Time Magazine Critic: Blame Fox News for Olbermann's Lunacy

In an article posted Friday on Time.com, the magazine’s critic James Poniewozik suggests the Fox News Channel, which he sees as tilted to the right, is also responsible for the multi-minute rants that MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann has lately been emitting. Time also dismisses the idea that the rest of the mainstream media (presumably including itself) is tilted to the left, with Poniewozik parenthetically noting that “the MSM really slant toward the institutional, establishmentarian center, which is a bias as dangerous as any other.”

Poniewozik’s theory on Olbermann is that Fox’s climb to the top of the ratings has led to changes at other TV news outlets, including at MSNBC, although he paints Olbermann as the party most likely to be embarrassed by the link to Fox News: “Keith Olbermann ranting at George W. Bush and O'Reilly on MSNBC's Countdown: that's Fox through and through, whether Olbermann would like to admit it or not.”

But even the talk shows on Fox, which Poniewozik tags as “blatantly right,” routinely feature liberal guests to argue their point of view with hosts like Sean Hannity or the less-conservative Bill O’Reilly. MSNBC’s Countdown rarely, if ever, sees Olbermann engaged in any kind of debate with conservatives; instead, his program’s political stories are all designed to validate a conspiratorial worldview typically seen on left-wing blogs.

Here’s the relevant part of Poniewozik’s article, “What Hath Fox Wrought,” posted October 6, which looks like it's part of the upcoming print version of the weekly newsmagazine:
Even with its ratings down, Fox remains the network against which competitors define themselves. And not just news competitors. After Bill Clinton got off an on-camera harangue against Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace, for an aggressive line of questioning about his administration's anti-terror efforts, the New York Times reported that prominent Democrats, from Howard Dean to Paul Begala, had begun an open campaign of attacking Fox as a covert Republican shill....

So is Fox a covert Republican shill? Shill, yes, sometimes. Its opinion shows blatantly tilt right. The news plays straighter, though as I write I'm looking at a Fox News chyron that reads, "If Rumsfeld left amid criticism, would America be at risk?" Covert, not so much. The network famously calls itself "fair and balanced," but "fair and balancing" would be a better description: Roger Ailes repeatedly describes his news network as a counterweight, on the right, to the rest of the news media. His argument that nearly every other mainstream media outlet slants left is self-serving and mostly wrong. (The MSM really slant toward the institutional, establishmentarian center, which is a bias as dangerous as any other.) But while "fair and balanced" may be propaganda, it doesn't seem to be fooling anyone. Conservatives see Fox as a comfortable haven for their worldview; their opponents pretty much agree. The balance here is that Fox winks just as broadly to both sides.

In the end, that wink—that is, the Fox gestalt of insouciance, attitude, and even playfulness—has had a bigger effect on the news media than any Bill O'Reilly rant. Fox taught TV news that voice, provocation and fun are not things to be afraid of. And for better or worse, probably every TV news program outside of PBS has been Foxified by now. The explosive graphics on your newscast: that's Fox. The "freeSpeech" opinion segments on the new CBS Evening News: that's Fox, too. Anderson Cooper yelling at a FEMA official or crusading in Africa: that's Fox. Keith Olbermann ranting at George W. Bush and O'Reilly on MSNBC's Countdown: that's Fox through and through, whether Olbermann would like to admit it or not.

Fox's ratings, in other words, may have declined for its 10th anniversary. But there are ratings and then there are ratings. You may tell yourself you don't watch Fox News. But as they used to say in the old Palmolive commercials: You're soaking in it.
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes is the Senior Editor for Newsbusters