The Sad Spectacle of Chris Wallace vs. Jon Stewart

I don’t know which Chris Wallace Moe Lane was watching, but the one the one I saw on “Fox News Sunday” certainly didn’t “school” Jon Stewart. Not even close. He managed a satisfying zinger or two, but by and large, Wallace let the comedian walk all over him with outrageous and uncontested claims about Fox News.
Wallace first challenges Stewart’s claim that Fox News is a “relentless agenda-driven, 24-hour news opinion propaganda delivery system. Well, Wallace doesn’t actually challenge that statement; he instead asks if Stewart’s willing to say the same of the mainstream media. Why on earth would you let that stand? 
It wouldn’t exactly be difficult to refute. First, you could ask for so much as a single example of Fox’s bias, which Stewart doesn’t do at any point in the interview. Second, you could point out that Fox’s mostly conservative commentary programs are separate from its hard news reporting, which is impartial. Third, you could ask Stewart to explain the high number of liberal hosts and paid contributors on Fox, like Andrew Napolitano, Geraldo Rivera, Shepard Smith, Alan Colmes, Ellis Henican, Juan Williams, Marc Lamont Hill, Susan Estrich, Ellen Ratner, Kirsten Powers, or Bob Beckel. Even Bill O’Reilly is hardly a doctrinaire conservative—the guy believes in global warming, routinely bashes oil companies for “price gouging”, and has been known to trash conservative talk radio for being too anti-Obama for his tastes. Can of the competition boast a comparable number of conservative talent?
Anyway, Wallace instead asked if Stewart would be willing to say the same thing about the mainstream media. Predictably, he wasn’t:
WALLACE: You don’t think the New York Times is a liberal organization?
STEWART: No.
WALLACE: Pushing a liberal agenda?
STEWART: The New York Times, no. I think they are to a certain extent. Do I think they’re relentlessly activist? No. In a purely liberal partisan way? No, I don’t.
The entire hour could have been spent listing examples of the MSM’s left-wing bias, and for Stewart to claim he doesn’t see it is phony on its face. Wallace gave him a recent one: the New York Times and Washington Post’s call for their readers to help them go dirt-digging through Sarah Palin’s recently-released emails. Why pull such a stunt, and why didn’t they do the same with the 2,000-page ObamaCare bill?
STEWART: Because I think their bias is towards sensationalism and laziness. I wouldn’t say it’s towards a liberal agenda. It’s light fluff. So, it’s absolutely within the wheelhouse.
So Fox is a partisan propaganda machine, but their competitors’ misdeeds are merely apolitical grabs at juicy headlines. So it didn’t occur to anyone at the NYT or WaPo that there might be a few sensationalistic tidbits in a 2,000-page piece of legislation that many of its supporters didn’t even read? Can’t Fox’s (alleged, unidentified) misdeeds just as easily be attributed to “sensationalism and laziness”? And if sensationalism alone is the lifeblood of the MSM, then how does Stewart explain the MSM’s lack of interest in, say, the John Edwards love child story? What could be more sensationalistic than a man who was almost Vice President fathering a child with a mistress while his wife was dying of cancer?
Next came some arguing about whether Stewart’s primarily a comedian or an activist, which misses the point—lies are lies, no matter who says them. And regardless of what Stewart labels himself, many of America’s youth do turn to him as their primary source for political news.
The diversion did, however, lead to this incredible nugget from Stewart:
STEWART: You can’t understand because of the world you live in that there is not a designed ideological agenda on my part to affect partisan change because that’s the soup you swim in. And I appreciate that. And I understand that. It reminds me of, you know — you know, ideological regimes. They can’t understand that there is free media other places because they receive marching orders.
Here Stewart is using his own lie about Fox as proof Wallace must be wrong about him. Did Wallace call him out for it? Nope.
Wallace next gave another example of liberal MSM propagandizing: Diane Sawyer leading a hard-news story with an outright lie about Arizona’s immigration law. Stewart’s reaction? “That’s sensationalist and somewhat lazy. But I don’t understand how it’s partisan.” Of course.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the whole interview came a bit later, when Stewart—angrily—asked:
STEWART: In polls, who is the most consistently misinformed media viewers, the most consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers. Consistently. Every poll.
How did Chris Wallace respond to such a brutal, direct attack on Fox News Channel’s credibility?
He didn’t.
Not a word about whether it was true. Instead he changed the subject to raunchiness on Comedy Central. Incredible.
Fortunately, PolitiFact decided it was worth checking, and, unsurprisingly, it turned out to be false:
So we have three Pew studies that superficially rank Fox viewers low on the well-informed list, but in several of the surveys, Fox isn’t the lowest, and other general-interest media outlets — such as network news shows, network morning shows and even the other cable news networks — often score similarly low. Meanwhile, particular Fox shows — such as The O’Reilly Factor and Sean Hannity’s show — actually score consistently well, occasionally even outpacing Stewart’s own audience.

Meanwhile, the other set of knowledge surveys, from worldpublicopinion.org, offer mixed support for Stewart. The 2003 survey strikes us as pretty solid, but the 2010 survey has been critiqued for its methodology. 

PolitiFact’s look at the findings is worth checking out in full, as are takedowns they link to by John Lott and Brent Bozell, but they actually give too much credit to World Public Opinion. Here’s the gist of the 2003 study:
It asked three questions: “Is it your impression that the U.S. has or has not found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaida terrorist organization?” “Since the war with Iraq ended, is it your impression that the US has or has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?” And whether, “The majority of people [worldwide] favor the US having gone to war.”
The obvious problem is that the first two “wrong” answers aren’t actually wrong. The study’s authors can nitpick about what evidence they think respondents should have considered “clear,” but just because people were confident Saddam had terrorist connections and WMDs doesn’t make them “misinformed”; in fact, the evidence of Iraq’s terror ties and WMD pursuits was more likely to actually get covered at Fox, making their viewers better informed than the MSM’s. The only question Fox viewers really do get wrong is the global opinion one—but anyone who remembers Fox’s coverage of the Iraq War at the time (which I do) can tell you that they didn’t try to whitewash anti-American sentiment; in fact, whether America should “go it alone” was a frequent topic of debate.

So the truth behind Stewart’s big, angry beef with Fox was complete garbage, and where a better interviewer could have used it to completely destroy him, Wallace let him get away with it scot-free.
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One thought on “The Sad Spectacle of Chris Wallace vs. Jon Stewart

  1. PolitiFact reached the right verdict on Stewart for some of the wrong reasons. Based on the easy acceptance of the reliability of the 2003 PIPA material (not to mention past performance), PolitiFact has trouble understanding the proper interpretation and application of poll data. None of the surveys (including those cited by Chris Mooney in defense of Stewart) control for selection bias in the question list. So, regardless of whether Fox News viewers are misinformed there's no study remotely adequate for testing the proposition.

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