Why do the media tiptoe around Fox, ex-Timesman asks

Fox News Channel controversies

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Howell Raines has always been a brilliant journalist, even when his flaws as a manager cut short his tenure as The New York Times executive editor. The work of his post-9/11 Times was among the paper’s finest ever.

Now Raines has written a powerful and blistering essay in The Washington Post that peels the skin of respectability off of Fox News’ propaganda campaign against health care reform. Along the way, he takes to task the mainstream media for its timidity in failing to call the Fox spin operation precisely what it is.

A few excerpts:

1. On Fox News

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…

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.

2. On the media’s reaction

Under the pretense of correcting a Democratic bias in news reporting, Fox has accomplished something that seemed impossible before (Fox’s Roger) 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.

There’s more, of course, and this essay deserves to be read from beginning to end.

As for Raines, whatever his sins, he deserves an encore. Should he be willing to consider it, someone should put him back in charge of a major American newsroom. This is a man who has forgotten neither journalism’s purpose nor its need to be both informative and eloquent. The invasion of bland, bean-counting, focus-group-driven journalistic body snatchers has yet to break down his door or beat down his spirit.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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4 Responses to Why do the media tiptoe around Fox, ex-Timesman asks

  1. justinfrederick says:

    Something needs to be done about Fox before they ruin this contry any more.

  2. Jerry Lanson says:

    Fox has the same freedom of speech as the next outlet of news or views. It always will and always should. What has to be “done,” I believe, is what Raines espouses — good, honest reporting that points out consistently that what Fox is passing off as news is thinly veiled propaganda. Of course, those who watch Fox would remain convinced this was a left wing conspiracy. But at least those paying attention would understand that the emperor has no clothes. The network is a mouthpiece for the Right and, with a few notable exceptions, its national reporters and commentators follow a common script. Years ago, a very good documentary titled “Outfoxed” laid it out pretty clearly. But the media act out this fantasy that the network is presenting news. In fairness, Fox is not alone. Our media, more and more, all across the political spectrum are abandoning the kind of tough but fair reporting that was the trademark of the best journalism for the better part of a century. We are seeing more advocacy reporting. It may be inevitable in an era of “nichified” news. But there’s a difference between marshaling the data and arguments for a viewpoint and distorting facts to fit a script. Fox too often does the altter.

  3. libtree09 says:


    Fox makes money so do as they do. They did it on the cheap let the networks and CNN send people around the world for the stories while Fox would just wag a flag and recite talking points and public relations notices. The south and mid west go to church, be openly christian, devise a war against Christ.

    It works and everyone took notice.

    Make money every board room said. So cut staff and go right and don’t forget the fluff. National Enquirer makes money too.

    Understand the opposition is split between the networks and CNN. So what can the opposition do?
    Well ABC decided to go more conservative while CBS decided that maybe they shouldn’t be in the news game and took 60 minutes into the personality profile arena and only covered the tough stuff it somebody else did. CNN lost its way splitting the difference before deciding they are in the news business and gave Wolf a hundred hour work week. NBC took MSNBC on a conservative run with that nitwit Abrams, before discovering something called counter-programing discovering that half the country thinks Fox sucks.

    Where does Journalism fit? About where it did with William Randolf Hearst. Invent conflict and report on the fight. Highlight a problem and report on the fight. Conflict makes a good story.

    The internet was supposed to be the salvation of journalism but from what I see it is more of the same…Tiger Woods gets more press than financial reform, a possible gay congressman pushes health care away. There is little fact checking, a viral big lie makes it into the debates.

    Somewhere along the line journalists and publishers and editors forgot or ignored the idea of public trust…for money.

    • Jerry Lanson says:

      Yeah, it’s a pretty dismal picture out there. I like to think some newspapers still cover real news. But then, I’m not sure who reads anymore!

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