Watching how Fox News covers a news story is sort of like doing dream analysis on the conservative movement’s subconscious, you start to see what really terrifies them. So it was with great interest that I sat down to watch Fox’s latest coverage of Google’s plan to someday rank search engine results not by “popularity” but “accuracy.” The network did not disappoint.
In a recent edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, the conservative network hastily put together an out-and-out hit piece on Google. After briefly describing the research paper that the company recently published that expressed the possibility of weighing search result “rank” based around “trustworthy” information, rather than sheer popularity, the show suggests the new way of doing business could result in “censorship.”
“They say you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. It’s a concept not everyone is comfortable with.”
If you’re wondering who they could possibly mean by that, the answer is quickly revealed: Climate deniers.
Fox asks regular guest Marc Morano how he feels about Google’s proposal. Morano is in a place to be uniquely concerned by the move because he is one of the country’s foremost shovelers of junk science about climate change.
“Let the public decide what’s the truth,” Morano tells a Fox reporter. He’d like that because facts don’t often enter into his equations. In fact, Morano’s brand of climate denialism is so virulent that he was recently featured in a documentary about it, Merchants of Doubt, which exhaustively details the ways in which he and his ilk manipulate the discussion on climate change by muddying the waters with baseless noise to keep the public confused and under the impression that the “debate” over climate change is far from settled. He’s also paid handsomely by the oil industry for his troubles.
Fox frames him as a maverick, a David bravely hurling rocks at the Goliath of “mainstream science” from the comfort of his blog. At one point the reporter couldn’t help but openly grovel at Morano’s feet for his stellar work. “Your job constantly requires questioning facts from scientists around the world.” Morano humbly concurs. The pair worries that Morano might have his blog killed by Google and all because he doesn’t have “facts” or “data” or “trustworthiness” like other sites might. Bummer.
All of this plays into a recurring nightmare constantly running through the heads of conservatives. Their detachment from reality, whether it be regarding climate change or tax cuts, is constantly coming under threat from inconvenient facts emerging in the real world. Many of their ideas have very weak foundations and if suddenly their websites – Fox News’ included – were subject to the expectation of being verifiably true, it’s understandably frightening.
Add to that the common belief that “mainstream” media/culture/science is firmly in the liberal camp, and it’s easy to see how some conservatives may worry that Google’s database of “facts” would be skewed against them. Unable to resist putting too fine a point on it, the Fox segment specifically cites the fact that websites that claim President Obama was born in Kenya would be sunk with this new system.
On its website, Fox ran a concurrent story about Google’s plan covering much of the same topics, including the mention of birtherism. One concerned citizen (who happens to work for a conservative thinktank) said that even without any tangible proof, this whole thing just seemed like it probably had a liberal bias.
“They’re very good at debunking myths if they upset liberals, but if it’s a liberal or left-wing falsehood, the fact-checkers don’t seem as excited about debunking it,” Rich Noyes, research director at the Media Research Center, told FoxNews.com.
He cited a 2013 study by George Mason University researchers, which found that fact-checking site Politifact declared 52% of Republican claims it looked at to be false, but did the same to just 24% of Democratic claims.
Noyes added that he thinks the example the researchers use in their paper is telling.
“Barack Obama being born in Kenya is of course a false statement, but the fact that they use that example sort of says where their mindset is. What about using something that Rosie O’Donnell said about 9/11 being a conspiracy? Is that going to get equal prominence in this kind of search algorithm?” he asked.
The answer is probably “yes,” but let nobody say Fox doesn’t know how to strike fear into the hearts of their target audience.