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Is bias-free news coverage coming back into vogue?

After years in which news outlets became associated with one political slant or another, there are some signs that a course correction is under way in the media. So far, the shift is a subtle one.

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But "once you get to the point of saying, 'everything is false,' you cannot live that way," says Professor Shyles. He sees the efforts to restore trustworthiness in the media as "a resurfacing of the primal urge that led to the creation of the fourth estate concept in the mid-20th century.

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"We want that reliable proxy for ourselves" in tackling corruption and gathering important information, he says.

Reports that Fox chairman and chief executive officer Roger Ailes is seeking a "course correction" at Fox News Channel have appeared in media outlets such as Newsweek, New York magazine, and a recent post on PolitiFact.com. The cable channel did not respond to multiple Monitor e-mail, voice mail, and pager requests for comment, but in the past its representatives rejected suggestions that Fox news broadcasts are anything but impartial and nonpartisan.

Fox's commentators across the political spectrum, however, say on-air talent is being directed to stop talking over guests and to marshal facts to defend their positions. "There have been attempts to change the tone and factual content of the Fox shows," says journalism professor Mark Tatge of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., who has appeared many times on Fox programs as an unpaid guest. Those orders "have come directly from the producers," he says. Mr. Tatge believes Fox News Channel still showcases "a very one-sided debate where one side is given more favorable advantage, and they don't really want to allow for two sides to every argument." But, he acknowledges, there is "a slight move on the meter."

The departure from the channel last year of archconservative Glenn Beck is also evidence that Fox is trying to distance itself from extreme political rhetoric, according to various news reports.

Some Fox viewers appear to have noticed. John Fredericks, a Virginia radio talk-show host, says he has turned Fox off. In the past, he says, he counted on the channel for reliably conservative slants, but no more. "I go to CNN now," he says with a laugh, "because at least there I know I will get both sides and I can just decide for myself."

Republican strategist David Johnson, who worked on Bob Dole's 1988 presidential campaign, reports hearing similar comments at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. "There was a lot of grumbling about Fox," he says. "Its target audience of angry middle-class voters is mad at Fox because they think it is becoming part of the mainstream media that they don't like."

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