At Forbes (HT Hot Air Headlines), S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University's Center for Media and Public Affairs, asks the question, "Fox News: Fair And Balanced?" -- and answers in the affirmative. In the process, the GMU Professor of Communications also makes a number of interesting points about Fox's competitors, discusses the convergence of news and analysis, and provides useful historical context.
Using a methodology that would be difficult to refute, Lichter's work relating to campaign 2008 is in sync with what CMPA found in late 2007 (noted at the time at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) during the opening stages of the presidential campaign.
Here are key paragraphs from Lichter's commentary (bolds are mine):
Other points Lichter makes:
Fox News has become embroiled in a nasty controversy over its ill treatment of President Obama. But are the charges true?
What if I told you that Fox gave Obama his worst press and John McCain his best press of any network during last year's presidential election? If you work for the White House, you'd probably take this as proof that Fox is just a mouthpiece for the opposition. Now what if I told you that Fox had the most balanced coverage of any network during the same campaign? If you work for Fox, you'd probably say we told you so.
But what if I told you that both scenarios are true?
While it seems unlikely, that conclusion is precisely the case, based on an ongoing study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). That both these seemingly contradictory scenarios are true tells us something important not only about the war between Fox and the White House, but about the changing nature of television news in America.
.... The CMPA study compares ABC, CBS and NBC evening news shows and the first half hour of Fox News Channel's Special Report, which most closely resembles its broadcast news counterparts.
.... So how could Fox have both the most balanced and the most anti-Obama coverage? Simple. It's because the other networks were all so pro-Obama. CMPA analyzed every soundbite by reporters and nonpartisan sources (excluding representative of the political parties) that evaluated the candidates and their policies. On the three broadcast networks combined, evaluations of Obama were 68% positive and 32% negative, compared to the only 36% positive and 64% negative evaluations of his GOP opponent John McCain.
In fact, Obama received the most favorable coverage CMPA has ever recorded for any presidential candidate since we began tracking election news coverage in 1988. The totals were very similar--within a few percentage points--at all three networks. (These figures exclude comments on the candidates' prospects in the campaign horse race, which obviously favored Obama.)
Meanwhile, Fox's Special Report was dramatically tougher on Obama, with only 36% favorable vs. 64% unfavorable evaluations during the same time period. But McCain didn't fare much better, garnering only 40% favorable comments vs. 60% negative ones. So the broadcast networks gave good marks to one candidate and bad marks to another, while Fox was tough on both--and most balanced overall.
- The historical pattern during a president's first year in office is that the establishment press tends to go negative. Lichter interestingly asserts that all networks have done so this year, with the Big 3 nets tallying 35% favorables for Obama vs. 27% for Fox on Special Report. Lichter's take is that "Fox's coverage has gone from being the worst of all to merely the worst among equals."
- The White House claim that Fox "really isn't a news organization" is risible, given that in Special Report the channel at least runs "nightly news modeled on the broadcast networks." MSNBC and CNN don't even try.
- Longtime NewsBusters and BizzyBlog readers will probably have a hard time with the final sentence of this assertion -- "Obama differs from his predecessors mainly in the false hopes generated by sometimes fawning campaign coverage from jaded journalists who temporarily let themselves get carried away by his eloquence and the historic nature of his candidacy. When politics returned to normal, their coverage returned to form." I definitely disagree, especially if you include the Big 3's morning shows, which attempt to position themselves as every bit as objective as their evening news counterparts. But if anything, they're worse. Perhaps a gravitation back to the norm has begun more recently, as the continued decay in the economy as people are experiencing it and the awful results of the administration's attempts to do something about it become ever more obvious.
Leftists who will predictably howl that CMPA is conservatively biased (because SourceWatch says so, as if that proves anything beyond paranoia) are going to have to explain what is wrong with CMPA's scorekeeping methodology, which appears to be relatively immune from partisan slant, even if one had that as an objective. In any event, the footage is out there, and they are free to try to replicate and poke holes in what CMPA did any time. I bet they won't; whining is so much easier.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.