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Fox News:Miles from 'fair and balanced'

by Tim Rutten Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 11:01 AM

LA Times article on bias at Fox News, and who's responsible.

Los Angeles Times

November 1, 2002



REGARDING MEDIA

Miles from 'fair and balanced'

By Tim Rutten

A veteran producer this week alleged that Fox News

executives issue a daily memorandum to staff on news

coverage to bend the network's reporting into

conformity with management's political views,

refocusing attention on the partisan bias of America's

most watched cable news operation.

The charges by Charlie Reina, 55, whose six-year tenure

at Fox ended April 9, first surfaced Wednesday in a

letter he posted on an influential Web site

(www.poynter.org/column)maintained by Jim Romenesko for

the Poynter Institute, an organization that promotes

journalistic education and ethics.

Concerns about Fox, which styles its news coverage as

"fair and balanced," begin with its owner, Australian-

born Rupert Murdoch. The corporate boards and family

investors who control most of the American news media

generally feel obliged to maintain a wall of separation

between news and editorial opinion. Murdoch, by

contrast, operates in the style of the traditional

Fleet Street proprietors, who dismiss such distinctions

as inconvenient fictions.

And as a deeply conservative man, he is willing to put

his money where his politics are: Murdoch, a

naturalized U.S. citizen, subsidizes publication of the

Weekly Standard, one of the country's most influential

right-wing journals. According to a forthcoming book by

the New Yorker's Ken Auletta, he loses as much as

million a year maintaining the New York Post as an

outlet of conservatism in Manhattan.

As Fox's founding president, he hired Roger Ailes, a

shrewd Republican political operative who earned a

well-founded reputation for bare-knuckle campaigning

while working for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. As

one of the architects of the elder George Bush's media

strategy in his campaign for president against

Democratic rival Michael Dukakis, Ailes helped devise

the notorious Willie Horton commercials. As he told

Time magazine in August 1988, "The only question is

whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his

hand or without it."

The late Lee Atwater, another Bush aide, described

Ailes as having "two speeds - attack and destroy."

Before joining Fox, where he serves now as chairman,

Ailes produced Rush Limbaugh's short-lived television

talk show.

According to Reina's letter, "Daily life at [Fox] is

all about management politics".Editorially, the FNC

newsroom is under the constant control and vigilance of

management. The pressure ranges from subtle to direct.

First, it's a news network run by one of the most high-

profile political operatives of recent times. Everyone

there understands that [Fox] is, to a large extent,

'Roger's Revenge' against what he considers a liberal,

pro-Democrat media establishment that has shunned him

for decades. For the staffers, many of whom are too

young to have come up through the ranks of objective

journalism, and all of whom are nonunion, with no

protections regarding what they can be made to do,

there is undue motivation to please the big boss."

Fox News spokesman Rob Zimmerman told The Times that

"these accusations are the rantings of a bitter,

disgruntled former employee. It's unfortunate that

Charlie's career ended the way it did, but we wish him

well." Asked whether Reina's quotations from the memos

were inaccurate or taken out of context, Zimmerman

said, "All we are saying is that these are false

accusations." The Times' request to speak with Ailes

was denied: "Roger is not addressing this and is not

available," Zimmerman said.

Reina, who told The Times he left Fox in a dispute over

salary and workload - not politics - hardly comes

across as a knee-jerk liberal. He is at pains, for

example, to say that he believes his former employer's

cable rivals - CNN and MSNBC - also air news reports

riven with bias on both ends of the political spectrum.

At Fox, he not only produced the network's weekly media

criticism show, "News- Watch," but also a series of

specials on Newt Gingrich and a talk show with

conservative religious commentator Cal Thomas.

Still, Reina, whose 30-year career includes stints at

the Associated Press, ABC News and CBS, said Fox's

ideological problems begin with Ailes.

"Roger is such a high-profile and partisan political

operative that everyone in the newsroom knows what his

political feelings are and acts accordingly. I'd never

worked in a newsroom like that," he said in an

interview. "Never. At ABC, for example, I never knew

what management or my bosses' political views were,

much less felt pressure from them to make things come

out a certain way. I'm talking about news bias, and I

never experienced it there. At CBS or the AP, if a word

got in that suggested bias - liberal or conservative -

it was taken out.

"At Fox it was all about viewpoint. I'm not talking

about the nighttime personalities. I'm talking about

the news report. Fox executives will say their network

only appears conservative because it is fair, when

everyone else is liberal and biased. That's bull. Fox

doesn't 'seem' conservative and Republican. It is

conservative and Republican."

In his letter, Reina wrote that "the roots of [Fox's]

day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. They come

in the form of an executive memo" written by John

Moody, the network's vice president for news, and

"distributed electronically each morning, addressing

what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how

they should be covered. To the newsroom personnel

responsible for the channel's daytime programming, The

Memo is the bible. If, on any given day, you notice

that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a

particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind

it. The Memo was born with the Bush administration,

early in 2001, and, intentionally or not, has ensured

that the administration's point of view consistently

comes across on [Fox]".

"For instance, from the March 20th memo: 'There is

something utterly incomprehensible about [U.N.

Secretary-General] Kofi Annan's remarks in which he

allows that his thoughts are 'with the Iraqi people.'

One could ask where those thoughts were during the 23

years Saddam Hussein was brutalizing those same Iraqis.

Food for thought.' Can there be any doubt that the memo

was offering not only 'food for thought,' but a

direction for the FNC writers and anchors to go?

Especially after describing the U.N. Secretary

General's remarks as 'utterly incomprehensible'?".

"One day this past spring, just after the U.S. invaded

Iraq, The Memo warned us that anti-war protesters would

be 'whining' about U.S. bombs killing Iraqi civilians

and suggested they could tell that to the families of

American soldiers dying there. Editing copy that

morning, I was not surprised when an eager young

producer killed a correspondent's report on the day's

fighting - simply because it included a brief shot of

children in an Iraqi hospital".

"These are not isolated incidents at Fox News Channel,

where virtually no one of authority in the newsroom

makes a move unmeasured against management's politics,

actual or perceived. At the Fair and Balanced network,

everyone knows management's point of view, and, in case

they're not sure how to get it on air, The Memo is

there to remind them."

Av Westin, a longtime ABC news executive who is now

executive director of the National Television Academy,

examined Reina's letter and said: "Nothing about this

surprises me. The uniform smirks and body language that

are apparent in Fox's reports throughout the day

reflect an operation that is quite tightly controlled.

The fact that young and inexperienced producers

acquiesce to that control by pulling stories is further

evidence that nonjournalistic forces are at work in

that newsroom.

"Roger runs the place with an iron hand and he was put

in place there by Murdoch, who selected him for his

politics. In that sense, what's happened at Fox is a

carry-over from all Murdoch's print publications, where

the publisher's politics and editorial preference is

reflected in the news hole to an extent that isn't true

anywhere else in American journalism."

Reina is out of television news these days, supporting

himself in New York with a small woodworking business.

Looking back on his time with Fox, his greatest concern

is for its young staff. "Many of them wanted to be on

television but not necessarily in news. They haven't

had the benefit of traditional journalistic training,

so they're easily molded.

"Time after time I watched what management's politics

did to the young anchors. As they near the time to get

their own show, the hair gets blonder and the bias gets

clearer."



Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times



http://www.latimes.com/features/lifestyle/la-et-rutten1nov01181420,1,7939167.story

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Fox News ex-leftist activist Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 12:23 PM
axiomatic Grimm Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 1:01 PM
Very funny... ex-leftist activist Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 1:56 PM
ex-leftist activist Grimm Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 2:52 PM
Grimmy nonanarchist Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 3:26 PM
Hey daveman Grimm Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:36 PM
WVP=an idiot's opinion oregon trail Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:39 PM
Aaargh! nonanarchist Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:41 PM
yup, I noticed Grimm Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:43 PM
grimster gladflystone Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:46 PM
well then, fucking bring it on Smarmster Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:48 PM
Grimm's Dictionary nonanarchist Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:49 PM
grimster portlandarea Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:51 PM
Hey smarmster... the Riddler Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 4:56 PM
Time in on my side. Right. Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 5:02 PM
The Doors Jim Morrison Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003 at 5:05 PM
Grimm ex-leftist Wednesday, Nov. 05, 2003 at 8:01 AM

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