One of the myths that Fox uses to prop up its credibility as a news-gathering operation is that it has “straight news” shows that possess the same integrity as those on any other channel.
It's a helpful argument for them, made all the more believable because these shows really look like news. Fox makes use of television conventions to convince its audience that what they are seeing is “news.”
But anyone who closely watches these purportedly straight-news shows knows that, in fact, they're unlike any other news on television.
Actress Ellen Barkin recently made this point in an interview with the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Discussing “the enormous success that has killed us in terms of Fox News,” Barkin said:
The blatant lying that passes itself off as journalism. I don't even need to get there to go mental. Can you imagine a legitimate newsperson -- Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw -- just lying on the news?
This earned her a jab in Bill O'Reilly's daily briefing*. (The instinct to defame critics, rather than engage them, is one of the qualities that separates Fox from legitimate news operations -- see here, for instance.)
The evidence that Fox disregards journalistic ethics, including outright “lying on the news,” is extensive.
Imagine this: A news anchor uses talking points cribbed from a document released by a political party and presents them as his own news outlet's research. So faithfully, in fact, that the outlet reproduces a typo in the original document. When pressured on the issue, the anchor apologizes ... for the typo.
Jon Scott, co-anchor of one of Fox's daytime straight-news shows, Happening Now, did exactly that on Fox News. Plenty of other Fox straight-news shows have presented Republican Party research as their own.
Megyn Kelly, who anchors her own show on weekday afternoons, was Fox's primary promoter of the phony New Black Panther Party scandal. She devoted more than 3.5 hours of coverage to the topic over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2010. When the whole thing collapsed earlier this year, Kelly responded by giving the story 64 seconds of coverage during the same time frame.
The co-anchors of Fox's 9 a.m.-11 a.m. show, America's Newsroom, fit well into this lineup. Bill Hemmer cherry-picks polls and presents long-debunked talking points about health care reform (You could go to jail!) as news. Martha MacCallum openly advocates for right-wing policies, often through the use of GOP talking points.
This June, Fox's straight-news shows pushed the myth that undocumented immigrants had started a major wildfire in Arizona. While the Forest Service said the accusation was baseless at the time, Fox reported the claim relentlessly.
In August, two U.S. citizens were arrested in connection with the fire.
And unlike actual news outlets, Fox rarely issues corrections or apologies for these journalistic misdeeds.
That's one of the glaring signs that Fox's “news” operation is unlike other news networks: It shuns accountability. A key element of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics is “Be Accountable.” It instructs journalists, “Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.”
Does that sound like Fox to you?
*This post has been updated