Last Friday L. and I met up with some friends to go see Michael Moore, who was giving a talk in Ypsilanti. It was hilarious of course–with a protesting delegation of the Young Americans for Freedom providing spreading some unintentional extra humor outside. One of the best points that Mike made during the night was his briefly mentioning how Al Franken had succeeded where so many other liberal and Leftist commentators had failed: taking down FOX News. It didn’t happen through a bunch of whining and accusations of bias; it happened by telling the truth, making it funny, and then using their own public belligerence to reveal what collosal asses they are. Now, FOX News is just a national joke. (Albeit still a very rich and high-rated national joke.)
Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s no role for a bit of whining and hectoring from time to time; dour pedantry provides a necessary base of information for uncovering the simple truths that wittier people tell. At least, that’s what I tell myself to help justify my own project. In that spirit, I’d like to note the following:
The fact is, daily life at FNC is all about management politics. I say this having served six years there – as producer of the media criticism show, News Watch, as a writer/producer of specials and (for the last year of my stay) as a newsroom copy editor. Not once in the 20+ years I had worked in broadcast journalism prior to Fox – including lengthy stays at The Associated Press, CBS Radio and ABC/Good Morning America – did I feel any pressure to toe a management line. But at Fox, if my boss wasn’t warning me tobe carefulhow I handled the writing of a special about Ronald Reagan (You know how Roger [Fox News Chairman Ailes] feels about him.), he was telling me how the environmental special I was to produce should lean (You can give both sides, but make sure the pro-environmentalists don’t get the last word.)
. . .
But the roots of FNC’s day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. They come in the form of an executive memo 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 FNC. This year, of course, the war in Iraq became a constant subject of The Memo. But along with the obvious – information on who is where and what they’ll be covering – there have been subtle hints as to the tone of the anchors’ copy. For instance, from the March 20th memo:There is something utterly incomprehensible about Kofi Annan’s remarks in which he allows that his thoughts areCan there be any doubt that the memo was offering not onlywith the Iraqi people.One could ask where those thoughts were during the 23 years Saddam Hussein was brutalizing those same Iraqis. Food for thought.food for thought,but a direction for the FNC writers and anchors to go? Especially after describing the U.N. Secretary General’s remarks asutterly incomprehensible?
The sad truth is, such subtlety is often all it takes to send Fox’s newsroom personnel into action – or inaction, as the case may be. One day this past spring, just after the U.S. invaded Iraq, The Memo warned us that anti-war protesters would bewhiningabout 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.
Let me repeat a bit of that again:
They come in the form of an executive memo 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.
There is a story that, when Nixon made his historic trip to China in 1972, he and Kissinger watched as Zhou Enlai was presented with a folderful of papers, which he leafed through, and handed back with a nod. When Kissinger asked what had happened, the translator told him that Zhou had just approved the layout of the next day’s People’s Daily. Nixon, it is said, muttered,
I’d like to rearrange a front page now and then.
Need I make the obvious point? Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s been no political progress in the past 30 years.