Washington Post grants Fox News spokesman anonymity in Jon Stewart attack
John Byrne
Published: Tuesday August 26, 2008

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Stunning attack defends network's 'balanced' label

After Jon Stewart blasted Fox News as "an appendage of the Republican Party" Monday in Denver, Rupert Murdoch's 24-hour cable news broadcast returned fire with flames.

"Wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki pants and a healthy stubble, the 'Daily Show' host told reporters at a University of Denver breakfast that Fox's 'fair and balanced' slogan is an insult 'to people with brains' and that only 'Fox News Sunday' host Chris Wallace "saves that network from slapping on a bumper sticker. . . . Barack Obama could cure cancer and they'd figure out a way to frame it as an economic disaster," writes the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz in Tuesday papers.

"Jon's clearly out of touch," a Fox spokesman told Kurtz Tuesday in reply, "citing a Pew Research Center study showing the network has the most balanced audience in cable news, 39 percent Republicans and 33 percent Democrats."

Kurtz let the spokesman speak anonymously, and did not offer a reason for doing so, writing only that the spokesman "was authorized to give the network's response to Stewart's comments but declined to be named."

Out of touch, however, wasn't the worst of it. The spokesman also went on to blast Stewart for his ratings at the Oscars.

"But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon," the anonymous Fox employee quipped, "as evidenced by the crash-and-burn ratings of this year's Oscars telecast."

Fox News enjoys high ratings itself. But in the past year, the network has lagged in growth, with CNN seeing an increase in viewership of 67%, MSNBC 59% and Fox 14%. Stewart's Daily Show ratings declined 15 percent in the last quarter of 2007, likely due to the show's writers being on furlough; Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert edged up 11 percent.

Stewart didn't save his attacks only for Fox. He also called the 24 hour cable networks in general a "brutish, slow-witted beast."

"I'm stunned to see Karl Rove on a news network as an analyst," he remarked.

"Stewart, who is doing his nightly show from both conventions, declared his love for newspapers as a better source of political coverage but said they are fighting "a losing battle because they're getting overshadowed." He pronounced the network evening newscasts 'obsolete' because of the growing speed of news," Kurtz opined. "The Comedy Central funnyman touched a nerve when he criticized journalists for having off-the-record dinners with politicians, such as a barbecue in March at John McCain's Arizona ranch. 'That colors your vision of them so clearly and so profoundly,' he said.