What’s Foul to FAIR! / Emily Kaufmann

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If you walk into the FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) office on any given weekday, you would not believe you were in a newsroom. The loud hum of the heater, the occasional phone call, and the clacking keys on a keyboard fill the room where the greatest news critics of this generation are hard at work. Amongst the mountains of books and walls plastered with anti-propaganda posters, a voice break the morgue-like silence with a sporadic "ah ha! " and "Did you read the piece by XYZ? " 

Before he was critiquing foreign protest coverage or discrediting Bill O'Reilly some of the big wigs in broadcast news, Peter Hart was just a boy who loved the news.

Peter Hart's interest in journalism came to him early in life, "My mom said I read the paper on the way to first grade, in the morning, " said Hart. A typical child's interests vary throughout their youth, but for Hart, this passion for journalism extended into adulthood. Even before his academic career at Rutgers University for communication and journalism, Hart was an early skeptic of the media. "In high school, you might be more predisposed to asking the difficult questions and to question authority, pretty typical teenage stuff, " says Hart. For Hart, the Gulf War was one the big events that made him question fairness and accuracy in the media. The first CNN war, as Hart calls it, "was officially sanitized and censored by the US military " and for Americans, alternative viewpoints of the war were only available in marginal periodicals. While he may have glossed over minority perspectives as an idealistic seven-year old, the cracks in the news became more pronounced as Hart transitioned into college. 

Hart first became acquainted with FAIR during his college years, and remembers reading a large, bed-sized FAIR article that was hidden in the insert of a punk rock record. But this encrypted article would not be his last encounter with FAIR. As a volunteer at Paper Tiger Television, he became reacquainted with FAIR's mission as the two companies frequently interacted on a variety of issues, including exposing the bigotry of Bob Grant, a racist New York City radio host. After graduation, Hart worked a few odd jobs before joining FAIR's staff in 1997. 

Since starting at FAIR almost 17 years ago, Hart believes the media watchdog group has mobilized people in understanding the inherent bias and inaccuracies prevalent in media. Whether it is the thousands of Extra! Magazine subscribers or Counter-Spin, FAIR's weekly radio show, FAIR has made its presence known in the modern media world. Both FAIR and Hart received attention for their 2003 book, The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. Some claim that the book was to be a liberal attack on conservative O'Reilly and Fox News Network, and Hart grants that behind any written work, especially in the news or media critique, point of view is difficult to discount, but a subjective perspective can be balanced through the use of research and facts to support a claim. Besides identifying subjectivity in the media, FAIR also brings to light stories that are underrepresented or given minimal coverage on the news, such as the numerous reports on Ukrainian protests, which in comparison to the equally relevant protests in Venezuela and Cambodia, have received little attention. FAIR aims to show journalists and others how one must be a conscious consumer and producer of news and media, since major media networks rarely show the entire picture. 

Even though corporate ownership and bias are deeply engrained in the media, Hart is hopeful about the future of media saying, "young people are much smarter about deconstructing messages and media." Media organizations like FAIR and independent journalists are coming together in solidarity to challenge the dominant media and the topics that are missing or being misconstrued. For Hart, this movement along with "everyone [being] a more critical media consumer " is starting to shape a new media landscape that reflects progressive, post-modernist thought. Hart sees FAIR's work as being a part of this continuum for a brighter future for journalism and media as a whole. 

For the once precocious paper reader, the news is no longer something that can be read passively on the way to the school bus or office. Peter Hart's devotion to revealing media inconsistencies and better journalism continues to shape the manner in which all people read, watch, and listen to the news. 

Emily Kaufmann is a history major, media studies minor at DePauw University.  This semester, she is interning with FAIR! and in television production, working on projects for National Geogrpahics, Vice, and many others.