Sunday, February 27, 2011

Biased Fox News Coverage of the Madison Wisconsin Protests

Yesterday, I traveled the 150 miles from Chicago to Madison Wisconsin to participate the rally to support the unions. This was for two general reasons: (1) I'm married to a union man, and (2) I strongly believe that Governor Walker's anti-union bill is a load of despicable nonsense that deserves to be slapped down, publicly and repeatedly.

But since I haven't blogged very much about my political views so far, I figured that any soapboxing about unions and the role they should play in a healthy democracy would be best saved for a future post. In this one, I'm going to recount my own experiences at the rally, and its subsequent coverage by the media.

Several things struck me upon my arrival in Madison: it was cold, it was snowing, and there were a lot of people.

It was really an incredible sight: thousands of people waving handmade signs as they swarmed through the streets and surrounded the capitol building, some passionate, some angry, but all completely civil and completely nonviolent. They marched, they chanted, they sang. As one of the oft-repeated lines went, "This is what democracy looks like."

And what made this sight all the more impressive was the weather: as I mentioned already, it was freezing cold and snowing. But the snow just accumulated visibly on people's heads and shoulders as they fought for their beliefs undeterred.

Now, as for the media coverage: for the majority of the time I was there, and throughout the actual rally with the speeches and the singing of the national anthem, I didn't notice any reporters or cameras or the like. Maybe there were some around, but none were conspicuous enough to draw my attention. But then, as we were marching around the capitol building, I spotted this Fox News truck.

It was for Fox 11, a local Wisconsin news channel, but still. My first thought was, "Oh, hey, Fox News is actually covering this! Great!" My second thought was, "Wait a minute. They set up their cameras on the wrong side of the building." For the convenience of anyone who wasn't there, here is a handy diagram:

Now, in all fairness, there may have been good reasons why they couldn't get their truck and/or equipment onto the street where everything was actually happening. Maybe due to the various road closures, this was the closest they could get, or something of that nature. And maybe they did actually have guys with cameras wandering around in the thick of things, even if I never spotted any.

But I couldn't help wondering whether Fox News was deliberately trying to present this protest as smaller than it really was by showing the side of the building with the thinnest crowds.

Naturally, all this made me curious about what the coverage would look like -- and whether it would be as biased as I feared -- so I searched for the aforementioned Fox 11 channel, and found this. I was actually somewhat relieved that the footage, for the most part, didn't seem to make the protest look smaller than what I observed from being there in person. But then towards the end of the clip, there was an incredible bit of spin.

After the Fox News anchor asks, about the protesters, "Was it overwhelming which side they were backing?" reporter Beth Jones responds,

"Well, obviously, you know, throughout the week the most vocal protesters have been the one against Governor Walker's bill, but I did see some Walker supporters mixed in throughout the day, so there are definitely both sides out here today."

This is utter dishonesty. But you see what Fox News does here? They tell their lies in such a cowardly and backhanded way that it's difficult to actually catch them at it. Were there one or two confused Walker supporters thrown into the mix somewhere? Maybe. I personally didn't see a single one, and I was out there for several hours. But I couldn't say with 100% certainty that there weren't any.

What I can say is this: if there were any Walker supporters there at all, the anti-Walker side outnumbered them by about 10,000 to one. And if it's really both sides out there, as Fox News is so eager to imply, they conspicuously declined to show any actual footage of the pro-Walker crowd. My guess is that either (a) they completely fabricated its existence, or (b) it's so tiny and pathetic-looking that it doesn't play well to their cameras.

Listen carefully, Fox News: It isn't "fair and balanced" to make an overwhelmingly one-sided protest sound like some kind of 50/50 split. It's dishonesty. And even if corporations have no souls or feelings, I hope Fox News reporter Beth Jones is at least human enough to feel some sense of shame after holding up a microphone and telling a lie to the world with such unblinking confidence.

But this was just Fox 11, a local Wisconsin Fox News affiliate: apparently the main Fox News cable network, as well as the other national TV news networks, haven't been bothering to cover this much at all. Isn't that something? They'll cover the right-wing Tea Party rallies with gusto, but when it's a pro-union rally -- sustained for weeks in the snow and freezing cold, and still bigger than anything the Tea Party has ever mustered -- apparently it's barely even newsworthy.

The dishonesty and injustice of it is ridiculous. I really have to wonder: who are all these Americans who are still willing to buy in to this blatantly one-sided garbage? And how long will it take them to realize that they're being taken for suckers?

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