Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Who Determines What is Fair and Balanced?

Essay 2 – Who Determines What is Fair and Balanced?
Christopher MacLellan
Communications 509 Social Dynamics of Communication and Technology
Professor Alex Kuskis

Since the inception of Cable News, the American Consumer has been provided with the opportunity to select multiple options on how they receive the news events of the day.  From quick headline news reviews, to in-depth reporting, a day does not go by where the American Consumer can switch from channel to channel to see news events dissected before their eyes.  Yet in that dissection by these various news outlets, who determines what is fair and balanced in the news?  This essay will attempt to demonstrate that the American Consumer can determine what if fair and balanced in the news today by just a simple switch of the channel.

          Our first attempt at communication comes when we are born.  It always intrigues me that a baby, without any prior training, knows how to feed off its mother and knows how to smile.  Without uttering a word, the infant is an expert at communicating effectively when there is an expressed need.  When I see this phenomenon, it helps me understand and contemplate that there is a lot that is built in us as we develop in the womb.  It is nothing that could be easily categorized as spiritual or mystical; it is just innate knowledge that is given to us at the time of birth.  As we grow and develop, our parents help nurture us. While sights and sounds captivate our inherent knowledge helping us formulate our thoughts, and understanding of the world around us. 
Just as a child is born into the world with their eye wide open, an upstart television mongrel by the name of Ted Turner burst onto the scene in 1980 with the first 24 hours cable news network, CNN.  Financially secure and considered a maverick in the industry, Ted Turner sought to change the face of the television news industry with the advent of CNN.   However, the real changing event in the cable news industry transpired with the live airing of two real life events, the first gulf war in 1991 and the O. J. Simpson trial in 1994.  These two live news events are symbolic to the Cable News industry today.  Envision covering a story with no pretense, with not script, where only the oral word of the reporter  told the story to a captive audience. “Try to imagine a culture where no one looked up anything.”  (Ong, 1982)  In this dynamic form of (communication) reporting, there is no time to check facts; facts were secondary!  It is in this realm of reporting where pundits emerged to debate facts as they saw them before their very eyes. 
One of the most controversial political pundits in American journalism is Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.  Fox News markets itself with the slogan ‘Fair and Balanced’, but who determines what is fair and balanced?  Since the Simpson trial and the first Gulf war, Cable News has become a big business, According to a recent Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism, Fox news alone brought in  a staggering “$816 million in profits in 2010, shattering the previous year’s record of $640 million.” (Holcumb, Mitchell & Rosenthiel, 2012)    Cable news outlets have become opinion centered, rather than news focused and no one markets that concept better than Bill O’Reilly.  Love him or hate him (there can be no middle of the road) Bill O’Reilly epitomizes what cable news has become in today’s fast-paced society, opinion a first, fact second.
“O’Reilly’s "no-spin" motto is clever marketing—but who’s keeping track of O’Reilly’s own spin?” (Hart, 2003)  In reality, there is no need for anyone to keep track of O’Reilly’s own spin because he is representing a brand, not a profession.  O’Reilly’s brand is a microcosm of what cable news has become ― Opinions versus Fact and Brands versus Reality.  If you do not like the Fox Brand, try CNN.  If you know like the CNN brand, you can try MSNBC.  If you do not like the brand of detergent that you are using to clean your clothes, you simply change it!
 In 1986 composer, Stephen Sondheim wrote a wonderful song entitled ‘Children Will Listen” which was a feature song in the great theater production of “Into The Woods.”   Some of the lyrics of the song went like this: “Careful the things you say, Children will listen: Tamper with what is true and children will turn if just to be free: Careful before you say Listen to me.” (Sondheim, 1986)  As we came out of the womb, we were able to communicate our needs in order to be comforted and satisfied.    In the end, each individual has the capability to determine what is fair and balanced.  The uproar over Fox News (and other cable outlets) is merely uproar over a particular brand.  Until a brand in turned off, it will always be available to those who have a need for it.    


Holcumb, J., Mitchell, A., & Rosenthiel, T. (2012, ).Cable: By the numbers. Retrieved from

Ong, W. (1982) Some Psychodynamics of Orality from Orality and Literacy: The
Technologizing of the Word, Ong, Methuen, 1982.

Hart, P. (2003). The oh really? factor: Unspinning fox news channel's bill o'reilly. New York,
               NY: Seven Stories Press.

Sondheim, S. (Writer) (1986). Into the woods: Children will listen [Theater].

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