When a liberal filmmaker produced Outfoxed, a film critical of Fox News, the Fox News Watch program did a segment about it. And that was to its credit. Even though it is carried by the Fox News Channel, Fox News Watch examined criticism of Fox News. Fox News Watch also covered the controversy that arose when Fox News reporter Carl Cameron wrote a story for the Fox News website with fake quotes from John Kerry. But after Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was accused of sexual harassment, Fox News Watch ignored the story.
This is one of only two media watchdog programs on cable news?the other is Reliable Sources on CNN?and Fox News Watch showed in the cases of Outfoxed and Carl Cameron that it was going to live up to the slogan of the network itself and be “fair and balanced.” It covered stories embarrassing to its network sponsor. That’s great journalism. We wish there were more news organizations that had the courage to put themselves under the microscope.
On the O’Reilly matter, however, host Eric Burns announced near the end of the October 16 show that, “We’re not going to talk about Bill O’Reilly.” He said they didn’t have enough information to offer educated opinions and could not “responsibly” talk about the matter. He insisted they would return to the story one day in the future. Well, that’s hogwash. Copies of both lawsuits in the case are available, and O’Reilly himself went on the Regis & Kelly show to talk about it. He called himself a big mouth whose career may be threatened by the scandal. It has been covered by all of the major news organizations.
Burns’ excuse for not covering the story is so phony that something else must be at work here. The reason for ignoring the story must be that the evidence is so strong against O’Reilly that any comment must be potentially embarrassing to this Fox News all-star. The evidence consists of transcripts and quotes of alleged sexual comments that O’Reilly made to the producer. He has not denied making the statements; he has only denied that his treatment of the producer constituted sexual harassment. His lawsuit against the producer and her law firm charges that they tried to shake him down for millions of dollars so they wouldn’t have to bring the suit.
This isn’t the first time Fox News Watch has disappointed us. When liberal panelist, media writer Neal Gabler, claimed that secret emails demonstrated an anti-Kerry bias by a reporter at the New York Times, he refused to turn them over to us. In fact, he refused to respond to numerous phone calls and emails asking for the proof. We even sent him a priority mail letter asking for copies of the emails he cited on the air. He never replied. We also contacted Eric Burns through the email for the show. Still, there was no response.
That’s terrible conduct for the host and panelist of a supposed media watchdog show. People who posture as watchdogs of the press should be more open and honest. Fox News has achieved a notable distinction in cable news, and Fox News Watch has been touted as a program that sets the record straight about coverage of major issues. But it’s pretending to be something it’s not.