Howell Raines: “Why has our profession … helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?”

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"Howell Raines: “Why has our profession … helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?”"

Former NYT Exec Ed: “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?”

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….  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….

[Ailes] 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.

As for Fox News, lots of people who know better are keeping quiet about what to call it. Its news operation can, in fact, be called many things, but reporters of my generation, with memories and keyboards, dare not call it journalism.

Sunday, the Washington Post published a must-read piece by Howell Raines, “Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?”  Raines, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former NY Times executive editor, focuses on Fox’s disinformation on health care, but it is equally true of their disinformation on climate change (see here), which is why I’m writing about it.

Ironically, WP media critic Howard Kurtz blows the opportunity to call out FoxNews in his story today, “The Beck Factor at Fox: Staffers say comments taint their work“:

Beck is drawing big ratings. But there is a deep split within Fox between those — led by Chairman Roger Ailes — who are supportive, and many journalists who are worried about the prospect that Beck is becoming the face of the network.

By calling President Obama a racist and branding progressivism a “cancer,” Beck has achieved a lightning-rod status that is unusual even for the network owned by Rupert Murdoch. And that, in turn, has complicated the channel’s efforts to neutralize White House criticism that Fox is not really a news organization. Beck has become a constant topic of conversation among Fox journalists, some of whom say they believe he uses distorted or inflammatory rhetoric that undermines their credibility.

Memo to Kurtz:  Do you think Fox is really a news organization, do you think they had any credibility, even in their non-Beck time slots?

Raines doesn’t:

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….

Whatever its shortcomings, journalism under those standards aspired to produce an honest account of social, economic and political events. It bore witness to a world of dynamic change, as opposed to the world of Foxian reality, whose actors are brought on camera to illustrate a preconceived universe as rigid as that of medieval morality. Now, it is precisely our long-held norms that cripple our ability to confront Fox’s journalism of perpetual assault. I’m confident that many old-schoolers are too principled to appear on the network, choosing silence over being used; when Fox does trot out a house liberal as a punching bag, the result is a parody of reasoned news formats….

My great fear, however, is that some journalists of my generation who once prided themselves on blowing whistles and afflicting the comfortable have also been intimidated by Fox’s financial power and expanding audience, as well as Ailes’s proven willingness to dismantle the reputation of anyone who crosses him. (Remember his ridiculing of one early anchor, Paula Zahn, as inferior to a “dead raccoon” in ratings potential when she dared defect to CNN?) It’s as if we have surrendered the sword of verifiable reportage and bought the idea that only “elites” are interested in information free of partisan poppycock.

Why has our profession, through its general silence — or only spasmodic protest — helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt? The standard answer is economics, as represented by the collapse of print newspapers and of audience share at CBS, NBC and ABC. Some prominent print journalists are now cheering Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp. (which owns the Fox network) for his alleged commitment to print, as evidenced by his willingness to lose money on the New York Post and gamble the overall profitability of his company on the survival of the Wall Street Journal. This is like congratulating museums for preserving antique masterpieces while ignoring their predatory methods of collecting….

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. I try not to believe that this kid-gloves handling amounts to self-censorship, but it’s hard to ignore the evidence. News Corp., with 64,000 employees worldwide, receives the tender treatment accorded a future employer….

As for Fox News, lots of people who know better are keeping quiet about what to call it. Its news operation can, in fact, be called many things, but reporters of my generation, with memories and keyboards, dare not call it journalism.

Hear!  Hear!

Kudos to Raines for saying the Emperor has no clothes.  Will anyone else in the status quo media have the guts to do the same?

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20 Responses to Howell Raines: “Why has our profession … helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?”

  1. Rockfish says:

    “Will anyone else in the status quo media have the guts to do the same?”

    No, because news is not about facts or objectivity. It is about ratings and selling advertising. Objectivity only mattered back when news organizations thought the lack of it would alienate their customers. Now that just the opposite is the case, they’re all on board, one way or another.

    Journalism is commerce. It has no more obligation to tell you the truth than any other corporation. Not only does the Emperor have no clothes – he’s not even the Emperor!

  2. mike roddy says:

    I disagree with Rockfish- we can’t give up on responsible journalism. Many Americans find out what’s going on in the world by turning on the TV and picking up a newspaper (often USA Today). If they’re being fed a constant stream of partisan lies, citizen awareness and support for good public policy will suffer.

    It’s not hard to see why Fox succeeds, because garbage sells, at least to a lot of us, especially when it is carefully designed to reinforce fear and hatred. Raines’ main point is striking, though: where are the other reporters on this subject? Are they frightened of Newscorp’s power? The ones who have lost their own self respect aren’t much better than the Glen Becks.

  3. richard pauli says:

    Profession ?!!?

    Just what is the “profession” ? I see it as a structure for delivering advertising. The journalism is the part that is designed to attract viewers and readers to the ad delivery mechanism.

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe asked: “Will anyone else in the status quo media have the guts to do the same?”

    Perhaps, like Raines, some will — when, like Raines, they are retired and no longer dependent on a giant media corporation for their paycheck.

    To expect anything other than corporate propaganda from the corporate media is foolish.

  5. Wonhyo says:

    Sadly, I think SecularAnimist is right (#4). The Denialist Right controls the money.

    I’m surprised that the Internet hasn’t leveled the playing field for good journalism. If anything, the Internet just seems to expand the influence of the Ridiculous Right.

    What will it take to fix this?

  6. Skip Dihlay says:

    Keith Olberman represents the alternative to Fox. His number of viewers is down. He is a vile person. Fox is too classy to have a Olberman.

    [JR: You can’t be serious. Fox has Beck and Hannity and O’Reilly. And did I mention Beck?]

  7. Seth Masia says:

    Well, Jon Stewart is also antiFox, and his audience appears solid. The reason the internet isn’t (yet) an effective counter to Fox is that it’s fractal and diffuse: because we gravitate to content we agree with, its message always mirrors the views we already hold.

    I hope Raines is right is saying that the younger Murdochs are ready to see the last of Ailes. He is certainly right that Ailes represents the ultimate success of Nixonian paranoid politics.

  8. Lou Grinzo says:

    Wonhyo:

    As long as being hyper-partisan is profitable, they will do it.

    On individual topics, like climate change, I think the future is very clear. Fox will continue to fight the bad fight against taking action, right up to the point where it becomes clear to even their viewers that We Are Screwed. Then they will instantly blame scientists and politicians for doing such a lousy job of getting the word out about this looming horror (did I mention Fox is in an irony-free zone?), and demonize anyone who suggests doing anything other than Fox’s chosen response.

    Remember, this is Fox. They play by the same non-rules as the climate change deniers: They don’t worry about being consistent or reasonable or even right. If it draws ratings and makes the right people happy, they’ll do it.

  9. Elmo says:

    As far as I can tell, this is being ignored by everyone except Bill O-Really who mocked it.

  10. sasparilla says:

    This is a very good article, however there is a certain irony in that Mr. Raines was from the NY Times, when you look at what NY Times has done to climate change reporting for the past several years (while we have all seen those big Exxon banner ads on the front pages at the same time). They haven’t been Fox, but they haven’t been good either.

    I have to agree with Rockfish, our news outlets, aren’t centered on facts or objectivity – their behavior (NY Times is a great example) with regards to Climate Change news over the last couple of years seems to bear this out quite obviously.

  11. Wit's End says:

    “There is no such thing at this date of the world’s history in America as an independent press. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write his honest opinion, and if you did, you know beforehand it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things. and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allow my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before 24 hours, my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it, and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and the vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks. They pull the strings, and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

    – John Swinden, 1953, then head of the New York Times, when asked to toast an independent press in a gathering at the National Press Club

    found in comments here: http://www.sindark.com/2010/01/14/open-query-causes-of-denial-and-delay/

  12. Mark Shapiro says:

    Rupert Murdoch has earned billions selling fear and hatred. He may the most successful fear monger and hate monger of all time. His successful poisoning has made him rich, but not famous enough. Complaining about Beck, and about Ailes, and about Fox is not enough. We must always identify the man who steers this filth into American brains: it is Rupert Murdoch. It is not merely Fox — Murdoch has outlets all over the world.

    As Tim Lambert at Deltoid chronicles “The Australian’s War on Science” series, know that the owner is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. And if the National Geographic Channel (owned by Murdoch’s News Corp.) ever becomes “even-handed” about global warming, don’t be surprised.

    Rupert Murdoch has been attacking our commander-in-chief constantly, since before the inauguration. Rupert Murdoch’s empire threatens us all.

  13. Mark Shapiro says:

    Whoa, there!

    Was I a little too angry on my last comment? Hmmm, maybe I was.

    Well, just remember: the problem isn’t just Beck, it’s not just Fox, or even Ailes. The problem is the man at the top — Rupert Murdoch.

  14. One can argue the toss, of whether FOX “News” is promoting climate denial or just trying to make a buck exploiting the confused. But it couldn’t come at a worse time.

    Continually raising the climate-change objections of forty years ago, as if they hadn’t been answered in the meantime, is more than merely cynical and exploitative. It fails journalism’s responsibility to inform the public and report the real scientific debates.

    If you really wanted to destroy the natural world with a mass extinction, and cause a human population crash in which only the true believiers would survive (think Aum Shinrokyo 1995 in Japan), you’d invent something like FOX “News” to delay effective action. Blowing smoke is an old political tactic; in the past, it wasn’t usually fatal.

  15. ken levenson says:

    Joe, sorry but Howell Raines is a damaged messenger. I’m glad he’s writing these things but why is it the guys always trying to rehabilitate themselves that say/do the right thing?

    Howell Raines brought us Judith Miller and the run-up to the Iraq War, not to mention the destructive “star system” of journalist pornography – with accompanying blow-back of Jayson Blair and his own resignation.

    It’s almost laughable to see him on his high horse…on second thought, it makes perfect sense…..

  16. Peter Bellin says:

    Do you recall the media’s response to the Obama Administrations calling out of Fox News as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party? The silence was deafening, and the collective media, for reasons not clear to me, did not document the veracity of this statement.

    The impact of the confusion of popularity with factual accuracy affects more than climate change, and response to it. I don’t know why the media refuses to call out Fox news, but this essay certainly gives a good discussion of the need to do so.

  17. John Puma says:

    Right, kudos to Raines, EXCEPT, for his “harboring” the Iraq war enabler Judith Miller.

    Anyone truly concerned with FOX and Murdoch should boycott the movie “Avatar.”
    Murdoch’s News Corp stands to make a few hundred million from the project.

    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-03-15/murdoch-nets-up-to-400-million-from-avatar-as-risk-is-spread.html

    Clearly, this particular message may be a bit late.

    Perhaps the relevant point is: consume with care, those to whom you give your money may well use it against you.

  18. Ross Hunter says:

    # 13 – Yes!

    # 14 – No!

    Murdoch has been a known pig since his Fleet Street days when I was a teenager – a long time ago. Back then being a pig involved sex and scandal, now it involves oligarchic conservatism and climate-change denial.

    Denial of truth is just the mechanism. We who look to the truth for benchmarks along our way always tend to think the deniers are actually against the principles or facts we’re processing. In fact, they don’t even consider these facts in the same way.

    It’s just a mechanical thing, they see facts just clearly enough to obfuscate them. Their purpose is to score. Only to score. Bill Clinton said this once in his early days of being attacked by the opposition.

    At the higher levels of this scoring activity, points are redeemed for money. At the lower levels, points are shown to be empty promises, the players merely dupes. Why pay for your downstream if you can get it for free?

  19. Rockfish says:

    Is it just me, or does “News Corporation” sound more than a bit Orwellian?