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Watching the Watchdogs

We were disappointed when the Fox News Watch program initially declined to examine the Bill O’Reilly sex harassment scandal.  On its October 16 show, host Eric Burns announced that the panelists could not responsibly talk about it.  Fortunately, that head-in-the-sand approach changed on October 23.  Suddenly, the scandal became newsworthy.

The discussion that followed demonstrated why this show can sometimes be good television.  At the time, the scandal was a matter of dueling lawsuits.  O’Reilly charged extortion; his accuser, a former Fox producer, charged harassment.  Since the show aired, O’Reilly has settled, paying a reported $2-10 million to keep the reported tapes of his sexually explicit conversations with the producer from ever being played for the public. 

The reason the scandal was newsworthy, declared panelist Neal Gabler, was the hypocrisy aspect?the fact that O’Reilly was caught in the kind of conduct that he has been condemning on the air.  On the other hand, as Burns noted, the exploitation of this scandal by Keith Olbermann of the rival MSNBC network deserved comment.  Alluding to Olbermann, panelist Cal Thomas said other media were after O’Reilly because he is “the Big Kahuna” in cable news and that, if they can bring him down, it will reverberate to their benefit.  Nothing like that has happened, of course.  Indeed, O’Reilly’s ratings have gone up.  But you can bet that he will shy away from some of the moral issues that he had been covering over the years.  That’s unfortunate, since moral values became such a prominent issue in the November 2nd elections.

Over at CNBC, another media watchdog by the name of David Brock suffered an embarrassment when he tried to maintain that the perception of liberal media bias was the result of a Republican spin machine.  Brock, a former conservative, now runs a well-financed watchdog group that calls itself “Media Matters.”  Newsweek senior writer Charles Gasparino, another guest on the show, was flabbergasted.  He said to Brock: “There’s no liberal media, though?”  Brock said there was, but that there’s a conservative media, too.  Gasparino put Brock in his place: “But the media, the general media, is liberal.”  “I don’t think so,” Brock meekly replied.

Gasparino seized on Brock’s comments as a failure to accept reality.  “We sow the seeds of our own demise,” he said.  “Journalists have been advocates of the liberal attitude for way too long, and now we’re paying the price?Fox News.”  Gasparino was saying something that should be quite obvious?that Fox News is a response to the overwhelming liberal media bias.  He explained, “Journalists are generally liberal.  That does come out in the reporting?It comes out in the stories that they do.”

Gasparino should be applauded for his honesty.  He’s not the only one at Newsweek who has come clean.  Evan Thomas of Newsweek made headlines by saying that the mainstream media were so pro-Kerry that the impact of their bias on the American people was worth between 5 and 20 million votes on Election Day.   So Bush beat Kerry, but he also beat the press.