MoveOn.org and Common Cause have filed a complaint against FoxNews with the federal Trade Commission claiming that its ‘Fair and Balanced’ slogan is so untrue that it amounts to deceptive advertising and consumer fraud.
Liberal MoveOn.org and historically nonpartisan Common Cause assert that Fox News’ reports are “deliberately and consistently distorted and twisted to promote the Republican Party of the U.S. and an extreme right-wing viewpoint.”Alleging consumer fraud, the complaint calls for the FTC to order Fox News, consistently the highest-rated cable news network, to cease and desist from using the slogan.
Complaining to the Republican-dominated FTC about Fox’s blatant right-wing bias is a little like taking a complaint about corporate thievery to that corporation’s PR flack, and in fact, before he’s even seen the petition, FTC Chair Timothy Muris is dismissing it.
“I am not aware of any instance in which the Federal Trade Commission has investigated the slogan of a news organization. There is no way to evaluate this petition without evaluating the content of the news at issue. That is a task the First Amendment leaves to the American people, not a government agency.”But Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, said the legal actions were consistent with the First Amendment. “Fox has no obligation under the law to be fair and balanced, just not to market itself as fair and balanced,” he said.
Pingree has a point. The slogan is advertising and the law, despite conservative attacks, still exists that protects consumers from false advertising. If ‘Fair and Balanced’ isn’t false advertising, then the phrase has no meaning.
But if MO and CC are on the right track, they’re on the wrong horse. Petitioning the FTC is a monumental waste of time. What they might consider doing that would have more teeth–and more chance of success–is suing Fox in the courts for consumer fraud: selling a shoddy and unsafe product under false pretenses. Recent studies which we’ve mentioned here before have made it crystal clear that consistent Fox viewers are frighteningly ill-informed. Sixty percent believe that Saddam planned 9/11 with Al Qaeda; half believe we have found WMDs in Iraq; fully two-thirds believe that the moon is made of green cheese. OK, maybe not that last one–yet. But they would if FoxNews kept telling them it was.
The laws against consumer fraud were written to protect the gullible and the misinformed. Fox’s audience qualifies on both counts, and the evidence is overwhelming that the deception was deliberate, a Murdoch-ordered policy, in fact, which daily memos from his office telling the news division how to slant that day’s news will prove. Fox followed exactly the same pattern as the tobacco companies when they turned their ‘health studies’ into thinly-veiled ads based on false findings deliberately concocted to fool consumers. If they’re guilty, then so is Murdoch.