Justin's Jingoism

"This may not be Walter Cronkite's kind of journalism, but it's not necessarily wrong," writes Neal Justin, the Star Tribune's sitcom-and-soap-opera media writer, in a gushing homage to Fox’s war coverage:
Fox News embraced its patriotic spirit like no one else, from the flag fluttering in the upper left-hand corner of the screen to the tough-guy lingo... I kept waiting for someone to yell, "Hoo-ah!"
Justin's analysis--printed on the paper's "War on Iraq" news spreads, not the more appropriate Opinion or Variety pages--suggests that news analysis isn’t his strong suit. He lauds the showmanship of Fox anchor Shepard Smith--or "Shep" as Justin glibly points out he's called--as the "smoothest" anchor on TV and praises that he never "let on that he was at the helm 19 of the first 50 hours of coverage" (that's two 9.5 hour shifts in two days, not an uncommon schedule for the average minimum-wage worker). Flubbing another tenet of Journalism 101, Justin quotes only one source for his piece, a Fox representative who’s also the wife of key Fox anchor Brit Hume. "The public tends to be patriotic, and we're a reflection of America," she says. "Those who criticize us for being patriotic are just looking for ways to undercut us."

Can news be “patriotic” and fair?

Justin doesn’t seem interested in that question. Shrugging it off with the-market-is-always-right logic, he concludes that Fox's "pro-America tone" is what viewers want right now--citing the popularity of bigoted broadcaster Bill O'Reilly as his evidence--and that, "as long as the news organization continues to be accurate and fair--and there continue to be other, more traditional options--it can be exhilarating to watch." Accurate and fair, as Justin well knows, isn’t the tagline Fox has been using. "Fair and balanced" was their slogan for awhile, although their website now touts the more ambiguous and less restrictive "We report. You decide."

Most troubling about Justin's logic is this: news shouldn’t be driven by what we want to hear, but by what we need to hear. What about body counts, alternative perspectives, world opinion, environmental analysis, economic impact, critical examinations of weaponry and their long-term effects? While Pravda reports that 77 civilians were killed by US bombing in Basra and The Sydney Morning Herald reports a US soldier radioing that "dead bodies are everywhere" following an attack in southern Iraq (a claim disputed by the US military), Fox opts for news that’s merely "exhilarating." And Justin thinks that’s good enough.

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