Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lies, Liars, and Accountability: Fox News is Having A Bad Week

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One would think that Fox News would be resting on its laurels this week. The successful staging of the 9/12 protests – more or less organized by Fox’s Glenn Beck – provided the network with a ready-made scoop: a major political story with the leadership and organizers already full-time employees of Fox News.

It should have been a media coup but Fox News couldn’t leave well enough alone. On Friday Fox News took out a full page ad in the Washington Post asserting that the other major news networks failed to cover the 9/12 protests. “How did ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN miss this story,” Fox asked, adding “we cover all the news.”

That was a big mistake.

CNN’s Rich Sanchez launched into a nearly seven minute attack on Fox’s integrity and responsibility as a news network in response. Pulling in example after example of CNN’s coverage of the events, Sanchez hammered away at Fox relentlessly, citing even Fox’s own Bill O’Reilly’s complaints about CNN’s supposedly non-existent coverage.

And then Sanchez went for the throat: the image Fox used as the backdrop for their Washington Post ad came from footage from CNN’s observation tower.

The next day CNN fired back with an ad of their own. Claiming Fox is “distorting not reporting,” CNN attacked its right-wing-rival with televised ads focused upon the misleading ad in the Washington Post.

But CNN’s 30-second short would not prove to be the day’s most damaging video for Fox. Late on Saturday a video appeared on YouTube with a “behind the scenes” view of Fox News producer Heidi Noonan actually directing and rallying a 9/12 protest crowd for a live shot. The story has since been making the rounds on social news sites like Digg and has been picked up by the Huffington Post.

Prior to the video’s release, Fox’s role as the orchestrator of the 9/12 protests might have been termed suspect at best. Noonan’s conduct, however, drags the network across the line into the blatantly unethical.

The job of news organizations is to report the news, not make it. Directing the crowd in live shots does not show viewers what’s really happening, it shows them what the network/producer would like to have happened.

In reporting the news as news, therefore, media should be as unobtrusive as possible. While this goal is not always well accomplished, stepping over the line from reporting to directing the events being reported is a gross breach of journalistic ethics.

This, even more than the inaccurate ad Fox took out in the Washington Post will cast doubt upon the so-called news operation at Fox. The segment in question is not an opinion show with “commentators” like Beck and O’Reilly, but rather Fox pretending to cover the news “fairly” and in a “balanced” manner and then presenting propaganda instead.

The video thus calls into question the integrity and accuracy and objectivity of every minute of programing that Fox News airs, not merely that of its acknowledged opinionated pundits.

Fox’s critics have always suspected as much but now they have hard evidence to back it up.

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