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"Alternate reality"

Fox News and the crafting of illusion

Earlier this week, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer delivered a speech that contained some revealing comments about Fox News. Here's the key passage, with the best stuff highlighted.

"Fox has done a great service to the American polity - single-handedly breaking up the intellectual and ideological monopoly that for decades exerted hegemony (to use a favorite lefty cliché) over the broadcast media....The reason Fox News has thrived and grown is because it offers a vibrant and honest alternative to those who could not abide yet another day of the news delivered to them beneath layer after layer of often undisguised liberalism.

"What Fox did is not just create a venue for alternative opinion. It created an alternate reality."

"An alternate reality"...Krauthammer sure got that right, although probably not in the way that he intended. Here's a classic example of how the crafting of "an alternate reality" works in practice:

On his Fox show one week ago, Sean Hannity told his credulous fans that President Obama had made a deliberate effort during his Cairo speech "to give 9/11 sympathizers a voice on the world stage." Wow, that certainly did sound like major news - the president of the United States taking the time to appease all the crackpots who applaud the murders of 3000 Americans. Hannity even backed up his reporting by airing a video clip from the speech, with Obama saying: "I am aware that there are still some that would question or even justify the events of 9/11."

Great stuff, right? Fox News, by exposing Obama as indulgent of 9/11 sympathizers, was surely giving viewers "a vibrant and honest alternative" to the "undisguised liberalism" of the monopoly media, right?

Bull feces.

I can't imagine how this happened, but for some reason Hannity's video clip of Obama was truncated after that single quoted sentence, omitting everything that followed. Here's what Obama said next, none of which was aired for the Fox viewers:

"But let us be clear. Al Qaeda killed nearly 3000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with."

In that passage, there isn't a single syllable that could not have been uttered by George W. Bush. But Hannity excised it, in order to provide the "alternate reality" that Fox viewers apparently would prefer. This kind of practice has nothing to do with being an "honest alternative." It has everything to do with dishonestly distorting empirical reality and circulating falsehoods - in this case, the delusion that Obama had actually sought to indulge the 9/11 sympathizers.

Obama's foreign policy positions are obviously grist for debate. But a quality debate hinges on both sides at least agreeing on the same set of empirical facts...such as an accurate record of what Obama actually said. This debate can hardly be substantive if one major broadcast network concocts an "alternate reality" that at its worst seems little more than a license to lie.