Fox News has continually injected race into its coverage of the murder of Oklahoma college student Christopher Lane, despite law enforcement's insistence that the crime, allegedly committed by three teens -- two black, one white -- has no evidence of a racial motive.
From the August 24 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch:
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Fox News' response to the uproar over its religious correspondent's interview with author Reza Aslan is a revealing example of how the network handles criticism by either attacking or ignoring it, and raises questions about how Howard Kurtz, Fox's new media critic, will fit into that pattern.
Aslan, the author of the new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, was the subject of a recent 10-minute interview on FoxNews.com. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat describes the interview and ensuing controversy in today's column:
Those minutes were spent with the interviewer, Lauren Green, asking Aslan to explain why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus -- with Aslan coolly emphasizing his credentials and the non-Islamic nature of his argument -- and then with Green asking variations on the Muslim question, to increasing offense and diminishing returns.
The video quickly went viral, turning Aslan into a culture-war icon, a martyr to Fox's biases ... and soon enough (as these things tend to go) a martyr with a No. 1 best seller.
As Douthat indicates, Fox was widely criticized for the interview, which was one of the major media stories of the week. It seemed like a perfect issue for Kurtz, the network's in-house media critic, to address.
Instead, on July 31, Fox responded to the criticism by hosting conservative activist and media critic Brent Bozell to defend the interview on the network's America Live. Bozell declared, "I'll be the first one to stand up and applaud Lauren Green for the question that she asked. It was the exact, correct question that needed to be asked." He went on to criticize Aslan's response to Green's suggestion of religious bias -- that he's a scholar of religions and his job is to write about religion -- as arrogant.
Some noted that rather than bringing in Bozell to discuss the controversial interview, Fox could have called on Kurtz. "Fox News has a media critic on its payroll, but Howard Kurtz was apparently unavailable," reported Huffington Post's Jack Mirkinson.
On Twitter, Politico media reporter Dylan Byers wrote that Kurtz responding to the Aslan interview would be a "pretty good test for his independence," but that he didn't think it would happen. Indeed, Kurtz, who said he was "excited to bring my independent brand of media criticism to Fox News" when he moved to the network after 15 years at CNN, has not weighed in on the Aslan controversy. On Sunday he appeared on the panel of Fox News Sunday to discuss a variety of political topics, but did not mention Aslan.
Meanwhile, the August 3 edition of Fox's current weekly media criticism show, Fox News Watch, did not address the Aslan interview. That program has consistently downplayed or ignored stories that are unfavorable to Fox News and its parent company.
Fox News Watch will soon be replaced with a new media criticism program hosted by Kurtz. But so far, we've seen little evidence that the new program will adopt a different tact on criticizing the network than the current iteration.
This past week's edition of Fox News Watch demonstrated just how toxic Fox News' media reporting has become and just how big a mess newly hired media reporter Howard Kurtz is walking into. On July 3, there was a major development in the investigation into the British tabloid phone hacking scandal and the role of Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox (Fox News' newly reorganized parent company after a split from News Corp.). A recording of Murdoch was released in which he railed against the police inquiry into phone hacking and corruption at News Corp. tabloids, waved off the practice of bribing public officials for news tips as "part of the culture of Fleet Street," and promised to support journalists convicted as part of the investigation.
It was a major development in one of the biggest media stories of the past few years, and Fox News Watch -- ostensibly a media criticism program -- ignored it, just as it has ignored almost every aspect of the scandal that makes the guy signing the paychecks look bad. The show did, however, find time to cover Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes' brief suspension from Facebook.
On July 3, the UK's Channel 4 News broadcast a "secret recording" of Murdoch (obtained by the investigative news website ExaroNews) purportedly captured at a March 2013 meeting between Murdoch and journalists from The Sun, a News Corp. tabloid, who had been arrested as part of the hacking inquiry. On the tape, Murdoch bashes the investigating authorities as "totally incompetent" and says: "But why are the police behaving in this way? It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing." He promises "total support" to the journalists "even if you're convicted and get six months or whatever," and even suggests their jobs will be secure: "What happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I'm not allowed to promise you -- I will promise you continued health support -- but your jobs. I've got to be careful what comes out -- but, frankly, I won't say it, but just trust me."
Though Fox News was effusive in its praise of new hire Howard Kurtz, several of the network's hosts and contributors have harshly criticized Kurtz in the past, labeling him "full of crap," "a walking conflict of interest," and someone who does "the bidding of Media Matters."
In a June 20 press release, Fox announced that beginning July 1, Kurtz "will anchor a version of what is now called Fox News Watch, which focuses on the media, with a new format during the weekends," while also serving as an on-air analyst and writer for FoxNews.com. His switch to Fox will mark the end of his tenure at CNN's Reliable Sources, a weekly media criticism show that he has hosted for the past 15 years.
CNN's longtime media reporter, Howard Kurtz, is moving to Fox News. As first reported by Mediaite and subsequently confirmed by the network itself, Kurtz will be taking over the spot currently occupied by Fox News' weekend media criticism program, Fox News Watch. The move comes after reports that CNN was "reviewing" Kurtz's "status at the network" after he was dropped by The Daily Beast following an erroneous and much-criticized column on NBA player Jason Collins' announcement that he is gay. Per Mediaite, "Jon Scott, the current anchor of Fox News Watch, will move to the specials unit, serving as an anchor for that programming."
Regardless of your opinion of Kurtz, the mere fact that Scott is out as Fox News' in-house media critic can't be viewed as anything but a positive development. Fox News Watch was once considered one of Fox News' best and most balanced programs. Under Scott's tenure, the show became a parody of a media criticism program, mechanically framing segments around the "liberal bias" of the press and featuring panels of (overwhelmingly conservative) guests to complain about the "liberal media." One of the program's recurring guests has been Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter best known for her disastrously inaccurate reporting on Saddam Hussein's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction.
More than anything else, Fox News Watch became a propaganda tool for the network. Any time Fox News or its parent company, News Corp., found itself in the headlines for ethical lapses or bad media practices, Fox News Watch would ignore the story. In 2011, when the scandal over phone hacking at News Corp.'s News Of The World was blowing up, Jon Scott and his Fox News Watch panelists were filmed discussing how they were purposefully not talking about it. When it was revealed that News Corp. had donated millions of dollars to pro-Republican political groups ahead of the 2010 election, Fox News Watch didn't say a word. In late 2012, after national security journalist Tom Ricks caused a huge stir by saying on Fox News that the network was "operating as a wing of the Republican Party" with regard to its Benghazi coverage, Fox News Watch ignored the story -- a fact that's even more remarkable when you consider that the person interviewing Ricks when he made that comment was... Jon Scott.
From the May 11 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch:
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From the March 30 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch:
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Fox News' media criticism program continued the network's promotion of Zev Chafets' biography of Fox News president Roger Ailes, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, with a segment that did not examine or discuss the book's substance. Instead, Fox News Watch re-ran a friendly interview with Chafets and attacked critics of Ailes.
On the March 23 edition of Fox News Watch, anchor Jon Scott remarked that the book was getting "lots of media attention." Scott then defended Ailes' claim that President Obama described himself as "lazy," a misrepresentation of Obama's remarks.
From the March 23 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch:
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As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepares to testify before Congress about the September 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Media Matters reviews the falsehoods conservative media have pushed regarding Clinton and her response to the attack.
The panelists on Fox News' media criticism show, Fox News Watch, had themselves a pity party over a recent study showing that Fox News was ranked ninth among all news outlets in the number of questions they got to ask at presidential news conferences in President Obama's first term. "Why does the president not like to call on us?" asked host Jon Scott. "Because he doesn't want to be embarrassed," was Fox contributor Kirsten Powers' response.
But did the president really unfairly shun the Murdoch network? Not particularly. In fact, there are a bunch of top-flight news outlets that should be jealous of the attention Fox received.
Let's look at this with a bit more perspective.
According to the study, Fox was called on 14 times in four years. That's more than The Washington Post (11), USA Today (9), The Wall Street Journal (8), McClatchy Newspapers (5), NPR (5), Politico (2), and Time (1). The network was only just behind CNN and The New York Times, both of which were called on 16 times. Fox News' 14 questions were nearly triple the combined total for Spanish-language news outlets Telemundo (3) and Univision (2).
So no, Fox's 14 questions were not the most of any news outlet, but they were more -- in some cases significantly more -- than many other large media organizations got to ask.
As for the idea that fear of "embarrassment" is why the president chose not to call on Fox as frequently as they would have liked over the past four years, it's possible that's true. Then again, it also might have had something to do with this. Or this. Or this. Or this...
It was the big media story of the last week. National security journalist Tom Ricks went on Fox News and accused the network of "operating as a wing of the Republican Party" with regard to its overblown Benghazi coverage, impelling anchor Jon Scott to cut short the segment. The aborted interview and ensuing behind-the-scenes wrangling provided fodder for media critics at other outlets to analyze Fox News' role within the media. But how did Fox News' media criticism show Fox News Watch, hosted by the very same Jon Scott, handle this big media story? By ignoring it completely.
One week later, we find ourselves with another big media story involving Fox News. According to the Washington Post, last spring Roger Ailes asked Fox News contributor K.T. MacFarland to use her trip to Afghanistan to pitch to David Patraeus the idea of running against President Obama as a Republican. MacFarland told Petraeus that Ailes was even willing to step down from his Fox post and become a campaign aide were the general to run.
The ethical lapses on display here stack high. Once again, this is choice material for media critics to chew over, and once again we should expect Fox News' media critic to handle the story as he handled Ricks: by ignoring it.
Ever since the election, much has been made of the "Republican bubble," wherein Republicans and conservatives spent the campaign enclosed within the safe confines of ideologically simpatico news outlets, convincing themselves that Mitt Romney was on a glide path to a landslide and dismissing all data pointing to the contrary as so much liberal spin. In the past month, we've seen no signs of that bubble popping. Indeed, Ricks took the opportunity (a vanishingly rare one) to pop the bubble from the inside, and Fox News responded by treating the incident as if it never happened.
Tom Ricks' bit of impromptu media criticism on Fox News over their Benghazi coverage, for which the Pulitzer-winning national security journalist had his interview cut short, was a rare thing to see. Self-criticism doesn't often happen on Fox airwaves, and they insist against all evidence that they play it straight and "have no agenda." But what makes Ricks' commentary especially noteworthy is the fact that the anchor who cut Ricks' interview short, Jon Scott, is himself Fox News' resident media critic.
Scott hosts the weekly program Fox News Watch, which approaches every media story from the premise that the media are liberally biased and, to borrow from Ricks, "a wing of the Democratic Party."
To give just a taste of how Fox News Watch does business, here's the intro to the November 10 edition, the first post-election show:
Scott asked if "media cheerleading" helped President Obama win reelection, whacked the "liberal press" for "tak[ing] shots" at Karl Rove and Fox News for their embarrassing election night squabble over Ohio, asked if the Obama second term will be "four more years of a media love fest," and suggested that CBS News helped the White House "hide the truth" about Benghazi. Then he introduced his panel: two conservative pundits (Cal Thomas and Jim Pinkerton), one disgraced former journalist (Judith Miller), and Kirsten Powers.
Scott's broad-ranging set of allegations put just about every sector of the media in the tank for the Democrats and specifically indicted one outlet for assisting in a White House cover-up (a cover-up for which there is no evidence). Meanwhile, Tom Ricks told Jon Scott that on one story Fox News has been pulling weight for the GOP, and he got thrown off the air, called "rude," and had his "strength of character" questioned by network brass.
One thing you can be sure of is that, in keeping with the moratorium on self-criticism, Scott and Fox News Watch will approach the Ricks fiasco in one of two ways: ignore it, as they've so often done with the Fox News' and News Corp.'s various and sundry ethical lapses; or cast themselves as the wrongly maligned victim of the "liberal media."
From the November 10 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch:
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