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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2004 /27 Elul, 5764

Nat Hentoff

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Targeting the Fox News Channel | On Aug. 31, during the Republican National Convention in New York, more than 1,000 protestors reveling in their right of free expression ironically staged a "shut-up-athon" outside the midtown studios of the Fox News Channel. Demonstrators chanted "Fox lies, people die," while accusing the cable network of being a Republican mouthpiece.

I wonder how many of those clamoring to shut up Fox have actually watched the channel. To be sure, Fox houses an array of such bristling conservative commentators such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. But their hosts continually welcome direct, on-air combat with guests of vigorously opposing views. I've been on with O'Reilly's show, and I didn't have to be carried out.

Moreover, having covered Congress and the presidency for more than a half century, I rate Fox's Carl Cameron and Jim Angle as among the fairest and most illuminating broadcast correspondents on the beat. Also, Fox reporters in the field, around the world, are professional, resourceful journalists, not apparatchiks for the Republican Party.

But the Fox News Channel is not only targeted by the sansculottes roaring outside its studios during the Republican convention. MovOn.Org, which strikes me as a mouthpiece for John Kerry's campaign, and the more credible Common Cause, a grassroots government watchdog, actually filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing the Fox News Channel of deceptive advertising because if its persistent claim of being "fair and balanced."

In the July 20 Wall Street Journal, FTC Chairman Timothy Muris provided MoveOn.Org and Common Cause with a basic lesson on the "freedom of the press" clause in the First Amendment, saying:

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"I am not aware of any instance in which the Federal Trade Commission has investigated the slogan of a news organization. There is no way to evaluate this petition without evaluating the content of the news at issue. That is a task the First Amendment leaves to the American people, not a government agency."

The First Amendment, of course, does not mandate that journalism, or any form of expression, be fair and balanced. For example, there is the loudly partisan Al Franken, a resounding critic of Fox News. The usually astute Roger Ailes, founder of the channel, made a dumb mistake when he permitted Fox News to sue Franken for trademark abuse in the title of Franken's best seller "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." The First Amendment also protects Al Franken.

In recent years, Franken had greatly enhanced his career by freely eschewing the notion of being fair and balanced, but Franken has not condemned the anti-First Amendment complaint to the FTC by MoveOn.Org and Common Cause.

None of the attacks alleging that the Fox News Channel is a tool of the Republicans have mentioned the regular appearances of Judge Andrew Napolitano, the only commentator on broadcast or cable television who continually explains our civil liberties as protected by the Constitution, particularly its Bill of Rights, in his analysis of news events. He appears on morning shows as well as John Gibson's "The Big Story" in the afternoon, and often instructs O'Reilly on constitutional matters (not always with success).

Here is a characteristic commentary by Fox's senior judicial analyst both on the air and on the March 5, 2004 editorial page of the Wall Street Journal — whose editors do not share Napolitano's views on John Ashcroft. Speaking of the administration's expansion of National Security Letters, Napolitano emphasizes:

"Now, without you knowing it, the Justice Department can learn where you traveled, what you spent, what you ate, what you paid to finance your car and your house, what you confided to your lawyer and insurance and real estate agents, and what periodicals you read without having to demonstrate any evidence or even suspicion of criminal activity on your part."

The judge has pointed out that these National Security Letters are sent out by the government without the requirement of a judge's approval; and he notes that this pervasive violation of our privacy was signed into law by the president on Dec. 13, 2003, as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004.

Is this the work of a "mouthpiece for the Republican Party?"

Fox News is watched by more Americans, on many nights, than CNN. On the first night of the Republican convention, an average of 3.6 million viewers watched Fox, compared with 1.2 million CNN viewers. Fox continually trumps MSNBC. On three nights, Fox beat NBC, CBS and ABC. Its coverage does indeed appeal to conservatives, but not only conservatives. When I teach, I advise students to actually watch Fox from time to time, and judge for themselves. They might be quite surprised.

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.

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