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.
That's not to say that Fox News Watch didn't cover Benghazi -- the lead segment on December 3 dealt with Ambassador Susan Rice “trying to spin her way out of trouble with her GOP critics” and the “liberal media” who are “still defending Rice and denigrating her detractors.” The show focused exclusively on the aspect of the story that best serves the interests of Fox News and the Republican Party, thus proving Ricks correct. Again.
The fact that the network just completely blew off Ricks' hijacking of their airwaves is an ominous sign. Fox News could have covered the story in a wholly self-serving way and made some effort to defend its non-stop Benghazi coverage. But Fox News Watch -- the show devoted to media criticism -- wasn't even willing to acknowledge a critic of the network.
And that's standard operating procedure. When Fox News finds itself under fire for bad media practices, Fox News Watch ignores the story. Scott and his coterie of “liberal media” bashers were even videotaped between segments talking about how they were purposefully avoiding discussion of the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed News Corp.-owned British tabloids.
But this goes beyond the failures of the program itself. It's life inside the bubble: Fox News is right, and the critics aren't just wrong, they don't even merit mention. So don't be surprised when the forthcoming edition of Fox News Watch finds ample opportunity to bash the “liberal media,” but no time to discuss the Fox News chief's efforts to help take down the Democratic president.