The Atlantic: Ailes ‘Shows about the way discourse will be conducted in the coming journalistic era’

By Alex Weprin Comment

The Atlantic has a long piece about the current state of journalism from James Fallows. Encompassing all forms of media, Fallows examines a bit of the history of journalism, and where he thinks it is going.

Television news is a major part of it, not surprisingly. Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes exemplifies where Fallows believes journalism may be going in the future:

But the new culture also creates positive opportunities—as, it’s worth saying again, every previous disruption has. An odd symbol of the new possibilities is Roger Ailes, the guiding force behind Fox News since its start.

To people who are worried about journalism’s future, Ailes would seem a perverse symbol of anything positive. The “news” system he has created is correctly understood to be a political rather than a journalistic operation, and to be free of inner conflict about “getting it right” or “going too far.” (Here’s the thought-experiment test: What assertion from Glenn Beck on his broadcasts would finally lead Ailes or his producers to say, “Glenn, are you sure?” “Real” news operations don’t always get the right answer to that question, but asking it is how they can think of themselves as journalists rather than propagandists.) But to me, Ailes is an instructive example because of what he shows about the way discourse will be conducted in the coming journalistic era…

The core of Ailes’s success, Junod says, has been not simply that Fox was more entertaining to watch than pallid CNN. It has been, in the words of Richard Wald, the former president of NBC News: “You can’t beat Roger fighting on territory he’s left behind.” That is, Fox is doing something different from the other networks. If you say that Glenn Beck got a fact wrong, or if you point out how many of Fox’s female on-air broadcasters are babes in very short skirts, Ailes’s answer will be “So?” He’s doing something new—as Henry Luce did with the power of photographs at Life in the 1930s, as Ted Koppel did when satellite connections made Nightline the first regular TV show to have live interviews with prominent guests from around the world.

Fallows also looks at the case of Ted Koppel and ABC’s “Nightline.” Koppel spoke out last year about Fox News, MSNBC and how hosts like Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck were hurting the cause of journalism. As Fallows notes, Koppel himself was accused of similar things back in the 1970’s:

For instance: Ted Koppel, a direct descendant of the golden-age greats, illustrates the complexities of even journalism’s “best” periods. To Jimmy Carter and senior members of his administration, Koppel’s famous Nightline program on ABC was a dramatic example of the way media sensationalism could distort, or at least affect, public life…

There are many reasons Carter lost that election to Ronald Reagan; a prime interest rate of 20 percent during the spring symbolized economic problems that might have been sufficient to do him in. But “America Held Hostage” surely played a part. It was an early illustration of the way in which a choice about news coverage—namely, to offer a daily countdown of America’s humiliation—converted a problem into an emergency. Koppel told me that years after the hostages were released, he met Jimmy Carter at a ceremony in Washington. “President Carter said there were two people who were better off because of the hostage situation,” Koppel told me. “The ayatollah. And me.” And all of this notwithstanding Koppel’s role as one of the most serious and sophisticated broadcast journalists of his day.

The entire piece is worth reading, check it out here.