Perhaps the most reliable method of gauging an outlet's perspective is to study its sources. If Fox News Channel is the bastion of balance that it claims to be, then its pool of guests should reflect a full spectrum of debate, from left to right, and neither major party should dominate over the other.
To test Fox's guest list, FAIR studied 19 weeks of Special Report with Brit Hume (1/1/01-5/11/01), which Fox calls its signature political news show looking specifically at the show's daily one-on-one newsmaker interviews conducted by the show's anchor. The interview segment is a central part of the newscast; Hume often uses his high-profile guests' comments as subject matter for the show's wrap-up panel discussion.
FAIR classified each guest by both political ideology and party affiliation. Only two ideological categories were used: conservative and non-conservative. Guests affiliated with openly conservative think tanks, magazines or advocacy groups, or who promote openly conservative views, were labeled as such. All other guests were grouped together in the non-conservative category, including centrists, liberals and progressives; non-political guests (e.g., Cheney's heart doctor); and "objective" journalists who do not avow any ideology. Republicans were not automatically counted as conservatives: Moderate Republicans like Christopher Shays, Christine Todd Whitman and David Gergen, for example, were classified as non-conservatives.
Sixty-one percent of guests were current or former Democratic or Republican government officials, political candidates, staffers or advisors. These guests were classified as either Democrats or Republicans. All others -- including conservatives with no official party connection, such as Jerry Falwell or David Horowitz -- were classified as non-partisan for the purposes of the study, along with bipartisan officials such as career diplomats.
The numbers show an overwhelming slant on Fox towards both Republicans and conservatives. Of the 56 partisan guests on Special Report between January and May, 50 were Republicans and six were Democrats -- a greater than 8 to 1 imbalance. In other words, 89 percent of guests with a party affiliation were Republicans.
On Special Report, 65 of the 92 guests (71 percent) were avowed conservatives--that is, conservatives outnumbered representatives of all other points of view, including non-political guests, by a factor of more than 2 to 1. While FAIR did not break down the non-conservative guests by ideology, there were few avowed liberals or progressives among the small non-conservative minority; instead, there was a heavy emphasis on centrist and center-right pundits (David Gergen, Norman Ornstein, Lou Dobbs) and politicians (Sen. John Breaux, Sen. Bob Graham, Rep. Christopher Shays).
As a comparison, FAIR also studied the one-on-one newsmaker interviews on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports over the same time period, and found a modest but significant tilt towards Republicans, and a disproportionate minority of guests who were conservatives--but in both cases, there was far more balance than was found on Special Report.
Of Blitzer's 67 partisan guests, 38 were Republicans and 29 were Democrats -- a 57 percent to 43 percent split in favor of Republicans. Thirty-five out of 109 guests (32 percent) were avowed conservatives, with the remaining 68 percent divided up among the rest of the political spectrum, from center-right to left.
Only eight of Special Report's 92 guests during the study period were women, and only six were people of color -- making for a guest list that was 91 percent male and 93 percent white. Wolf Blitzer Reports was hardly a model of diversity either; its guests were 86 percent male and 93 percent white.
Special Report's guests who were women or people of color were strikingly homogenous in ideology. Seven of the show's eight female guests were either conservative or Republican, although women in general tend to be less conservative and more Democratic than men. Although African-Americans and Latinos show an even more pronounced progressive tilt, five of six people of color appearing on the show were either conservative or Republican; the sixth was an Iraqi opposition leader championed by congressional Republicans. (On Wolf Blitzer Reports, nine of 15 female guests were conservative or Republican; four out of five of the show's American guests who were people of color were non-conservative.)
The fact that the study included the beginning of a new Republican administration may excuse a slight tilt toward Republican guests. But at a time when the Senate had a 50/50 split and the White House was won with less than a plurality of the popular vote, Special Report's 50 Republicans to 6 Democrats reflects not news judgment, but partisan allegiance.
View the guest lists for Fox and CNN.
See also the other two articles in FAIR's special report on Fox:
The Most Biased Name in News: Fox News Channel's extraordinary right-wing tilt.
Bill O'Reilly's Sheer O'Reillyness: Don't call him conservative-- but he is.