Every news organization makes mistakes. But when Fox News makes mistakes, they seem to tilt in a suspiciously consistent direction, favoring Republicans and conservatives over Democrats and liberals.
It happened again Wednesday, when host Gregg Jarrett, introducing a segment on Happening Now, described the "huge crowds" that were turning out to greet Sarah Palin on the promotional tour for her book, Going Rogue. "These are some of the pictures just coming into us," Jarrett said as images of Palin surrounded by throngs of supporters flashed across the screen.
While Palin may indeed be drawing big crowds, it didn't take long for liberal watchdog blogs like Think Progress and Media Matters to point out that the masses Jarrett touted on Happening Now had nothing to do with Palin's book; the footage was from a 2008 campaign rally. Called on the switcheroo, Fox blamed it on a "production error" and issued an on-air apology.
The whole thing might have gone unnoticed had it not been for an eerily similar incident last week in a much more prominent venue, Sean Hannity's primetime show. In this case, the crowd Hannity was hyping was the one that gathered to attend a rally against the healthcare bill on November 5. The footage he showed, however, was from the much larger Sept. 12 "tea parties." In that case, it was The Daily Show that blew the whistle, forcing Hannity to apologize on the following day's show.
And then, of course, there are all the Republican miscreants Fox has mistakenly identified as Democrats, like Mark Sanford and Mark Foley, and the insufficiently doctrinaire Republicans it has ID'd as Democrats, like John McCain and Arlen Specter (who did, in fact, become a Democrat later).
One would like to think that all of these were genuine accidents, not intentional efforts to mislead viewers. Hannity's show is advocacy, not news, but even he could surely find more effective and less backfire-prone ways to influence the debate than outright deception.
Even so, this pattern of ideologically-slanted errors illustrates the danger of packaging a news operation around a core of opinion programming. As long as Fox News is a network by and for conservatives, the people who produce its shows -- even its "objective" shows -- are going to see in the news what they expect to see rather than what it really is.
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