December 7, 2009

One of the reasons Fox News has become such a serious problem is that journalists as a profession have utterly failed in their traditional role of self-policing their colleagues. Journalists need to be speaking out about the truth that Anita Dunn pointed out in October: That Fox has ceased offering even a resemblance of a news organization and has become a propaganda channel 24/7.

Fox has largely been able to get away with it because its money and influence are so sizable that it has silenced with profession with a combination of threats and bribes: If you call them out, you get blackballed. On the other hand, if you play along, you get invited on their shows and get a fat contributor's paycheck.

Among the most disturbing examples of this have been NPR's Mara Liasson and Juan Williams, who have become such regulars on Fox that their identities are increasingly that of a typical Fox commentator. And in the process, they've deeply marred NPR's hitherto-sterling reputation as a reliable source of accurate and unbiased news.

A classic example of this took place in early September (see the video above), when Liasson, in a discussion on health care with Fox's Brett Baier, agreed to go along with the new Luntz-approved Fox talking point that it wasn't a "public option" in the health-care reform package, but a "government option.

So now, according to Politico, Liasson at least is coming under sharper scrutiny:

Executives at National Public Radio recently asked the network’s top political correspondent, Mara Liasson, to reconsider her regular appearances on Fox News because of what they perceived as the network’s political bias, two sources familiar with the effort said.

According to a source, Liasson was summoned in early October by NPR’s executive editor for news, Dick Meyer, and the network’s supervising senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. The NPR executives said they had concerns that Fox’s programming had grown more partisan, and they asked Liasson to spend 30 days watching the network.

At a follow-up meeting last month, Liasson reported that she’d seen no significant change in Fox’s programming and planned to continue appearing on the network, the source said.

... Liasson defended her work for Fox by saying that she appears on two of the network’s news programs, not on commentary programs with conservative hosts, the source said. She has also told colleagues that she’s under contract to Fox, so it would be difficult for her to sever her ties with the network, which she has appeared on for more than a decade.

As Eric Boehlert avidly observes:

I find it comical that Liasson reportedly thinks that because she's on two 'serious' Fox News shows that that means she's no way associated with the rest of channel's nutty and hateful programming. Apparently, Liasson is able to magically cocoon herself within the confines of two programs. And even though she cashes those Fox News checks she's not really, y'know, part of Fox News.

Gimme a break.

You can't be half pregnant in a situation like this, which means Liasson needs to forcefully defend Fox News in its entirety. But if she can't do that and she still cares about her reputation as a journalists, than she ought to walk away from Rupert Murdoch's money, because the glaring truth is that Fox News jumped the rails many, many months ago.

At least Jacob Weisberg is making an effort to talk about the problem as one encompassing the entire profession:

Any news organization that took its responsibilities seriously would take pains to cover presidential criticism fairly. It would regard doing so as itself a test of integrity. At Fox, by contrast, complaints of unfairness prompt only hoots of derision and demands for "evidence" that, when presented, is brushed off and ignored.

There is no need to get bogged down in this phony debate, which itself constitutes an abuse of the fair-mindedness of the rest of the media. One glance at Fox's Web site or five minutes' random viewing of the channel at any hour of the day demonstrates its all-pervasive slant. The lefty documentary Outfoxed spent a lot of time mustering evidence that Fox managers order reporters to take the Republican side. But after 13 years under Roger Ailes, Fox employees skew news right as instinctively as fish swim.

... Whether the White House engages with Fox is a tactical political question. Whether we journalists continue to do so is an ethical one. By appearing on Fox, reporters validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations. Respectable journalists—I'm talking to you, Mara Liasson—should stop appearing on its programs. A boycott would make Ailes too happy, so let's try just ignoring Fox, shall we? And no, I don't want to come on The O'Reilly Factor to discuss it.

Liasson can't sit there on a panel on a "news show" -- whose tea-party promotions and slanted attacks on the White House are a matter of public record -- as the token "liberal" with Stephen Hayes and Charles Krauthammer every few days, and more often than not go along with their right-wing characterizations of events, and promulgating the right-wing narratives that are the basic fabric of these shows, and not be tainted by the association.

If Liasson wants to pretend that Fox is unbiased so she can keep collecting it paychecks, then let her. But NPR should move on to someone who actually displays real journalistic standards.

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