Friday, March 12, 2010

Howell Raines: Wah, Wah, Wah, Fox News Is Mean

With Democrats set to ram through health care legislation that Americans don't want, Howell Raines asks the important question: why does Fox News get to keep telling the truth?

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."

Translation: Wah, wah, wah! How dare somebody not tell the same lies, fibs and provarications that the rest of us have for 50 years!

Yeah, that supposed system of objectivity worked really well when we had journalists reporting objectively on American victories in war. Oh, and let's not forget the objectivity shown by news outlets over, say Abu Ghraib, where we had the New York Times running endless page 1 stories designed to gin up opposition to the war in Iraq. This isn't even talking about the liars associated with these objective news outlets where fake but accurate is good enough to go to press.

Let's be blunt here: as someone who worked in the news business for years, I saw firsthand what goes into "objective" journalism. Some journalists do try very hard to give just the facts of a story. But don't think for a moment that reporters and editors check their biases at the door and don't ever allow their own opinions to slip into their writing. Just ask the restaurant owner who happened to piss off a reviewer somehow. Or the politician who doesn't lean left.

And Howell Raines, the former editor of the New York Times, knows about the power of the press. Journalists crowed about "bringing down" the presidency of Richard Nixon. They constantly sneered and slimed Ronald Reagan and showed nothing but contempt for any Republican president who actually tried to abide by the Constitution, as opposed to expanding the liberal welfare state as Democrats have done for nearly a century. Raines' bitter tears about the popularity and power of Fox News would be touching if it weren't so self-serving. If Raines' brand of journalism were winning their war, there would be little whinging about how one cable news outlet runs circles around every establishment journalistic network.

Raines complains that Fox cherry-picks its polls, yet does exactly the same thing. In choosing this Gallup poll over my previously linked Rasmussen poll, Raines is engaging in exactly the bad behavior he accuses Fox News of doing. The laughable part of Raines' complaint is that he is only unhappy because a different brand, a different look at news is using the same techniques he and his cohorts have used for half a century...and beating him at it.

There's never been anything objective in "objective" news, and every Journalism 101 student knows it. They recognize that the choice of words, pictures, headlines and placement all affect readership and the opinions that readers form about a subject. This is why the New York Times ran stories on Abu Ghraib on page 1 34 out of 37 days. It wasn't simply to inform viewers; it was to shape what they thought about that prison and also about our conduct of the war in Iraq. When journalists talk about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, they're not talking about merely covering events. They're talking about shaping policy.

Fox News understands this and so does Howell Raines and the grousers he represents. Americans also understand that journalists have biases, and they don't really mind. What they mind is when journalists like Raines lie about it.

UPDATE: More at Newsbusters.