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Fairly Unbalanced

Appearances by Media Research Center spokesmen on Fox News mostly lack hard questions about the claims they make -- but then, Fox News provides little opportunity for anyone to ask such questions of the MRC.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/2/2007

The Media Research Center has a special relationship with Fox News Channel. In the face of overwhelming evidence of its conservative slant, it unquestioningly repeats Fox News' motto that it's "fair and balanced." In return, Fox News regularly gives the MRC a forum to repeat its claims of a liberal media bias.

The practical result of this is all kinds of mutual back-scratching, such as a March 27 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review interview (reprinted at in which MRC founder and president L. Brent Bozell III spoke lovingly about Fox News, insisting that it's "obsessive" about offering balanced coverage.

Another benefit: Fox News' purported "obsession" with "fair and balanced" coverage doesn't apply to MRC appearances on Fox News. Of the 21 appearances on the channel by MRC employees in the first three months of 2007 -- the only TV appearances it lists on its website for that time period are those on Fox News -- 11 were solo appearances with no other guests, and three more included guests who held similar conservative views to that of the MRC representative. Only five appearances were made in a format that included the opportunity for questioning by ideological opposites or a contradictory opinion to be forwarded -- four by other guests and a solo appearance on "Hannity & Colmes" where liberal co-host Alan Colmes had a chance to ask questions. Two appearances were opposite a guest who was a journalist.

(See chart at the end of this article for details on appearances and guests.)

In many of those solo appearances, as well as the ones with like-minded allies, the MRC representative was not significantly challenged by the Fox News host; indeed, the host's role seemed to be as set-up person to allow the MRC rep to spout the company line. For instance, in a Feb. 18 appearance on "Fox & Friends" by Dan Gainor, director of the MRC's Business & Media Institute, purportedly to discuss a series of concerts organized by former Vice President Al Gore to raise awareness about global warming, co-host Gretchen Carlson started this way: "So, here's the deal. Al Gore is getting all this press coverage on these great concerts he's putting together -- I mean, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Mayer, all be there [sic]. But you're saying the media's kind of missing something." In response, Gainor launched into an anti-Gore rant: "Oh, the media have been in the tank for Al Gore for -- ever since his movie came out."

In a March 1 appearance by Bozell on "Fox & Friends" regarding a controversial documentary about a burial chamber that may have been used by Jesus Christ, co-host Steve Doocy introduced Bozell by saying, "I was looking at his website yesterday, then later asked: "Brent, what if someone did exactly the same thing, but not about Christianity, about Islam? Do you think anybody would pay attention to that?" When Bozell told viewers to see a movie instead, Doocy chirped, "Great suggestion."

And in a March 1 segment on "The Big Story with John Gibson" purporting to discuss whether a decline in ratings for the NBC's "Nightly News" was due to purported liberal bias, Gibson asked MRC research director Rich Noyes, "First of all, is my perception of NBC shifting to the left accurate or not?" Needless to say, Noyes was all too happy to answer in the affirmative. Since making declarations of purported liberal bias is the MRC's raison d'être, how else would Noyes answer? No one -- certainly not Gibson -- offered any evidence to the contrary.

In other words, MRC representatives are being treated as authoritative sources instead of the partisans they are. Little, if any, effort was made by Fox News to describe the MRC as a conservative organization.

Even the ostensibly "neutral" Fox News reporters aren't necessarily neutral. In a Jan. 20 segment on "Cashin' In" led by host Terry Keenan that included MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham -- described in on-screen text as "Liberal Media: Enemy of America & the Stock Market?" -- Fox News correspondent Dagen McDowell asserted: "Well, so far the market has been able to hold up, even as the violence in Iraq has gotten worse. But what concerns me is this excessively negative media coverage, what that does to confidence in this country among investors, because confidence is such an essential but intangible element to the market performance. If this coverage keeps up, it's going to be bad." And when investment analyst Jonathan Hoenig responded to McDowell's complaint that "there is good news coming out of Iraq, but you never, ever read about it," by noting, "But Dagen, if you don't like the New York Times, don't read the New York Times," Keenan chimed in, "You know, there's thousands in New York, too, who have canceled their subscriptions, to your point, Jonathan. You can read the New York Sun," referring to a conservative-slanted paper in New York. Counting McDowell as a conservative, this unbalanced panel included a total of four conservatives and two non-conservatives.

MRC folks seem to have a definite preference toward avoiding on-air challenges. In November 2005, for example, liberal-leaning counter-intelligence analyst Larry Johnson claimed that Bozell refused to appear in the same TV segment as him.

And such avoidance extends beyond Fox News into other conservative media. The (Richard Mellon Scaife-owned) Pittsburgh Tribune-Review interview cited at the start of this article was presented as a one-on-one interview to promote the MRC's 20th anniversary; such a format provides no opportunity for a countervailing view. A March 1 Washington Times article touting the MRC's anniversary, carrying the headline "Keeping the press honest," took a similar tack: The only person interviewed in it is Brent Bozell, and no apparent effort was made to balance it with views from, say, a certain other media watchdog. (An interesting side note is that the Times article was written Robert Stacy McCain, the Times' resident white supremacist and Confederacy fetishist -- well, one of 'em, anyway).

Indeed, by contrast, the website of Media Matters -- the MRC's ideological opposite in the watchdog business and thus an ideal counterpoint to an MRC spokesperson -- shows no appearance on any Fox News program during the first three months of 2007, in which the MRC racked up 21 appearances. (Disclosure: I am a Media Matters employee.)

For a news network that prides itself on being "fair and balanced," and for a media watchdog group that, in the words of the headline of the Tribune-Review interview with Bozell, "crusades for balance," there's a definite lack of balance to be found when Fox News and the MRC get together.

MRC TV Appearances, January-March 2007
MRC Representative
Other Guests
Jan. 2, "Your World with Neil Cavuto" Dan Gainor Patrick Michaels, Cato Institute
Jan. 2, "Hannity & Colmes" Brent Bozell author Mark LeVine
Jan. 4, "Your World with Neil Cavuto" Clay Waters Joe Carafano, Heritage Foundation
Jan. 20, "Cashin' In" Tim Graham John Layfield (investment consultant and ex-pro wrestler), Dagen McDowell (Fox News correspondent) Wayne Rogers (investment analyst and ex- actor) Jonathan Hoenig (, Gary Kaltbaum (investment analyst), host Terry Keenan
Jan. 22, "Your World with Neil Cavuto" Dan Gainor solo
Jan. 29, "The O'Reilly Factor" Tim Graham solo
Feb. 1, "Hannity & Colmes" Brent Bozell Rachel Sklar, Huffington Post
Feb. 5, "Your World with Neil Cavuto" Dan Gainor solo
Feb. 7, "Hannity & Colmes" Tim Graham Bob Zelnick, author
Feb. 11, Hannity's America" Brent Bozell solo
Feb. 18, "Fox & Friends" Dan Gainor solo
Feb. 26, "The Big Story with John Gibson" Dan Gainor Mike Allen, The Politico
Feb. 28, "Your World with Neil Cavuto" Dan Gainor Dagen McDowell, Fox News reporter
March 1, "The Big Story with John Gibson" Rich Noyes solo
March 2, "Your World with Neil Cavuto" Tim Graham solo
March 7, "Fox News Live" Tim Graham solo
March 7, "The Big Story with John Gibson" Rich Noyes John Fund, Wall Street Journal
March 12, "The Big Story with John Gibson" Tim Graham solo
March 14, "Hannity & Colmes" Brent Bozell solo
March 15, "Fox & Friends" Brent Bozell solo
conservative/solo | reporter/neutral | non-conservative

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