Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Real Fox

That's Fox News. A recent story by a journalist speaks about some of the stuff they do in the name of freemarkettoughcompetition. A lot of it sounds like extortion and racketeering to my innocently pink ears, but I'm sure it's quite all right:

Like most working journalists, whenever I type seven letters — Fox News — a series of alarms begins to whoop in my head: Danger. Warning. Much mayhem ahead.

Once the public relations apparatus at Fox News is engaged, there will be the calls to my editors, keening (and sometimes threatening) e-mail messages, and my requests for interviews will quickly turn into depositions about my intent or who else I am talking to.

And if all that stuff doesn't slow me down and I actually end up writing something, there might be a large hangover: Phone calls full of rebuke for a dependent clause in the third to the last paragraph, a ritual spanking in the blogs with anonymous quotes that sound very familiar, and — if I really hit the jackpot — the specter of my ungainly headshot appearing on one of Fox News's shows along with some stern copy about what an idiot I am.


Fox News found a huge runway and enormous success by setting aside the conventions of bloodless objectivity, but along the way, it altered the rules of engagement between reporters and the media organizations they cover. Under its chief executive, Roger Ailes, Fox News and its public relations apparatus have waged a permanent campaign on behalf of the channel that borrows its methodology from his days as a senior political adviser to Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

At Fox News, media relations is a kind of rolling opposition research operation intended to keep reporters in line by feeding and sometimes maiming them. Shooting the occasional messenger is baked right into the process.

It sounds like that book All The King's Men or perhaps like the Godfather movie. It also offers some ideas why the press has acted so meekly when it comes to Republicans of various ilk. Wouldn't it be great fun (and also educational) if some very brave reporters did more study on that topic? They'd have to be very brave, true, and also completely unaffected by the loss of their careers etcetera.

The most recent installment of all this has to do with the way Fox News photoshopped the faces of journalists they call attack dogs. The forehead of one was lowered, his nose was widened and so on. All just innocent and clean fun, except that the viewers were not informed that the faces had been photoshopped. Like this:

Why does any of this matter? Do you have friends or family who watch Fox News? I have some, and Fox News is on in every room of the house, all day long. It's a background to all daily living, the only source of "news", almost like your private mesmerizer. What's more worrying is that some people who watch Fox all the time don't watch any other news sources. Over time they drift into a different dimension altogether, a dimension in which New York Times writers really do have the heads of Neanderthals, a dimension in which it was the Iraqis who caused the 9/11 massacres. How are we going to have a public conversation on anything with people who don't have the same evidence and facts as the rest of us?

The odd thing is that for the Fox strategy to work all the other news stations must act as the straight guy in a joke. Once everybody starts using the war propaganda model Fox is cooked. But so are all the consumers of news. Sad, isn't it?