Since September 11, the Fox News Channel has been steadily drawing more viewers than its main rival, CNN, even though it has fewer local TV affiliates. The New York Times finds this highly disturbing. How, it wondered in a December article, could a conservative all-news network outdraw a liberal one? There had to be a hidden secret, underhanded or malign. The code breakers’ shocked discovery expressed itself in the article’s headline: FOX PORTRAYS A WAR OF GOOD AND EVIL.
Fox anchors, said the Times, had the bad taste to call Usama bin Ladin “a monster,” who oversees a “web of hate,” and they characterized al-Qaida followers as “terror goons” and Taliban fighters as “diabolical.” This manner of reportage, the story sourly observed, “reminds some rivals and press critics of the war drumbeat of the old Hearst papers and the ideologically driven British tabloids”—in other words, it appealed to viewers’ base, irrational, and of course right-wing impulses. Evidently, at 229 West 43rd Street, all views, no matter how vile, deserve calm equal treatment (except for the ideas of right-wingers, of course).
To bolster its case against Fox, the Times rang up David Westin, president of ABC News, who had this to say about his own network’s coverage of the War on Terrorism: “The American people right now need at least some sources of their news where they believe we’re trying to get it right, plain and simply, rather than because it fits with any advocacy we have.” The paper neglected to remind readers that Westin’s supposed cool objectivity got him into hot water a few weeks earlier. Asked whether the Pentagon had been a legitimate military target for the September 11 terrorists, Westin had replied: “As a journalist, I feel strongly that’s something I should not be taking an opinion on.” A firestorm followed his remark, forcing Westin to apologize.
Westin, like the Times and other news sources that have embraced this General Theory of Journalistic Relativity, should know better. Responsible news organizations owe their readers and viewers accuracy about military casualties and homeland dangers, not moral equivalency between terrorists and law-abiding democrats. Those Islamist murderers, even now, are seeking the tools of biological, chemical, and atomic warfare. If that’s not the activity of monsters and their diabolical henchmen, nothing is. To describe them as if they weren’t evil distorts reality rather than captures it truthfully. Americans understand this. That’s why they’re voting for Fox with their remotes night after night.