Speaking of hyperventilating

MARK STEYN: In his scathing attacks on Fox News, Don Newman sounds a bit bombastic himself
Nicholas Roberts/The New York Times

Fox News? Oh, c’mon, everyone knows it’s a “minaret for America First prejudice” and “hyperventilated extremism” “screeching to the converted” with “the none-too-bright persona of the schoolyard bully.”

So says Christopher Dornan, director of something called the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs at Carleton University, writing in the Toronto Star.

Naturally, the news that Quebecor is planning a Fox of the North has horrified non-screechy fellows like professor Dornan. According to CBC eminence Don Newman, it’s “the absolute last thing this country needs.” No hyperventilating at the Ceeb, thank goodness.

Full disclosure: for the last few years, I’ve guest-hosted for Sean Hannity on Fox News, first on Hannity & Colmes, latterly on its successor show Hannity. Always have a grand time. The money’s not great, but occasionally, if I’m at a media event in New York, Fox’s head honcho Roger Ailes will give me a shout out from the podium and say, “Mark does just a fabulous job.” And sometimes he almost sounds as if he means it.

Whereas Don Newman’s network has never asked me to guest-host anything. When it comes to the CBC, my phone hasn’t stopped not ringing. So take it as read that I’m eaten up by bitterness. For one thing, it’s severely reduced my chances of being governor general.

Nevertheless, I was struck by the somewhat generalized nature of the anti-Fox jeremiads.
As professor Dornan sees it, the problem isn’t Fox’s “conservatism,” or “even its bombast”: “It’s the channel’s mean-spirited vindictiveness. Opposing viewpoints are entertained, if at all, not so that they can be debated but so that they can be debased: brayed at, mocked, vilified.”


I mean, how difficult can it be, with all that endemic braying and mean-spirited vindictiveness?
Meanwhile, back at the CBC, Don Newman explains it for us: “Fox News has been hugely polarizing. It specializes in drive-by attacks and misrepresentations, and is positively Orwellian at times, claiming to be ‘fair and balanced’ while implying that its competitors aren’t.
“The reality is that it mainly spews out propaganda that is dangerously misleading and often factually wrong.”

Again: example? Just one?

Now I’m not a responsible, objective, neutral journalist like Mr. Newman. But even we hyperventilating schoolyard bullies spewing to the converted and debasing all others know enough about passing ourselves off as journalists to be aware that you can’t just declare things to be so without producing some evidence thereof. And yet Messrs. Dornan and Newman spend, between them, 2,000 words doing just that. Surely with so many “drive-by attacks” and so much Orwellian bombast to choose from, it would be the work of moments to produce some devastating sound bite by this or that right-wing blowhard. Otherwise, it risks looking a bit like—how would one put it?—a “positively Orwellian” “drive-by attack” by someone “claiming to be fair and balanced” while insisting his competitors aren’t.

By the way, speaking of “screeching to the converted,” a 2008 Pew Research poll (i.e., the work of impeccable liberals) found that Fox had the least politically skewed audience of any news channel. Among Fox viewers, 39 per cent identified as Republican and 33 per cent as Democrats, while over at CNN 51 per cent of viewers identified as Democrats but only 18 per cent as Republicans. A lot of Fox’s success is nothing to do with its politics, but reflects the simple fact that it’s more fun to watch than the portentous and somnolent CNN. Yet, given all that braying, mocking and vilifying of opposing views that professor Dornan assures us is Fox’s stock-in-trade, it seems to have a remarkably diverse audience. Unfair but balanced, to coin a phrase.

Oh, well. As Don Newman sees it, even on those rare occasions when it’s not wrong, Fox News is still harmful:

“The parts that aren’t wrong are, in some ways, just as dangerous, since they tend to make people comfortable in their prejudices.”

Good thing Don Newman will never have that problem, eh?

What’s impressive about these anti-Fox critiques is their indestructible lack of self-awareness. Two years ago in Ottawa, I attended an awards luncheon hosted by Mr. Newman at which the keynote address was a lazy shapeless ramble by his CBC colleague Patrick Brown on China and the media. At one point, Mr. Brown remarked that Chinese state media wasn’t bad compared to Fox News. I sprayed my coffee all over Paul Wells. Maclean’s executive supremo Ken Whyte trembled on the brink of a rolled eye. And everyone else chortled knowingly. Patrick Brown doesn’t “screech” or “spew,” but he’s happy to snooze to the converted, and he certainly “makes people comfortable in their prejudices,” if not comatose.

I’m a partisan figure—that’s to say, I have “views” with which others disagree: I favour small government, I oppose abortion, I loathe Canadian government regulation of free speech, etc. Bill O’Reilly, Greta Van Susteren, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Mike Huckabee, Dennis Miller and other Fox regulars are also partisan, although each in his own way: Huckabee is big on the social issues, Miller is relaxed about gay marriage, etc. But there’s something very weird about a bunch of fellows insisting that they’re sober, responsible, and objective, even as they’re hyperventilating ever more bombastically about how the competition are bombastic hyperventilators. After all, a guy who enjoys getting his news from the mouthpiece of the Chinese politburo surely has “views.” Why can’t he just admit it? Why can’t the CBC, or CNN or the New York Times, just say, “Hey, you know, you’re right, we have a particular world view and our content reflects that”?

Because the garb of “objectivity” is vital to the institutional left’s sense of itself. Because, if you accept the idea that your world view is merely that—a view—it implicitly acknowledges there are other views, against which yours should be tested. Far easier to pronounce your side of the table the objective truth, and any opposing line mere “bombast” and “propaganda.”

The pose is ludicrous. Anyone who knew Helen Thomas, doyenne of the White House press corps, understood that she was a rancid old Jew-hater well before a rabbi with a Flipcam caught her on tape demanding that Jews “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to “Poland, Germany.” Instead, for years America’s media establishment held her up as the very model of a dogged, tough, fair journalist. Why wouldn’t they? She was one of the club. They don’t acknowledge their own biases; why should they acknowledge hers? Quite the funniest footnote to her spectacular self-detonation the other week is the organizations left with the “Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Awards” and “Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Awards” they endowed in her honour and which they now have the significantly more difficult task of finding someone to accept. I’d be interested to know whether the 2004 winner of the Helen, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, is still displaying it on his mantel. A parodist would be hard-put to improve on a Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalistic Objectivity.

I don’t object to Patrick Brown’s views on Fox’s views. What I object to is the conceit that Brown and Newman have no views, and thereby represent a higher journalistic calling. A couple of weeks ago, the BBC’s so-called “Ethical Man” Justin Rowlatt presented an analysis of professor James Lovelock’s assertion that “climate change” is so serious a crisis that it “may be necessary to put democracy on hold.” As a BBC host, Mr. Rowlatt is scrupulous not to have any views of his own; he merely presents those of others—and, as he put it, “there is a growing view that mitigating climate change means we have to change our view of democracy.”

Really? That view is “growing”? Certainly in the BBC green room. Six of the seven experts interviewed by Justin Rowlatt were in favour of suspending democracy—i.e., fascism. But don’t worry: it’s to save the environment, so it’s eco-fascism, which has a nicer ring, doesn’t it? The show concluded with Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute insisting that “the condition of the planet for future generations is more important than the retention of democratic principles.” The BBC, paid for by the citizenry, has just broadcast a lavishly produced advertorial for totalitarianism.

Imagine how the non-hyperventilating Dornan and Newman would react were Fox News to do such a thing for one of its pet causes. Yet, when the BBC does it, the entire, extraordinary enterprise is cloaked in the state broadcaster’s garb of dispassionate impartiality. The conceit of objectivity is vital to the mission—which is why the urge to rule dissenting views beyond the pale comes so naturally to supposed “liberals,” to the point where, for example, Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., Canada’s chief censor, and “Journalism Doctor” John Miller of Ryerson University, support the criminalization of unacceptable opinions. I expect we’ll get used to a lot more of that once democracy’s been suspended to save the planet, right?

I don’t begrudge Justin Rowlatt his state-funded sinecure, nor Patrick Brown his. But precisely because of their cozy assumptions I prefer a marketplace of ideas to state-regulated conformity. Good luck, Quebecor—and may the best man win.