Former N.Y. Times Editor Takes Aim at Fox News

Monday, 15 Mar 2010 09:59 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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When it comes to arrogance, former New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines tops Dan Rather.

Raines has come out with a Washington Post opinion piece headlined, “Fox News: unfair, unbalanced, unchecked.”

Raines takes “America’s old-school news organizations” to task for failing to blow the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a “propaganda campaign against the Obama administration.”

Specifically, Ailes has “overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II,” according to Raines.

As a result, after “14 months of Fox’s relentless pounding of president Obama’s idea of sweeping [healthcare] reform, the latest Gallup poll shows opinion running 48 to 45 percent against the current legislation,” Raines complains.

“Why can’t American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that [Rupert] Murdoch does not belong to our team?” Raines writes, referring to the head of News Corp, which owns the Fox network.

Raines is the same editor who presided over the Jayson Blair scandal. As a New York Times reporter for 3 ½ years, Blair not only routinely fabricated stories, he had 50 corrections.

After the 10th correction, Raines should have fired him. Raines brushed aside concerns raised by editors, including metro editor Jonathan Landman, who e-mailed newsroom administrators to say that management has to “stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now.”

Based on an investigation of Blair’s stories, the Times concluded, “The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

In contrast, Fox News practices journalism the way The New York Times practiced it decades ago, when it was the pinnacle of the profession. Aside from opinion shows, Fox News has a rule that, on any controversial issue, guests from opposing sides must appear.

Ailes keeps track of the statistics religiously to make sure the rule is enforced. What could be more fair and balanced than that?

As a result, Public Policy Polling found in January that 49 percent of those surveyed trusted Fox News. In contrast, only 39 percent trusted CNN. Next came NBC, including its sister network MSNBC, with 35 percent. Least trusted were CBS with 32 percent and ABC with 31 percent.

That trust shows up in ratings and profits. While competitors have been laying off employees, Fox has been expanding.

Among cable networks, top-rated Fox News drew an average of 2.4 million viewers in prime time between Jan. 26 and Feb. 22, according to Nielsen Media Research. CNN was in second place with 1.2 million viewers; MSNBC posted an average of only 949,000 viewers.

Instead of spewing “propaganda,” as Raines suggests, Fox News is the most-trusted television news source. By any standard, that is news. Tellingly, neither The New York Times nor Fox News’ competitors ran a story on the poll results.

In posing as the conscience of journalism, Raines exceeds Dan Rather in arrogance. Rather and his CBS show “60 Minutes Wednesday” thought they could get away with airing damaging documents about George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service even though their own experts warned that the documents were probably fake.

The supposedly typewritten documents were so crudely forged that they had proportional spacing that did not exist when they purportedly were written in 1972.

Last year, the same Dan Rather proposed that President Obama appoint a commission to address “the perilous state of America’s news media.” At stake, Rather says, is “our democratic republic.”

If Raines and Rather looked in the mirror, they would see what is wrong with the media today — and why their former news organizations are shriveling.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.

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