Fox TV News Ain't So Fair and Balanced


Two items: Some companies are now producing food with low carbohydrates, seeing a demand rising from customers who wish to try that approach to loosing weight; and Seattle 's citizens are voting on 10 cent tax on espresso coffee.

I saw these items covered on Fox TV News. And lo and behold the network reported these without the least attempt at fairness or balance. The report on the food products with low carbohydrates made a big deal of the allegation offered by critics of the companies that customers may well not be helped at all because 'they will simply eat more now,' thinking they can do this with the low carbohydrate foods. No effort was made on the purer-than-thou Fox TV News to solicit any responses to this insult to customers, as if they were all dummies who didn't know that this is a temptation they might face but can well resist.

The Fox report on the Seattle tax, like a previous CBS-Radio report, mentioned that the funds collected/extorted from Seattle espresso drinkers will help some government programs but failed to note that this also means severe monetary losses to those espresso drinkers and may well prevent them from being able to spend the money on goods or services they judge to be vital to them.

Why is this blindness such a widespread practice so that even Fox TV News, which is so keen on publicizing its fair and balanced reporting, one that many viewers and pundits claim is a euphemism for 'right wing bias'? Well, the reason may well be that reporters, who are usually independent enough, whatever their political orientation ' or whatever orders they are told to march to from owners and editors ' are simply too blind to the long term, overall consequences of the proposed policies on which they report. They just do not do much thinking as they pass on whatever news-release they receive ' for example, from some government PR outfit in Seattle .

But isn't this malpractice? Yes. And is this not cause for some kind of government regulation and/or licensing of news reporters, just as government embarks on regulating other professionals as they engage in practices that could misfire? No. That's because just as customers are mostly perfectly capable of assessing whether they ought to buy low carbohydrate foods ' and thus do not require what so many reactionary intellectuals at various universities propose, namely, expanded government regulation of the food industry ' so television viewers of news or anything else are perfectly capable of telling when reporters are unfair and unbalanced, even as these reporters pretend otherwise.

In short, the First Amendment to the US Constitution has it right and all the government regulatory edicts have it wrong: citizens do not need government to prevent possible malpractice by professionals. When it is egregious enough, these professionals can be sued. Otherwise the market place will produce watch-dogs to warn us about their possible misconduct, just as I am doing this now and as many media outlets do with their various consumer advocates.

It is, finally, pretty hypocritical of news people to belly ache about any censorship they fear from government when they often support government regulation ' which is a form of prior restraint ' of other professionals. Isn't it time to level the playing field and make all professionals free, unregulated agents whose conduct may only be interfered with when it actually constitutes violation of someone's rights?

OK, so what's the point? Let's look more critically at Fox TV News and not be swayed by its self-congratulatory rhetoric. But let us not forget the meaning of freedom, be it applicable to journalists or to doctors or TV repairers ' it involves risks and consumers must be vigilant and not depend on the government for keeping them safe. Such dependence is, in any case, completely misguided since government is usually heavily influenced by ' that is, captive of ' the very professionals and industries it is supposed to regulate, thus encouraging hazardous complacency on the part of the citizenry.

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Tibor R. Machan's picture
Columns on STR: 70

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and recent author of Neither Left Nor Right: Selected Columns (Hoover Institution Press, 2004).  He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.