The very public war between the White House and Fox News has produced a heated debate as to whether the cable network simply has a slant or, worse, is a vehicle for politically motivated criticism administration.
It is a distinction with a major difference. Being a launching pad for the Republican Party talking points would make Fox more a partisan echo chamber than a legitimate source of news. Having a slant, by contrast, is a qualification that more than a few legitimate news outlets share.
In recent days, those pushing back on the White House for its campaign against Fox have confused the two issues. On CNN last night, for instance, Campbell Brown asked White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett why the administration wasn't similarly critical of MSNBC's liberal "bias," a question Jarrett had a difficult time answering. The Politico's Ben Smith dubbed the exchange: "The MSNBC problem."
But as Greg Sargent pointed out on his blog, The Plum Line, comparing Fox's critical coverage of the White House to MSNBC's largely favorable reporting simply lacks nuance.
"More to the point," writes Sargent, "is MSNBC's news judgment throughout the day, which contrasts sharply with that of Fox. You'd be hard pressed to argue that MSNBC's choice of stories to report on is as ideologically driven as Fox's editorial choices. There's simply no equivalent on the MSNBC news side of Fox's constant "news" coverage of the tea partiers, the czars, the ACORN story, the crusade against gay education adviser Kevin Jennings, etc. etc. The point is that Fox's news judgment is far more ideologically motivated than MSNBC's is."
Here is a bit of proof.
On Thursday morning, Fox and Friends made 22 mentions of the minority-organizing group ACORN -- a consistent boogeyman for the GOP -- despite the fact that there has been no new news on the ACORN front in weeks.
"Straight ahead," said host Steve Doocy early in Thursday's show. "Congress has stopped funding ACORN after... Fox News uncovered shocking video tapes. But did you know that that ACORN ban was only temporary? Should ACORN get its funding back?"
Contrast that to the tone of the coverage when news broke, at roughly 8:30 am (late in the broadcast) that the economy had grown for the first time in the past year. The host spent just a handful of minutes -- and made only two mentions -- on the 3.5 percent growth in GDP, despite the fact that it signaled the beginning of the end of the worst recession in 70 years.
Moreover, each time it was brought up, the hosts either switched to more "friendly" terrain (such as quickly moving on to discuss controversial comments made by Florida Democrat Alan Grayson), or poured cold water on the news.
"You will hear that from the mainstream media all day," said one host. "The recession is over. That is simply not true."
UPDATE: Jed Lewison, over at Daily Kos TV, fact checks me and finds out I got it wrong. Fox and Friends actually mentioned ACORN 23 times in its Thursday broadcast, not 22.