I See What You Did There!

I was perusing Feministing today, and discovered this gem. Fox News astounds me. “Can Gwen Ifill Be Fair and Balanced?” Fox News can’t be. In discussing Ifill’s moderation of tonight’s VP debate, they start with a series of video clips from Ifill herself, then Palin and McCain. Ifill’s clip has her stating that she’s written a book on the topic of race and politics. All she discusses in the clip is that the book focuses on how the current generation of black politicians has a different approach to power than their parents’ generation. So far, neutral.

They then play Palin’s audio clip, in which the transcript quotes her as saying, “I am not going to let it be a concern,” in regard to Ifill moderating the debate. They also quote her as saying, “It is motivating to me to me, eve, to hear Gwen’s comments there, because, again, that will make us work that much harder and that provides even more fairness and objectivity and choices for the voters on November 4 if we try that much harder.” This is neutral in that Palin was ostensibly asked (albeit off-camera) what she thought of Ifill moderating tonight. They are citing an opinion from a visible source. Okay.

Next they present McCain’s answer to what may reasonably be believed to be the same question: “I think that Gwen Ifill is a professional, and I think that she will do a totally objective job because she is a highly respected professional.

“Does this help that if she has written a book that is favorable to Senator Obama? Probably not, but I have confidence that Gwen Ifill will do a professional job. And I have that confidence.” Again, neutral. An opinion from a cited source.

Greta Van Susteren relays to the audience a quote from Ifill, instead of showing another clip. She quotes Ifill as saying that she is “not particularly worried that one day of blog chatter is going to destroy my reputation.” The assault begins here. After introducing her guest, David Mark, she segues back from the notion of reputation she just presented in Ifill’s quote to the idea that Ifill will not be fair by saying, “David, it is really not about her reputation. It is about whether or not the voters out there think that both sides are getting a fair shake.”

Mark then reiterates the McCain’s quoted belief that Ifill will be fair, and Van Susteren rejoins, “Does he have a choice?” That’s where it really gets dirty. Van Susteren moves out of the realm of facts and into the realm of presenting assumptions and opinions as facts. By saying “Does [McCain] have a choice?” she has already assumed for her audience that Ifill is not going to be fair, and that McCain is obligated to lie about that “fact” to play nice politically. These shifts are left undiscussed and therefore unexamined.

The discussion between Mark and Van Susteren proceeds to the topic of alleged lawyers who have emailed Van Susteren “scandalized” by the “impropriety” of Ifill’s moderation of the debate. Van Susteren states that “all of the lawyers who email me are scandalized,” because Ifill somehow stands to sell more books if Obama wins. Firstly, do they know anything about the publishing industry? And secondly, it’s Gwen Ifill, a high profile journalist. She stands to sell a lot of her books whether she moderates or not.

Mark points out that the bias of the book isn’t known, but Van Susteren insists it is a conflict of interest. The blame-storming then begins, neatly phrasing these suggestions as “perhapses”: “Maybe [the debate commission] did not do its homework, it did not vet her as the other hosts as thoroughly as might have happened.” This casts subtle blame on the commission, shining the baleful red glow of “liberal conspiracy” on it.

You could make the same argument against David Mark commenting on this whole affair: he works for The Politico, and by offering his opinion on Gwen Ifill, he stands to make more money, and isn’t being fair to her. The whole thing is ridiculous and filled with nasty attacks and logical fallacies.

Finally, this is a rush transcript of yesterday’s show. Fox states at the top of the article: “This is a rush transcript from ‘On the Record ,’ October 1, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.” My suspicions say that “maybe updated” should read “may be retconned if politically expedient.” But I know to state that my suspicions are just that: suspicions.