Accuracy in Media

Salon, a liberal Internet magazine, recently published a long article about a former Fox News employee who scoffs at Fox’s claim that it provides its audience with news that is fair and balanced. Charlie Reina, 55, who left Fox last April after working there for six years as a writer, copy editor and producer, decided to unburden himself about the highly successful cable news channel when Chris Wallace disclosed that he was leaving ABC to take over as host of Fox’s Sunday morning talk show. He said that Wallace’s description of Fox’s reporting as serious, thoughtful and evenhanded had shocked him into posting a message on the Internet to set the record straight.

Reina had previously worked for AP Radio, CBS Radio News and ABC. It must have been a shock for him to transfer to a news organization where liberal Democrats were not running the show and the staff was diversified. It included liberals, moderates and conservatives. If he was uncomfortable in that environment he didn’t make it known to his employer. A Fox spokesman said that Reina liked to boast that he was a liberal Democrat. It appears that his six years at Fox may have moderated some of his liberal views.

He wrote, “Part of what Fox’s message is, and I have to say that to a certain extent I agree with it, is that political correctness is a terrible thing. There are a lot of assumptions that are simply made and not questioned, and a lot of that, liberals like me have perpetrated. And I have to agree there is too much of that.”

Reina’s efforts to cite bias that he observed at Fox are not impressive. He cites one case in which he says he refused to do a story about a controversial environmental issue the way his editor wanted it done. He says the editor told him not to let the pro-environmentalists have the last word. If there is any area in which a lot of assumptions are simply made and not questioned by the liberal news media, it is environmental issues. In 1989, Time’s senior editor, Charles Alexander, admitted that in covering the environment, “we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to advocacy.” When he headed CNN, Ted Turner, who confessed that he was fanatical about the environment, not only had CNN air many dubious environmental programs, but he also boasted that he had been able to influence the TV networks to do “a lot of environmental programming.” Telling Reina to not let an environmentalist have the last word can be seen as a subtle reminder that Fox did not want him to cross the boundary from news reporting to advocacy.

Reina says that before he went to work for Fox he was never told how to slant a story. That is probably true, because the editors in the liberal organizations where he worked knew that he was a liberal and didn’t need to be told to give his stories a liberal slant. That was not what Fox wanted. Salon asked, “So people at Fox know what management’s political views are and they know that management wants to see those views reflected on their television screens?

They must have been disappointed by this response from Reina: “Yes, but it’s not because the people on the second floor?Roger Ailes and so forth?come down and say, ‘This is what we want.’ It kind of filters down. And very often, the people overreact and take it upon themselves and do things that even management wouldn’t expect them to do.” He cited an example. When a judge ruled that the words “under God” should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, a Fox anchor said, “Because we want you to have as much information as possible about this important story, we want you to be able to go right to the source. We’re giving you the address and phone number of the judge.” Reina said, “Everybody knew that was a call to harass this guy.” He said that when the people on the second floor saw that they stopped it immediately.

A spokesman for Fox says that Reina’s records show no evidence that he ever complained about editorial policy. He didn’t get the highest ratings, and when the Iraq War put a strain on the staff he was asked to pitch in and do some extra work. He refused, and that led to his separation from Fox. He was described as a “disgruntled employee.” He wasn’t working as a journalist when Salon interviewed him.

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