Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?
By Howell Raines
Sunday, March 14, 2010; B05
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?
Oh come now. Unprecedented? The ex-executive editor of the New York Times, suddenly having a professional conscience after all those years of Bush passes on his watch?
In the words of another Raines (Claude, in Casablanca), “I’m shocked, Howard, simply shocked.”
. . .
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.
Maybe we ought to give the journalism profession a pass on Wall Street. Investigative journalism pretty much slept through the run-up to that–and then ran off to the wrong fire while laying blame. They are still sleeping through any meaningful investigation of our paid-off Congress, bagging money to prevent significant health care and financial oversight.
So, Roger Ailes and the Republicans are giving the public what it wants in the place of journalism, an American Idol approach to issues. Who can blame them? There are no Walter Cronkites and Edward R. Murrows left today, and it’s certainly not because the need has abandoned us.
. . . My great fear, however, is that some journalists of my generation who once prided themselves on blowing whistles and afflicting the comfortable have also been intimidated by Fox’s financial power and expanding audience, as well as Ailes’s proven willingness to dismantle the reputation of anyone who crosses him.
You’re the guy, if memory serves, who beat the drum for advocacy journalism at the Times, a form of reportage ‘intended to be factual, and thus distinguished from propaganda.’
How’d that work out for you?
Now it seems your goal is to drive a stake through the heart (difficult target) of Rupert Murdoch.
Let me lay another scenario at your feet. We once had independent and powerful newspapers run by independent and powerful publishers (think San Francisco’s Hearst and Chicago’s McCormick). They were not always to our liking and were self-serving to the core, but at least they did not control 200 papers, 500 radio stations or 20-30 television outlets.
Murdoch is not the reason for that continuing disaster, but the entirely predictable result of it.
As jobs in journalism shrink, what reporter is going to piss off a man he may be called to work for, or a major advertiser (or stockholder) in his newspaper? I know you don’t like Murdoch, but was the New York Times ever seriously likely (even under your steady hand) to pop an unflattering story about Carlos Slim Helu?
Wall Street ran down the economy, the Bush White House trampled the Constitution, lobbyists control legislation and we have become as corrupt as a banana-republic. The current presidency is run down like a rabbit in the road, while we all stand by with our thumbs up our ass in the middle of a stampede. But it is not the fault of Wall Street, Bush, lobbyists or our thumbs.
We worked very hard for decades to get here. We deregulated everything in sight, including Tom DeLay’s and Newt Gingrich’s final assault on what little integrity the Congress had left.
If we are to “round up the usual suspects,” they will be found in each of our bathroom mirrors. Take a look, Howell.