In my last blog post, I offered some thoughts on whether President Obama is right in singling out Fox News for bias, or whether all news organizations deserve equal time and consideration despite their political stance. I posted the same question on LinkedIn and generated a lively debate amongst my PR peers.
There was a lot of back and forth about this topic, with people landing on different sides of the political issue, but there were a lot of interesting comments on the role of bias in journalism and when bias goes too far because it is no longer subtext but the main part of the media agenda. To quote from Roger Griendling of Griendling Communications, who also blogs on this subject:
“Obama’s goal is not to change Fox’s line-up or to get them to be more fair and balanced. Rather, he’s sending a message to the mainstream media (MSM) that they can’t let Fox News be their assignment editor. Many MSM echo stories started on Fox even if they have no shred of truth or relevance to the important issues of the day. But MSM feels compelled to follow them.”
I particularly want to thank Roger Johnson of Newswise and moderator of the LinkedIn PRwise group for some cogent thoughts on this issue. From the threaded discussion, Roger offers this comment:
“Fox News does not “slant right.” It represents and trumpets the right without regard for truth. Its news is propaganda. While it is transparent with its “rightness” it is egregiously false to claim to be a news organization.”
Roger also pointed out a very interesting editorial on this issue from Newsweek that clarifies this issue with a different perspective I had not considered. What Rupert Murdoch is doing is using the same playbook that has succeeded for him in the UK, Australia, and Europe, and his rules have absolutely nothing to do with the American concept of freedom of the press. From the editorial:
“What’s most distinctive about the American press is not its freedom but its century-old tradition of independence—that it serves the public interest rather than those of parties, persuasions, or pressure groups. Media independence is a 20th-century innovation that has never fully taken root in many other countries that do have a free press. The Australian-British-continental model of politicized media that Murdoch has applied at Fox is un-American, so much so that he has little choice but go on denying what he’s doing as he does it. For Murdoch, Ailes, and company, “fair and balanced” is a necessary lie. To admit that their coverage is slanted by design would violate the American understanding of the media’s role in democracy and our idea of what constitutes fair play. But it’s a demonstrable deceit that no longer deserves equal time.”
So what litmus test should we use to sort the true journalists from the propagandists? To qualify as a journalist, you have to be able to distinguish fact from opinion and report the news, without commentary. That’s the difference between news and propaganda. You also have to be factual, something which the Fox News organization seems to overlook on a regular basis with factual errors meant to mislead, such as reporting that Obama was actually born in Kenya, not Hawaii. Since Fox is using Murdoch’s playbook and not the best traditions of American journalism, there doesn’t seem to be any distinction between fact and opinion or truth and fiction.
And, as Tony Loftis of The Loftis Group pointed out, by calling out the Fox News organization for a shootout, the Obama administration has at least raised doubts about Fox’s legitimacy as a news organization:
“By declaring war on the outlet, Obama served noticed that he thought Fox was biased, forcing everyone think about the bias in Fox’s coverage of his administration. It worked. At this point, everyone thinks Fox pushes the GOP’s agenda. From now on, whenever Fox reports on a story, independents will think of Fox as a right wing news organization. The Obama administration has successfully stolen a page from the GOP’s play book – taint the messenger.”
So what do you think? Should you engage with news organizations who disagree with you, even if you know they have an agenda? Can we trust the average reader to see through the bias and make up their own minds? It will be interesting to see how this battle between the White House and Murdoch’s media empire will play out, and what long-lasting effect it might have on American journalism. I would welcome your comments here. Let me know what you think the future holds.