The Dartmouth Observer

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Sunday, September 01, 2002
I intend to edit this to make it sharper, but for now, here she is...

The Fox News Fallacy

I notice, with a great deal of sorrow, that many of you have fallen victim to what I like to call the "Fox News Fallacy." It is really the most ingenious (and disingenuous) thing Rupert Murdoch has funded, aside from The Simpsons (which isn't really disingenuous, I suppose). The Fox News Fallacy works like this:

1. Obtain Person X's voting record
2. Disregard the idea of journalistic objectivity
3. Attack the content of Person X's speech with no regard to the merit of Person X's ideas or perceived professional responsibility, only to Person X's voting record

There's this idea that's been floating around in journalism for the last century or so that journalists should endeavor to be objective in their coverage. The discovery was made that regardless of how objective people attempt to be, there is an inherent taint of subjectivity because, for some reason, individuals are unavoidably subjects. The Fox News Fallacy makes a logical leap by presuming, incessantly and to the point of making me destroy a television set in rage, that the taint of subjectivity in its rival networks has biased their news coverage to the point of destroying its credibility. The fact of the matter is that the mainstream media is pretty Centrist. The Fox News Fallacy works by playing on the feeling of victimization of a group of extremists, and labeling moderate media as the victimizer. So, for instance, if Dan Rather votes for Al Gore, any news Dan Rather reports is liberally biased to the point that it should be taken with a grain of salt. Fox News, on the other hand, requires no such grain. After all, "we report, you decide." This despite the on the record admissions of Brit Hume and Bill O'Reilly (in interviews in the libertarian Playboy magazine - the articles are in fact useful) that Fox News probably has a conservative bias - but it's only to balance the overwhelming liberal bias elsewhere. Why don't other media outlets admit to a liberal bias? Because despite the fact that they might employ or be owned by liberals, they are still attempting to provide objective news coverage. Fox News has given up this attempt, and symbolizes the broader effort by conservatives to attack moderate media, rather than their extreme leftist counterparts. Of course when a conservative calls The New York Times liberally biased there is no response from the Times - if they wanted to attack an Leftist news outlet, they should attack a publication like The Nation. It's a shrewd trick, attacking the moderate or irrelevant; it wins an audience for the extreme Right while never having to actually attack the extreme Left, which retains its core audience. The point is - if you haven't grasped it in my somewhat loopy prose thus far - that the argument used to attack diseminators of information based on their personal opinions is bordering on completely spurious. It's like saying an Italian can't cook German food without making it taste like oregano. Some Italians that don't appreciate that they are working as German cooks might slip some pesto into the sauerkraut, but they will never be very successful at German cooking. The same applies to the mainstream media, and the food critics at Fox News are out of control.

How does this apply to the blog, as of late? The same fallacy is being applied, blanketly, to professors at Dartmouth. First, consider the positions in which bias can't be relevantly introduced. Virtually the entire faculty in the sciences is not in a position to make their personal convictions relevant. Furthermore, many other faculty members may be bound by a sense of responsibility to at least attempting to leave the lessons without bias. To use the benchmark, as Chien Wen did, of which faculty members voted for Bush, perfectly fits step 1 of the Fox News Fallacy. How many conservatives didn't vote for Bush because they suspected (correctly) that he would be a poor POTUS? Of those that didn't vote for him just because they are die-hard Democrats - or even further Left - how many of those allow their ideology to taint the classroom? And those that do - is it not our responsibility as students to filter and resynthesize the information we receive, or are we merely to plagiarize our mentors down to their ideologies? If you can't tell the difference between Italian food and German food when it's put in front of you, step out of the restaurant, friend, and call Chef Boyardee.