Comedian Jon Stewart appeared on Fox News Sunday yesterday and participated in a somewhat heated (but relatively polite) exchange with host Chris Wallace.
It was a pretty good debate (The Sun's venerated TV critic David Zurawik even got a shout-out) but both Stewart and Wallace were, in my opinion, somewhat wrong.
Stewart is partially wrong when he says that Fox News is "A biased organization, relentlessly promoting an ideological agenda under the rubric of being a news organization" -- and not only because he uses the word "rubric" instead of "guise."
Fox's opinion folks (O'Reilly, Hannity, Beck, etc.) are undoubtedly conservative and that viewpoint is pushed on the network for a good portion of the day and night. If the opinion folks are what Stewart is talking about, then he's correct.
But the straight news coverage of Fox isn't much different from that of CNN or MSNBC, in my opinion. I watch a lot of those three channels and I'll flip back and forth between the three some mornings and find them all covering the same story. It's difficult to politicize a fire or a high-speed police chase or the Casey Anthony trial, which are the kind of topics I frequently see covered in the straight news portions of those channels. I believe Fox reporters do as fair as job as the reporters on the other networks.
If someone can provide some examples that show otherwise, I'm willing to listen and reconsider my position. But, generally, I think when people are referring to the bias of Fox News, they're not talking about Wallace or Baier; they're talking about Hannity or Beck.
Now, I think Wallace was also somewhat wrong. He told Stewart, "I think your agenda is more out there, and you're pushing more of an agenda than you pretend to."
It's obvious that Stewart is a liberal-leaning guy. But his primary agenda, as best I can tell, is to be funny, not to persuade people to vote for Democrats. Now, humor can be a very persuasive force: Rather than debunk a crazy statement made by a political candidate, sometimes a joke is the best way to excoriate that statement. But Stewart also makes fun of Obama, Clinton and various Democrats on his show. He may be liberal, but his focus is on comedy, not a political movement. (He even admitted he voted for George H. W. Bush in this segment.)
As Wallace and Stewart wrangled with these divergent views, some exchanges got a little awkward, such as when Wallace challenged Stewart on his alleged bias and Stewart told Wallace, "You're insane," but it was better political theatre than what took place on the other Sunday morning talk shows yesterday.
Anyway, that's my take on the debate. View for yourself below:
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