BROOKE GLADSTONE: For years, this program has piled on Fox News as being the very antithesis of its slogan "fair and balanced." But even we are surprised at how potent an issue Fox has become for the Left in this political race. Now Moveon and Common Cause have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to strip Fox News of its fair and balanced slogan on the grounds that it is, in effect, false advertising. And the liberal online news service, Alternet, already has a similar case pending with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. These are, most likely, symbolic gestures, but why make them? We thought we'd put the question to Paul Maslin, Democratic pollster and former advisor to candidate Howard Dean.
PAUL MASLIN: I think it's the latest manifestation of an entire sort of re-awakening of progressives, Democrats, liberals to fight back in many ways, and that got started really in the aftermath of the 2000 election. People thought that election was unfair. The outcome was unfair. But it's tough to go after nine justices in a Supreme Court. It's tough to do it electorally when those choices only come up intermittently. The media's in your face all the time. I think the war was really the key moment in all of this, because not only was there frustration about the policy to begin with, but I think the coverage of the war itself -there was a feeling that the media was sanitizing things or glorifying things in a way that made progressives feel that their dissent was not going to be heard, that there wasn't going to be a different version of this story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The media used to be the hobby horse of the right, ever since Spiro Agnew denounced the press as "nattering nabobs of negativism" back in 1970, and the left has been mostly on the defensive, denying that there is a liberal media establishment.
PAUL MASLIN: They're borrowing the tactics that the right wing has used for years, and why not? Turnabout is fair play. The Right not only have political control, but they have working control of a lot of the media outlets in this country right now, and if not control, they certainly have influence. So their complaint, now, seems pretty hollow after all this time, and for once, our side of the equation is saying hey wait a minute --let's look at the real facts here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I know that the coverage of the war and in the aftermath of 9/11 was not all that it could have been or should have been, but are you really suggesting that mainstream media is now in the pocket of conservatives?
PAUL MASLIN: I'm suggesting that the natural pack journalism added to the market pressures that have been created in the, what I would call the television tabloid era that we're now in, led people to be more reluctant to question --in this case a conservative and Republican administration -- or to question a war. I'm not saying that conservatives are necessarily in charge, but I am saying that coverage has been slanted in the last couple of years, and I think it's not surprising that you see a counter-reaction to that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So then you think Fox is basically providing progressives with a foothold in a larger campaign against the mainstream media.
PAUL MASLIN: Absolutely, just in the way that CBS seemed or, or NPR, for that matter, or PBS, seemed to do that for the right wing for many years. They weren't simply going after CBS, but they were going after something bigger, and let's not discount what the motivation is, here. The motivation is really threefold, I would say. Number one, to achieve political change. That may happen this year. Secondly, to grow and sustain your own movement. You feed your masses, and if the masses want to hear this, and the masses are emboldened by this, they'll give you more money -- they'll give you another hundred dollars over the internet. And third is to change the actual policy of the media itself. That's going to be the most fascinating story here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thomas Mann, a political expert at the Brookings Institution, told the Wall Street Journal that this is not a galvanizing issue for the masses; that this is an elite political argument. Do you have any evidence to support your contention that people give a rat's bottom about media consolidation?
PAUL MASLIN: Well, the best evidence I can give you is within the Democratic primaries, which yes, that's not the entire country, but it's certainly a big slice of the country, when Howard Dean, who I was then working for, mentioned at one point, in the course of a bigger discussion about deregulation, that maybe people ought to look at the consolidation of media outlets in this country and whether that's good or bad -- we subsequently polled and found that the response was overwhelming. And I've seen in other polls that this is not something that is limited to just liberals or Democrats. In fact, it's one of the, the aspects that actually unites people from different ideological spectra -- the fact that they think that media control is in the hands of too few people now. It's going to frustrate people on all ends of the, of the spectrum who think that, you know, they're an average person and their story basically is not being heard. And so I disagree. I think, actually, there is a lot of potency to this issue, and, and maybe more in the years to come even than we're seeing this year.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. Paul, thanks very much.
PAUL MASLIN: Quite welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Paul Maslin is a political consultant who has worked for dozens of Democratic politicians --most recently, presidential candidate Howard Dean.