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Mote, Meet Beam

Those who have howled the loudest about liberal media bias suddenly have little to say about an impossible-to-ignore example of conservative media bias.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/21/2000

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

-- Matthew 7:3

You knew this would happen. Fox News Channel would do something so partisan as to blow its so-called reputation as a network presenting "balanced" news -- a reputation perpetrated mostly by conservatives and Fox itself -- out of the water.

And when that happened, those same conservatives would ignore it. But you knew that, too.

And here it is, in the form of John Ellis. A first cousin of George W. Bush and a virulent anti-Clintonite, Ellis was hired by FNC to analyze election results and exit polls. He helped create the TV networks' second blunder of election night, following their retracted call of Al Gore winning Florida earlier in the evening, by leading FNC into calling Florida for Bush later that night. And it turns out Ellis was also on the phone all night to his cousin feeding him the latest -- and confidential -- election statistics.

A man who is on the record as saying, "I am loyal to my cousin, Governor George Bush of Texas. I put that loyalty ahead of my loyalty to anyone else outside my immediate family" was hired by FNC to provide a presumably fair and balanced analysis of election results.

Media Research Center, that watchdog of media bias, couldn't find anything to criticize.

The only mention of Ellis on MRC was in a Nov. 15 CyberAlert, where it was dismissed as "another example of how the mainstream media can never find any bias amongst themselves but see it regularly with the Fox News Channel." And it's another example of how MRC considers "liberal bias" and "conservative bias" to be two separate, unequal concepts.

(Two days later, MRC ripped into CBS News President Andrew Heyward’s denial of bias at his network as not credible because Heyward had called MRC's Brent Bozell and Accuracy in Media's Reed Irvine "activists and extremists of the right" a few months earlier. (AIM, by the way, has nothing at all to say about the Ellis matter.)

NewsMax's news columns are silent on Ellis as well, but they did find time to criticize Barbara Walters for plugging Campbell's Soup on ABC's "The View," which Walters co-hosts. "It may be good for Walters and ABC, but it’s not good for the reputation of TV news shows," the article tut-tuts. They should know; it wasn't good for NewsMax's reputation as a news source to blur the line between news and advertising with its late-October political ads.

But, frighteningly enough, the one voice of reason on this issue emanates from NewsMax. It's in a Nov. 14 column by John LeBoutillier: "Fox has made a huge error in judgement. This is an error that may result in the loss of Fox News Channel’s unique status as the only un-biased all-news network."

LeBoutillier continues: "Fox might have lost forever its unique status as the only unbiased network. 'We report, you decide' is now a joke. Who can watch it anymore without wondering who behind the scenes is stilting the news?

"The only way Fox News Channel can recover from this act of self-immolation is by immediately firing John Ellis, publicly admitting that it was a huge mistake to ever hire him in the first place – and also to fire the executive who made that decision. Fox must make a clean break from this disastrous act of blatant bias if it ever wants to recover its once unique status in the broadcast industry," he concludes. "Media bias is wrong -- no matter who does it!"

LeBoutillier is what passes as a "token liberal" at NewsMax, mainly for his criticism of Bush's campaign -- except that he's not liberal at all. In the same column, he calls ABC's Peter Jennings "a way-out lefty who hates America and American values."

Look for the Ellis matter to fade away; it's too hot and hypocritical for the ConWeb to touch. It may surface again if Congress follows through on plans by some members to hold hearings on election-night decisions by the networks; in that case, look for the ConWeb to studiously avoid bringing it up once again.

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