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O’Reilly vs. Stewart: “Foxer” Conspiracy Theorists Hit the Big Time

John on February 6, 2010 at 1:14 pm

There are “birthers” who believe the President is not a citizen and, in the other party, “truthers” who believe President Bush was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. Little noticed until now are another group of conspiracy theorists, let’s call them Foxers, who believe that the top cable news channel is playing America like a Stradivarius for dark, conservative purposes.

Until recently, the Foxers were relegated to the far left, i.e. groups like Brave New Films and Media Matters. But ever since the White House declared war on Fox this summer and tried to cut them out of the press pool, Foxers have been coming out of the woodwork. I guess once the President outs himself as a believer, the stigma that usually attends to conspiracy theories like this is gone.

John Stewart of the daily show is clearly a believer, i.e. a Foxer. You can watch the entire 44 minute debate between Stewart and O’Reilly here:

Over at Time magazine, James Poniewozik summarizes the highlights as he sees them. Not surprisingly Poniewozik thinks Stewart didn’t go far enough in convicting Fox of crimes against news. Yep, he’s a Foxer too.

I had a very different take on the winners and losers in this exchange. Stewart was pleasant and generally likeable, but it seemed to me he resorted to cracking jokes once too often when he couldn’t make his case on the facts. In the end it boiled down to a line about Fox “constructing narratives” which sounded to my ears a lot like “fire can’t melt steel.” Memo to John Stewart…all media constructs narratives. That’s their job.

Like most conspiracy theories, this one is long on insinuation and short on facts. Stewart snickers when O’Reilly suggests Fox is fair, but when pressed on it he ends up excluding nearly everyone from his broadside. O’Reilly is “the thinnest kid at fat camp.” Greta is “barely on the network.” Bret Baier, no comment. Shep Smith, no comment. Geraldo, no comment. Major Garrett, no comment. And once you’ve excused most of the people with shows on the station, it all really boils down to Hannity and Beck.

O’Reilly correctly points out that these shows, like his own, are clearly opinion. Stewart’s curious counter that “TV doesn’t work like that” is never explained. How is TV different? Why are sensible people able to take opinion as opinion in print but not on television? No matter, the point is that it’s different.

Also never explained, why this critique doesn’t apply equally to Stewart’s own show, which is opinion and tilts left? What about Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Even the mild critiques Stewart has made of them on his own show he has simultaneously apologized for. So how are those shows any different than Hannity and Beck? Why does he show Maddow so much respect and Beck so little? I could find dozens of clips of Beck being reasonable and saying (as he often does) that it’s “not about Republicans or Democrats.” I could find just as many examples of Maddow twisting the facts to suit her own narrative. So where’s the difference? Could it be that Stewart goes easy on MSNBC because he basically agrees with their point of view? Yeah, that’s about all there is to this.

Even the few specifics Stewart (and Poniewozik) offer have to do with news judgment. Fox news reported on videos of school children singing songs about the President. This “feeds” the opinion shows a narrative. Don’t you see! It’s all a plot! Really? Do you think Beck needs Bret Baier to tell him those clips are show-worthy material? In any case, maybe the problem here isn’t that Fox news ran the clips but that no other news outlet did. Why weren’t those clips newsworthy, John?

The whole thing sort of reminds me of the last election cycle during which the NY Times completely missed the John Edwards affair, but did a page one story accusing John McCain of cheating on his wife with a lobbyist. They also never printed a word about Vera Baker who went from being one of Obama’s top campaign people to disappearing to the Caribbean after rumors of a relationship with the candidate circulated. Hmmmm. Do you think the Times was trying to “mainstream” a story on McCain and bury one on Obama? Just maybe? How about that Times’ expose on Obama’s fund raising practices. What happened there?

But of course, none of that holds any interest for John Stewart or Time magazine. Only Fox news is “guilty” of taking a partisan line or running a story with political consequences. The rest of the industry, which every poll has shown to be made up overwhelmingly of liberals, never seems to be worth a look.

Stewart failed to make his case not because he isn’t a smart, likeable guy, but because ridiculous conspiracy theories never stand up well on the spot. That’s true for birthers, for truthers and for Foxers as well. This is just another conspiracy which should be ignored by sensible people.

As for Time magazine, the fact that they are cheering Stewart on tells you more about Time than it does about Fox.

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Category: MSM & Bias |

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