The Murdoch media complex on Tuesday promoted an opinion column that Van Gordon Sauter wrote for The Wall Street Journal, in which he lambasted the “unrelentingly liberal” news media and their anti-Trump agenda. The Journal introduced Sauter as the “president of CBS News, 1982-83 and 1986.” And Fox News, while reporting on the column, cited his bonafides as a former head of CBS to give credence to his arguments.
Not at all mentioned: Sauter was also a former president of the “Fox News division,” the project that would ultimately become the Fox News Channel that we know today.
Sauter wrote in the Journal:
To many journalists, objectivity, balance and fairness—once the gold standard of reporting—are not mandatory in a divided political era and in a country they believe to be severely flawed. That assumption folds neatly into their assessment of the president. To the journalists, including more than a few Republicans, he is a blatant vulgarian, an incessant prevaricator, and a dangerous leader who should be ousted next January, if not sooner. Much of journalism has become the clarion voice of the “resistance,” dedicated to ousting the president, even though he was legally elected and, according to the polls, enjoys the support of about 44% of likely 2020 voters.
Sauter became the head of Fox’s news division in 1992, to coordinate news on Fox stations and head up the growing company’s effort to create a national news organization. While the Los Angeles Times described Sauter as an “outspoken political conservative” at the time, he ultimately left Fox in 1994, two years before the launch of the Fox News Channel, as he was involved in his wife Kathleen Brown’s campaign that year as the Democratic nominee for governor of California.
On the May 26 edition of America’s Newsroom, co-anchor Sandra Smith discussed Sauter’s column with Mediabuzz host Howard Kurtz, who demonstrated that he was familiar with Sauter’s history.
“It’s a very powerful piece, because it comes from a guy who was a major television insider and is married to a former Democratic politician, Kathleen Brown,” said Kurtz. “Here he is, indicting the three broadcast networks and major newspapers as being part of the resistance to President Trump.”
And yet, neither Kurtz nor Smith thought to mention Sauter’s previous affiliation with Fox News itself.
Indeed, it would’ve been by mere accident that Fox viewers would know about Sauter’s work at both CBS and Fox: During a split-screen visual sequence of Kurtz alongside archived video of Sauter, the C-SPAN chyron listed Sauter as “Former President, Fox News & CBS News.”
Kurtz also agreed with Sauter’s analysis that much of the polarized, political nature of modern news media “is being driven by the profit motive” and to keep viewers tuning in. Kurtz continued, “I don’t see a lot of soul searching unfortunately from people in the business now, but some people that leave the business take a look at where we’ve come, and they say, ‘This is not the profession I grew up in.’”
To the extent that there is a real point here, Kurtz failed to mention that in his day Sauter himself was a pivotal figure in these changes throughout the news media, as was observed at the time.
Hinting at the vision that Sauter would bring to Fox, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1992 that he had “caused considerable turmoil at tradition-bound CBS News during the 1980s, when he tried to introduce splashy magazine programs.”
But Sauter’s luck ran out during a tumultuous last year because of management-ordered budget cuts and severe criticism by prominent CBS News personalities such as Andy Rooney and Bill Moyers, who charged that Sauter was emphasizing glitz over substance. Under Sauter, Moyers complained, CBS News had succumbed to the “encroachment of entertainment values . . . tax policy had to compete with stories about three-legged sheep, and the three-legged sheep won.”
At the same time, however, Sauter earned a reputation for high energy and creativity, as well as a penchant for challenging the status quo, all qualities that are likely to serve him well in getting Murdoch’s plan for a new national news service off the ground. He has often been openly derisive of those he calls “newsies"--stick-in-the-mud journalists who refuse to acknowledge the show-business element of TV news.
Fox’s daytime panel show Outnumbered also discussed Sauter’s column, with the panelists crediting him for his past affiliations with CBS News. Co-host Melissa Francis, who is also a news anchor on Fox Business, offered her own point about the melding of news anchoring and opinion hosting duties — and the importance of being honest about it.