Harold Raines, a former editor of The New York Times asks a good question over at The Washington Post: Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?
One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?
Through clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators, Ailes has overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II. Yet, many members of my profession seem to stand by in silence as Ailes tears up the rulebook that served this country well as we covered the major stories of the past three generations, from the civil rights revolution to Watergate to the Wall Street scandals. This is not a liberal-versus-conservative issue. It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: “The American people do not want health-care reform.”
Fox repeats this as gospel. But as a matter of historical context, usually in short supply on Fox News, this assertion ranks somewhere between debatable and untrue.
The American people and many of our great modern presidents have been demanding major reforms to the health-care system since the administration of Teddy Roosevelt. The elections of 1948, 1960, 1964, 2000 and 2008 confirm the point, with majorities voting for candidates supporting such change. Yet congressional Republicans have managed effective campaigns against health-care changes favored variously by Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton. Now Fox News has given the party of Lincoln a free ride with its repetition of the unexamined claim that today’s Republican leadership really does want to overhaul health care — if only the effort could conform to Mitch McConnell’s ideas on portability and tort reform.
It is true that, after 14 months of Fox’s relentless pounding of President Obama’s idea of sweeping reform, the latest Gallup poll shows opinion running 48 to 45 percent against the current legislation. Fox invariably stresses such recent dips in support for the legislation, disregarding the majorities in favor of various individual aspects of the reform effort. Along the way, the network has sold a falsified image of the professional standards that developed in American newsrooms and university journalism departments in the last half of the 20th century.
Raines proceeded to further discuss how Fox abuses journalistic standards:
For the first time since the yellow journalism of a century ago, the United States has a major news organization devoted to the promotion of one political party. And let no one be misled by occasional spurts of criticism of the GOP on Fox. In a bygone era of fact-based commentary typified, left to right, by my late colleagues Scotty Reston and Bill Safire, these deceptions would have been given their proper label: disinformation.
Under the pretense of correcting a Democratic bias in news reporting, Fox has accomplished something that seemed impossible before Ailes imported to the news studio the tricks he learned in Richard Nixon’s campaign think tank: He and his video ferrets have intimidated center-right and center-left journalists into suppressing conclusions — whether on health-care reform or other issues — they once would have stated as demonstrably proven by their reporting.
There are at least three answers I can think of (none of which are all that good) as to why Fox and the arguments they spread to the rest of the media are not challenged enough:
- Far too many journalists are lazy. They don’t see any point in taking on Fox or those who repeat the GOP/Fox line. It is easier to put on a conservative who repeats their usual lies, a liberal who might be telling the truth, and not to bother trying to determine the actual facts.
- Accusations of liberal bias. Conservatives whine about a mythical “liberal media” and the lazy journalists decide it isn’t worth fighting. Often this leads to putting on the lying conservative without even bothering to put on the reality-based counter arguments.
- Journalists often stick together. Sometimes this might even be due to a misguided belief this is necessary to defend freedom of the press. In reality it is the abuse of journalistic standards by Fox which is harmful to the free press. Fox is essentially a propaganda arm of the Republican Party and it should be treated just as an official GOP press office would be treated, and not as a legitimate news organization.