Tuesday, March 16, 2010

why don't honest journalists take on roger ailes and faux news?

WaPo | 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.

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.