- Tax-exempt leftist “media watchdog” organization
- Claims that the mainstream media are biased to the political right, rather than to the political left
- Noam Chomsky was keynote speaker at its 15th Anniversary party.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) “media watchdog” organization founded in 1986 by Jeff Cohen. Describing itself as an “anti-censorship” group with a “progressive” political orientation, FAIR claims to provide “well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship.” From its inception, FAIR’s position has been that, contrary to the claims of conservatives, the mainstream media in America are biased to the right, not to the left. To support that assertion, Cohen, during FAIR’s early years, cited what he saw as the relatively scant coverage and few interviews that the media were giving to radicals in the mid-to-late 1980s. While certain conservatives were appearing on political programs “a dozen or more times each,” argued Cohen, “dissidents like Noam Chomsky and [nuclear disarmament advocate] Helen Caldicott never appeared once.”
As FAIR became more widely known in media circles, Cohen rose from being an irregular guest to a regular pundit on television. From 1992 until 1997 he co-wrote a syndicated column, “Media Beat,” with FAIR executive Norman Soloman, who continued to write it solo thereafter. In 1994 Cohen and Solomon began a tradition of giving annual FAIR awards called “The P.U.-litzer Prizes” for examples of what they deemed right-wing or capitalist bias in media.
In 1996 the New York Times reported that FAIR had clearly distinguished itself as the leading media watchdog group in America: “The success of people like [conservative broadcasters] Rush Limbaugh and Bob Grant has created a subculture of media-watch groups who criticize the shows as racist, sexist, reactionary and homophobic.… But it is FAIR – which documents incendiary quotes as well as condemning them – that has emerged as the sound bite of authority.” The Times piece also quoted FAIR senior analyst Steve Rendall, a self-described “progressive,” claiming that the amount of left-wing bias in the media was “paltry next to the torrent of violent and racist rhetoric being broadcast on WABC [by Grant and Limbaugh] every day.”
In the mid-1990s, FAIR had ties to the renowned MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky. Specifically, a Bay Area publication titled MAXIMUMROCKNROLL listed both Chomsky and FAIR as participants in its “Project Braintrust,” an initiative that produced New World Order, a record album that featured not only professional singers performing anti-war music, but also Chomsky himself narrating some of his own anti-war, anti-American writings. When musicians Bonnie Raitt, Pearl Jam, and REM announced in 1996 their plan to record a compact disc combining their music with readings of Chomsky’s work, they agreed that the proceeds from that album would go to fund FAIR.
In 1997 Norman Solomon left FAIR and relocated to San Francisco, where he founded the Institute for Public Accuracy.
In January 2002 FAIR held its 15th Anniversary party, which was broadcast by Free Speech TV. The guest of honor and keynote speaker was Noam Chomsky. Other guests included longtime television personality Phil Donahue and journalist Laura Flanders, the former host of FAIR’s syndicated radio show CounterSpin.
During the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, FAIR and Paper Tiger TV staged a joint “March on the Media” to preemptively discourage any positive reporting about Republicans by the establishment media.
By FAIR’s telling, it is highly problematic that “mainstream media [today] are increasingly cozy with the economic and political powers they should be watchdogging”; that “mergers in the news industry have accelerated, further limiting the spectrum of viewpoints that have access to mass media”; and that “independent journalism is compromised” by the fact that “U.S. media outlets [are] overwhelmingly owned by for-profit conglomerates and supported by corporate advertisers.” To address these matters, says FAIR, “structural reform is needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting, and promote strong, non-profit alternative sources of information.” In short, FAIR believes that public funds should be used to bankroll media outlets and regulate their content, because “giving corporations nearly unlimited control over a precious public resource is unacceptable.”
In addition to exposing what it perceives as bias in the media, FAIR also seeks to “invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press”; “scrutiniz[e] media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints”; and “expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled.”
To disseminate its views as broadly as possible, FAIR publishes a monthly newsletter of media criticism titled Extra!, and produces the aforementioned weekly radio program CounterSpin, billing it as “the show that brings you the news behind the headlines.” Moreover, the organization sends articles and Action Alerts via email to its international network of 50,000+ activists.
While FAIR has directed most of its attacks over the years at conservative and moderate media, it has also reserved some of its criticism for traditional comrades of the left. Indeed, numerous FAIR writings — of which one of the most notable was Steve Rendall’s and Anna Kosseff’s 2004 article, “I’m Not a Leftist, But I Play One on TV” — have impugned such left and liberal allies as PBS, NPR, CNN, The New Republic, Democratic consultants James Carville and Paul Begala, and many others, accusing them of being centrist sellouts unfit to represent the left in national media. Even radical Pacifica Radio stations have been criticized on FAIR’s radio show Counterspin.
Since FAIR’s inception, its advisory board has included a number of high-profile members such as actors Edward Asner, John Cusack, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon; journalists Ben Bagdikian, Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, Katha Pollitt, and Studs Terkel; musician Jackson Browne; and feminist icons Eleanor Smeal and Gloria Steinem.
FAIR has received financial support from a large number of sources, including the CarEth Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Park Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Samuel Rubin Foundation, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust, the Barbra Streisand Foundation, the Tides Foundation, Working Assets, and others.
For additional information on FAIR, click here.