy theorist

In this 2019 file photo, Linda Beigel Schulman holds a photograph of her son, Scott Beigel, who was killed in the Parkland school shooting. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son Scott Beigel was murdered in the Parkland school shootings, said she spoke Saturday with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican from Georgia who has spread false conspiracy theories about the Parkland shooting. Last week, a 2019 video of her harassing a Parkland survivor surfaced.

Schulman appeared on MSNBC on Sunday and said she asked Greene what she could share about their Saturday conversation when she appeared on TV. She said Greene told her, “Say whatever you want.”

Schulman said she asked Greene if she really believed the shootings at Parkland and Sandy Hook were false flags and staged.

Schulman said, “Her answer to me was, ‘Unequivocally, no I do not.’”

Schulman said she wanted to believe Greene’s answer, and asked Greene to appear with her on TV and publicly declare Parkland and Sandy Hook were not staged.

“Well, her statement is clear,” Schulman said, “because here I am with you and she’s not here right now. Truth is power, and if Congresswoman Greene believes that Parkland and Sandy Hook were in fact real events, she would be willing to say that publicly. And her failure tells me that, for Congresswoman Greene, politics trumps truth because lies and conspiracy theories are more important to her than honesty.”

Schulman added, “She has no right to trivialize the murder of 17 innocent lives on Feb. 14 (2018).”

Speaking of Greene, CNN’s S.E. Cupp called Greene “among Donald Trump’s worst legacies.” Cupp added, “Now if you thought the Republicans would self-reflect on the damage that Trump did to the country and to their own party, well, you’d be wrong.”

A different kind of week

Welcome to Super Bowl week, although it’s a much different week than normal. What is normally the biggest media extravaganza in sports will this week zoom on a different kind of coverage. Yes, that was a play on words.

“Media Day” — or “Opening Night,” as it has been called in recent years — usually involves thousands of journalists talking to every Super Bowl player. Not this year. Because of COVID-19, “Opening Night” has been turned into a giant Zoom call. Nine players from each team will be available instead of the entire team. We’re guessing we won’t have the normal media day shenanigans of people dressed up in costumes to ask off-the-wall questions. So that’s … good?

Media tidbits

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, left, interviews new Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Courtesy: NBC News)

  • NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell has landed the first TV interview with Antony Blinken since his confirmation as U.S. Secretary of State. The interview will air this morning on the “Today” show, as well as the “NBC Nightly News.” Additional portions of the interview will air today on “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at noon Eastern on MSNBC, as well as throughout the day on MSNBC.
  • Mel Antonen, a longtime baseball reporter for USA Today and MASN-TV in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, has passed away. He died Saturday of a rare acute autoimmune disease and complications from COVID-19. He was 64. USA Today’s Chuck Raasch has a detailed obit.
  • I find The Washington Post’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker to be very useful. It’s a thorough breakdown — nationally and by state — of those who have been vaccinated, the percentage of those already vaccinated and still to be vaccinated, along with other key numbers. An excellent guide. And, by the way, it’s free even if you don’t have a Post subscription.
  • This is no shocker: A report says InfoWars founder Alex Jones helped spark the insurrection at the Capitol. The Wall Street Journal’s Shalini Ramachandran, Alexandra Berzon and Rebecca Ballhaus with the big scoop in “Jan. 6 Rally Funded by Top Trump Donor, Helped by Alex Jones, Organizers Say.” (Story behind a paywall.)
  • Sports radio and Fox Sports 1 host Colin Cowherd is starting his own podcast network. Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw has the details.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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  • Fox News is conservative propaganda fueled by the infinity mirror of its prime time opinionators who are given legitimacy by its more “news” orientated programming. This has been true for decades.

    Also: Both-siderism does not make you unbiased. False equivalence journalism does not make you objective. Stenography does not make you neutral.