More on Stewart v. Wallace

By James Fallows

In response to yesterday's item about the Jon Stewart-Chris Wallace showdown on Fox, and Wallace's seeming inability to grasp Stewart's main argument, several reader responses that deal with Wallace's proof of mainstream media bias -- a clip from Diane Sawyer.

"They had a clip ready!" A reader in Vermont writes:

>>I've been thinking a lot about the Chris Wallace interview with Jon Stewart since watching the clip on your blog post. What sticks out most to me is that in defense of what Stewart had to say about Fox News, Wallace rolled a clip of some idiotic show from Comedy Central. What's crucial here is that THEY HAD THIS CLIP READY TO ROLL! 

That means Wallace and his producers considered the best way to defend their network was that its content somehow compares favorably (a point not actually proven during the interview) to the programming of a low-budget comedy channel! Think about what that means. How seriously should anyone take anything broadcast on Fox News if that's the best defense one of their top newsmen can muster up?

Beyond this, why is it so important to Fox to make Jon Stewart look biased? He's the host of a comedy show on a somewhat obscure cable comedy channel. If he is their number one nemesis, as it surely seems he is, then how liberal can the rest of the media really be?<<

And the clip was wrong anyway:

>>I feel that the real story of the Wallace/Stewart interview, which I wish somebody would report, is Wallace submarining Jon Stewart with a trumped-up false smear of Diane Sawyer -- in fact, the clip he showed of her 2010 report was 100% correct, and Wallace's complaints about it were totally bungled. Full details here.<<

Back to "is this all you got?" From a reader who (I think) is a lawyer:

>>The exchange between Stewart and Wallace was fascinating for what it revealed about Wallace.  If I may comment on just one aspect.  Wallace clearly believes in the liberal bias of the media.  I don't doubt his sincerity on that....

But the most interesting thing is that he seemed to really believe -- as he promised -- that he was going to offer a very compelling argument for the existence of mainstream liberal bias, i.e., the Diane Sawyer clip.  What is notable is not just Stewart's point -- the error resulted from a bias towards simplification and sensationalism, not liberalism -- but that it was a 14 month-old clip, and it was the only one he presented to make that particular point.

Imagine the reverse:  if in order to prove Fox News bias, Stewart brought with him a clip from 2010.  Our reaction would be:  that's all you got?  We'd expect Stewart to actually cull something from the last 24 hours, maybe 48, and he would only have one network to choose from.  (in fact, how easy it is to find something absurdly biased or hypocritical on Fox News has been a continuing joke over the last few months.  He's even hinted that it's so unchallenging that it isn't even fun anymore.)

It seems to me that Wallace has built up in his head this opinion regarding liberal bias that he's never had reason to question.   But like a lawyer finally laying out a weak case to a jury, it just didn't sound as good when spoken out loud.<<

After the jump, a defense of Wallace, and then a criticism (gasp) of Fox.

The defense of Chris Wallace:

>>Wallace hinted at a point that I don't think he was willing to make explicitly, so I'll try to do it for him. Fox News and Comedy Central are not the same, but they are part of the same media ecosystem. It's unreasonable to expect the high minded standards of television journalism to be invulnerable to the same forces that have allowed that appalling Roast of Pamela Anderson to be nationally broadcast. The world that makes Comedy Central possible makes Edward Murrow impossible.

This is what makes Stewart seem sanctimonious when he's being serious rather than satirical (I'm a big fan of him in the latter form, like everyone else).

Also, since I'm playing armchair quarterback, the question I wish Stewart had asked Wallace is, "Do you see any difference between the partisan bias at the New York Times and at MSNBC?" I don't know how he would have answered, but it's the distinction that apologists for Fox must avoid, between inevitable bias and deliberate, active bias.<<

And, for one more aspect of the cheesiness of Fox's approach, see this UK report. Thanks to these and others who wrote in.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/06/more-on-stewart-v-wallace/240768/