Rupert Murdoch has shut down News of the World amid revelations of epic corruption, and its former editor Andy Coulson has been arrested. Is Fox News next?
Rupert Murdoch’s recently defunct British paper News of the World and his American TV network Fox News have a lot in common: they’ve both had top executives work in official jobs with their respective countries’ leaders, and both were designed to pump out sensationalistic, if disingenuous news. Both are corrupt and ruthless in their pursuit of headlines.
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has been arrested amid revelations that he was personally involved in the paper’s hacking into the voicemail of a British girl after she’d been kidnapped, as well as victims of a London train station terrorist attack, and exploiting the content for news headlines.
It seems Coulson, formerly the communications chief for Prime Minister David Cameron, perpetrated the most foundational breach of journalistic ethics along with his peers—a fact Rupert Murdoch’s son James acknowledged, saying, “‘The News of the World’ is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.”
This seems to be something of a modus operandi when it comes to another one of Rupert Murdoch’s media properties—Fox News.
Coincidentally, just as the News of the World phone-hacking scandal was breaking last week, Gawker published the discovery of an original blueprint for Fox News during Roger Ailes’s tenure with the Nixon Administration. In a memo called “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News,” Ailes and Nixon Administration officials laid out their plans. “Purpose: to provide pro-Administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.”
Memos floating between Nixon officials like Bob Haldeman and Ailes address the logistics of currying partisan favor under the guise of news: “Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.”
Ailes says in a memo he “would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project.” It seems that this blueprint would manifest years later, after Ailes had split with the Nixon Administration and had served a second president, George HW Bush. Ailes had started and abandoned his own TV projects like Television News Incorporated (TVN), and finally teamed up with Rupert Murdoch to helm Fox News in 1996.
Ailes maintained a relationship with the second Bush president—Bob Woodword revealed that Ailes advised Bush on crafting his public persona in the days following the 9/11 attacks. And over the ensuing decade his vision of seeding GOP-friendly dogma—even propaganda—through the vehicle of broadcast news became a reality.
In pursuing this vision, Fox News not only adopted a partisan perspective, but has broken the most basic rules of journalistic integrity, broadcasting outright lies and spreading disinformation—all under the banner of its Orwellian slogan, “fair and balanced.”
These lies have taken on various forms. Perhaps the most obvious and sensationalistic is Fox’s reporting the lies of others—most notably conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart—as news.
One particularly memorable instance was the Shirley Sherrod scandal. Sherrod, the former Georgia State Director of Rural Development, spoke at an NAACP event and used her personal experience to denounce racism. Breitbart edited a video of her speech out of context to make Sherrod herself appear racist. Fox News was the first to report on Breitbart’s video, and indeed made it news.
The Obama Administration asked Sherrod to resign over the scandal. When the NAACP and progressive groups revealed Breitbart’s video was pure deceit, the Administration rescinded its position and offered Sherrod a new job (which she declined) but Fox News never rescinded its report. Its trumpeting of Breitbart’s deceit is still alive and well without an update defining it as misinformation—you can read it here.
Fox News anchors and correspondents like Sarah Palin also endorsed the notion that there was reason to question Barack Obama’s birth certificate and helped propagate the suspicion that Obama is not actually an American citizen. The network also gave credence to the bogus sting on community organizing non-profit ACORN, also championed by Andrew Breitbart, and reported it as news.
Additionally Fox News anchors themselves engage in information sabotage—Sean Hannity recently claimed on air that assassinating Osama bin Laden was the “opposite of what candidate Obama said he would do”—blatant untruth. And this spring Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer was caught playing footage from last year’s CPAC convention in covering the 2011 event in order to make it appear that Ron Paul was booed this year, when in fact he received thunderous, prolonged cheers.
These transgressions are all more subtle than News of the World’s shockingly brazen tactic of hacking into private voicemail. But they still qualify as packaging information deceit as news. And with the express purpose of shifting American political culture sharply to the right, Fox News seems even more insidious than its British newspaper counterpart.
Fox News chief Roger Ailes makes plenty of headlines for controversial insults (he recently called NPR executives Nazis), but so far the network has avoided scrutiny for its many ethical violations in broadcast journalism. Will Andy Coulson’s arrest and News of the World’s collapse put heat on Rupert Murdoch’s other corrupt misinformation machine?
Probably not. But it certainly should.