Nov
13
2008

Fox Responds to FAIR

Fox News Channel senior vice president John Moody took issue with FAIR's action alert, "Fox News Nailbiter! Conservative Channel Pushed Notion of a Tightening Election." But Moody's claims--and his suggestion that FAIR "retract your article and provide an appropriate apology"--are based on a peculiar argument.

As FAIR's alert documented, Fox personalities spent an unusual amount of time in the days preceding the election suggesting that the race between Barack Obama and John McCain was "tightening." Moody seems to dismiss the argument by suggesting the quotes are "from political pundits, whose opinions we do not attempt to control." In fact, the quotes are from a variety of sources--Fox campaign reporters, Fox hosts like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, and regular Fox News contributors like Dick Morris. To suggest that Fox has no control over the guests it chooses to put on the air (especially Morris, who was a fixture of the channel's campaign coverage) is rather unusual--especially given that the charge comes from someone who has penned well-known political memos for his channel. (See the documentary "Outfoxed"; Huffington Post, 11/14/06.)

Moody also suggests that Fox's own poll was showing the race getting much closer, and points to two other polls as evidence that his poll was correct. There's a name for selecting data because it tells you what you want to hear: It's called cherrypicking. Averaging all the available polls, which was done by several websites, painted a very different picture. Take the average provided by Real Clear Politics, for example: On September 27, it had John McCain at 43.6 percent and Barack Obama at 47.9 point. Over the final 37 days of the campaign, McCain's average never rose or fell by more than a full percentage point, ending up on November 3 at 44.3 percent, while Obama's rose more or less steadily to 51.6 percent. The wide swings seen in the Fox poll--a 9-point lead for Obama on October 20-21 turning into a 3-point lead on October 28-29 and becoming a 7-point lead in Fox's final poll on November 2--disappear when you look at the much larger sample surveyed by a combination of all polls.

And what about Fox News personalities suggesting that Obama was losing voters on economic issues--an argument that is contradicted both by other polls at the time and by the exit polls of actual voters? Or the argument that McCain was gaining among younger voters, whom exit polls showed Obama winning by a 2-to-1 margin?

How a given media outlet reports on polls reflects certain political judgments; at Fox, much of the commentary was provided by hosts and network analysts who were clearly eager to promote the idea that the momentum was shifting in McCain's favor. FAIR's alert illustrated how Fox News Channel was distinguishing its election coverage from its competitors by hyping a close race between Obama and McCain. Given the channel's well-known political orientation, this is not surprising. Documenting this reality is not something that requires a correction of any sort.

Moody's email appears below.

Dear Ms. Macdonald:

I received the email below this morning, and this afternoon, I notice an orchestrated email campaign concerning an article on the FAIR website. Your article inaccurately suggests that the Fox News poll provided misleading information about the tightness of the presidential race. It supports this contention with quotes from political pundits, whose opinions we do not attempt to control. I would like to request that you retract your article and provide an appropriate apology.

The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of Oct. 24 depicted an 8-point Obama lead. It is true - and I make no apology for the fact - that our next week’s poll, released Oct. 31, showed Obama’s lead had shrunk to 3 percent. Similar tightening was recorded by Investor’s Business Daily (2 percent) and Zogby (dead even, if memory serves). Our FINAL pre-election poll, released Nov. 3, showed Obama’s lead had returned to 7 percent. The final Rasmussen poll - with which Fox has a cooperative agreement - was spot-on, projecting a 6 percent difference.

A story today on page 16 of the Wall Street Journal (presumably beyond your permitted reading orbit) pointed out the relative accuracy of the major polls toward the end of the campaign.

Ms. Macdonald, since I do not know you, I will restrict myself to two observations:

1) You attempted to “check if this is still the correct email” address, followed by a high-schoolish exclamation point, without explaining the purpose of your inquiry. As most of your colleagues would tell you, had you checked with them, this amounts to journalistic deception.

2) Your organization, which presumes to discern unfairness (though always with a consistent political bias) itself got the facts wrong in this instance. I doubt you will have the courage to include this email on your website with the same prominence you gave your flawed story. But who knows? Miracles happen all the time.

John Moody