Former New York Times editor Bill Keller has written an op-ed column focused on Fox News Channel. Keller notes that it is a financial juggernaut for News Corp. and discusses a pair of Roger Ailes and Fox News biographies, one written without FNC’s consent by journalist Gabriel Sherman, and another by Ailes himself (along with a co-author).
The issue Keller takes is not financial, but rather with how the network represents itself, and facts. That, he says, is Rupert Murdoch’s “most toxic legacy”:
I doubt that people at Fox News really believe their programming is “fair and balanced” — that’s just a slogan for the suckers — but they probably are convinced that what they have created is the conservative counterweight to a media elite long marinated in liberal bias. They believe that they are doing exactly what other serious news organizations do; they just do it for an audience that had been left out before Fox came along.
I would never suggest that what is now called “the mainstream media” — the news organizations that most Americans depended on over the past century — achieved a golden mean. We have too often been condescending to those who don’t share our secular urban vantage point. We are too easily seduced by access. We can be credulous. (It’s also true that we have sometimes been too evenhanded, giving equal time to arguments that fail a simple fact-check.)
But we try to live by a code, a discipline, that tells us to set aside our personal biases, to test not only facts but the way they add up, to seek out the dissenters and let them make their best case, to show our work. We write unsparing articles about public figures of every stripe — even, sometimes, about ourselves. When we screw up — and we do — we are obliged to own up to our mistakes and correct them.
Fox does not live by that code. (Especially the last part. In a speech at the University of North Carolina last month, Ailes boasted, “In 15 years, we have never taken a story down because we got it wrong.” Gosh, even the pope only claims to be infallible on special occasions.) For a salient point of reference, compare Fox’s soft-pedaling of the Murdoch troubles with the far more prominent coverage in The Wall Street Journal, which has managed under Murdoch’s ownership to retain its serious-journalism DNA.