We’ve said repeatedly that Fox News performs a public service. The channel was created to appeal to conservatives, who lacked a media voice on the national stage, and they responded. But some of the things being said about Fox News on its 10th anniversary are just silly. It is not a right-wing channel, as left-wingers always charge, and it does not promptly correct its errors. In fact, some of them are never corrected.
An October 2 Washington Post story by Howard Kurtz mistakenly referred to the channel’s “high-profile conservative hosts,” including Bill O’Reilly, who actually takes liberal positions on issues like the death penalty and global warming. He is also squishy on the subject of homosexuality. O’Reilly is conservative on some issues, liberal on others. He gets high ratings because he puts on a provocative and entertaining show and features guests of interest to his mostly conservative audience.
Kurtz went on to claim that that Fox “may have moderated its journalistic approach a bit in recent years” by hiring people like Chris Wallace from ABC, Bill Hemmer from CNN, and “Harvard analyst Marvin Kalb.” That assumes, of course, that it has been conservative from the start. Kurtz doesn’t prove his case. Rather than being conservative, Fox was different. And that made it appealing to the viewing audience.
As for Chris Wallace, a recent hire, he does a good job of interviewing guests from both sides, even though he was viciously and unfairly attacked for his grilling of Bill Clinton’s handling of 9/11. Hemmer seems to have no views at all, and simply functions as a good anchor. Host Greta Van Susteren, who came from CNN, was never known as a conservative and was in fact considered very close to the Clinton Administration. She brought her fondness for Hillary over to Fox. She was hired, it seems, mainly because she had some legal expertise and could cover crime stories. And there are a bunch of those.
Shepard Smith, who made a spectacle of himself covering the Katrina hurricane disaster for Fox News, seems to have no identifiable ideological beliefs. He did, however, give an interview to Playboy, seeking to expand his viewing audience.
The “moderation” Kurtz talks about includes taking the channel further to the left by hiring former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark as a foreign-affairs analyst. This was an obvious attempt to appeal to the liberal-left, hardly the mark of a staunch right-wing news channel. Clark adds nothing, only liberal spin.
Roger Ailes, the impressive head of Fox News, is quoted in the Kurtz piece as saying that the channel has an impeccable record of getting the facts right. “The New York Times had to fire a person for making up news,” he said. “We haven’t taken down a major story. If we make a mistake, we correct it in an hour.”
We wish that were true. Roger Aronoff of AIM caught O’Reilly telling a whopper about TWA 800, the plane that crashed off Long Island in 1996. O’Reilly claimed he saw the plane explode on television and that this proved it could not have been hit by a missile, as hundreds of witnesses say. Yet, the explosion and crash were not televised, as everyone knows. Aronoff contacted Fox News, asking for a correction of the record. No correction was forthcoming.
Hopefully, Ailes will send O’Reilly a memo on this. That is, if credibility really matters to him.