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.