BEFORE THE Democrats got battered in Tuesday's election, I decided to check out one of their favorite pincushions - the Fox News Channel's "fair and balanced" motto.
"Fair" can be subjective. "Balanced," less so. Airing contrary points of view is one element of being fair.
Last week, Monday through Friday, I recorded the flagship shows that lead Fox's and MSNBC's prime-time lineups: "The O'Reilly Factor" on right-leaning Fox, and "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" on left-leaning MSNBC. Rush Limbaugh calls it PMSNBC, while Olbermann refers to his competition as "Fix News" or "Faux News." These star-driven vehicles represent their networks.
To some extent, each outlet is a partisan noise machine with a narrow view of the landscape. The other cable news outlets are either not nakedly partisan or too small to be considered.
It is total war between MSNBC and Fox.
A week after MSNBC launched promotional commercials for itself, ending in the slogan, "Lean forward," Fox responded with a promo saying it, and America, "Moves forward."
The methodology: I scored each guest politically as either "left" or "right." Those defying classification were "neutral."
The results prove you hear more conflicting opinions on "The O'Reilly Factor" than on "Countdown," which seems allergic to any conservative idea.
MONDAY, OCT. 25
First up from the left, in the wake of O'Reilly's questionable comment about "Muslims" attacking the U.S., is Ahmed Rehab, the Chicago executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. He and Bill have a vigorous argument. Also on the left: Alicia Menendez, senior adviser of the NDN liberal think tank and liberal Juan Williams. (He and Bill are having a bromance.)
Three from the right: Former network correspondent Bernie Goldberg, "Weekly Standard" writer Mary Katherine Ham and Fox News analyst Brit Hume, whose presentation is even-handed, but he usually leans right.
The speed-talking Olbermann's first guest is Ezra Klein, Washington Post reporter and Newsweek columnist; then E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist; then Eugene Robinson, another WP columnist. All left. (Maybe Olbermann should broadcast from the Post newsroom?)
The other two guests are Jeremy Scahill of The Nation (called the "flagship of the left") and Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine. He calls himself a Libertarian, but his attack on Karl Rove marks him left tonight. Five of five, left.
TUESDAY, OCT. 26
Olbermann opens with Gabe Gonzalez, of the Campaign for Community Change, followed by Chris Hayes, Washington Editor of The Nation, followed by Lauren Valle of Moveon.org, who was roughed up by Rand Paul's henchmen in Kentucky, and closing with Michael Wolffe, political analyst of the "Daily Beast" website. All left. Olbermann repeatedly describes Valle as getting kicked "in the head" when the video clearly shows the blow was on the shoulder area.
Then - an inexplicable Stradivarius violin concert by virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers, whose politics aren't discussed. Four of out five, left. One neutral.
O'Reilly opens with weekly arguing heads Monica Crowley, right, and Alan Colmes, left. For a change, O'Reilly agrees with Colmes on something.
Conservative Stephen Hayes of Weekly Standard is up next, followed by Heidi Harris, a conservative Las Vegas radio-talk host, and then John Stossel, a Libertarian. Since he's arguing for legalizing pot tonight, I count him left.
Following are quarreling lawyers Lis Wiehl, a lefty, and righty Kimberly Guilfoyle. Batting last is righthanded columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Score: Five right, three left.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 27
Only two "Countdown" guests tonight as Olbermann gloms the last 20 minutes for a "Special Comment" tirade against the tea party. It wants to create, he hisses with his veins bulging and eyes popping, a "theocracy for white males." (Remember that.)
Guests are Nick Nyhart, of the Public Campaign Action Fund, and Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. Two left.
O'Reilly opens with conservative Dick Morris peddling his election predictions and website. In a segment about whether President Obama maybe used race to push some candidates, O'Reilly has Alfonso Aguilar of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, right, and lightly right Dr. Christopher Metzler, of Georgetown University.
In a political segment, neutral pollster Larry J. Sabato (who miffs Mr. Bill by saying "You take me out of context") appears with Roll Call political writer Erin Billings, neutral.
Next is Occidental University professor Caroline Heldman, who says NPR isn't as far left as she is, then acerbic comedian Dennis Miller from the right.
Finally, there is Fox News staffer Juliet Huddy, whose comments are neutral. Score: Four right, one left, three neutral.
THURSDAY, OCT. 28
O'Reilly opens with conservative radio yakker Laura Ingraham, then Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean's campaign, in the next segment. The "culture warriors" - blondes Margaret Hoover and Gretchen Carlson - follow, both right.
Boston Herald reporter Jessica Van Sack talks about a health-care scandal, but is neutral. Next is lawyer and Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who often clashes with O'Reilly, but I'll count her as right.
"Great American News Quiz" kids Steve Doocey and Martha MacCallum are neutral in the weekly segment that seems like an excuse to show off a lanky, luscious blond (and McCallum isn't bad either). That's four from the right, one from the left, three neutral.
Over at "Countdown," Olbermann offers up The Nation's Washington Editor Chris Hayes, the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman, Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva and Jess McIntosh from Emily's List. That's as left as the Phillies' lineup. The Joker is Republican Charlie Crist, current governor of Florida who pulled a "Specter" and was running as an "independent" for U.S. Senate. I'll score him neutral. So it's four from the left, one neutral.
FRIDAY, OCT. 29
It's a clean sweep for "Countdown." Five guests, all left.
The show starts with Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who explains, in nice language, why Charlie Crist is a liar.
Next up is Mother Jones magazine's Washington bureau chief David Corn, followed by the Huffington Post's grand dame, Arianna Huffington, with the cute "occent." Faiz Shakir of ThinkProgress.com follows Arianna. Batting fifth is Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis again.
O'Reilly has more variety in his "No-Spin Zone."
Independent pollster Scott Rasmussen delivers a neutral roundup of various races before Republican Karl Rove talks about that day's UPS bomb threat. Right.
In a segment on gender and politics, conservative columnist Andrea Tantaros faces liberal talk-show host Leslie Marshall. From the left, Geraldo Rivera comes in for a chat, followed by Glenn Beck from the right.
Final guests are conservative Fox host Greg Gutfeld and Fox News anchor Arthel Neville, lightly left, who examine odd things in the news.
Score four from the right, three from the left, one neutral.
Before the totals, my opinion: Olbermann's usual mien is mean - scowling. O'Reilly's typically laughing, too often at one of his juvenile jokes. Both are narcissists who take themselves too seriously, but that's true for many on television.
O'Reilly uses a really clever device. After stating his case, he often asks guests, "Tell me where I'm wrong."
Olbermann can't do this: Every guest agrees with, and amplifies, the host's opinion.
During the week, O'Reilly's ratings were about triple those of Olbermann. Is it just Fox's superior lighting, colors and graphics, or might it be content?
Here are the totals for the week:
"The O'Reilly Factor" welcomed 20 guests from the right, 11 from the left and seven who were neutral. Left and neutral voices combined almost equaled those from the right.
"Countdown with Keith Olbermann" had 20 guests from the left, two neutral and not a single voice from the right. Zero voices of dissent.
So, if you never want to hear anyone challenge liberal views, lock in on Olbermann. While progressives disdain Fox's claim of being "fair and balanced," "The O'Reilly Factor" does present opposing views. O'Reilly will cut them off in midsentence, true, but he even does that to people who agree with him. (Shock therapy might help.) Olbermann seems unable to even listen to anything other than progressive orthodoxy.
If the tea party wants a "theocracy for white males," as he said, Olbermann could be an imam. He offered a paltry four women among his 22 talking heads, 18 percent. (Wasn't Joy Behar available?) Only two African Americans got face time.
O'Reilly had three African Americans and scattered 18 women among his 38 guests, for 47 percent. (Don't expect NOW to give him an award.) O'Reilly had three Hispanic-surnamed guests; Olbermann had two.
When it comes to their sources of news, too many Americans live in "silos," protected from contrary views. We'd do better, learn a bit more, by listening to some opposing ideas.
You get that from Fox's O'Reilly, not MSNBC's Olbermann.
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