In most columns that begin with “I never do this,” the columnist is typically full of shit. And yet, here I go: I hardly ever comment on other news outlets or media in general in this space. I think over the nearly 23 years of penning Reality Check I may have dedicated an entire column on matters of media once or twice, and mostly it was in a mocking capacity and scarcely worth noting. When I do make passing critiques on the silliness of cable news or morning shows or the way-too-easy target talk radio crap-fest, it is merely in the service of a larger point—however rambling or meaningless said point is. But today I am forced to comment on FOX News merely because it is suddenly embroiled in a first amendment issue, the likes of which I have spent a lifetime interpreting, and in most cases, defending to its most precious core.
Recently, the Democratic National Committee refused FOX News’ request to host any of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate debates. This is, of course, the privilege of the DNC, as it can find any outlet to do so, but the reasoning has gone beyond the right-leaning channel’s penchant to be overly critical and sometimes rancorous towards the party and its liberal platform as a matter of principle over coverage. The committee’s chairman, Tom Perez, issued a statement this week that the cable news outlet “is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates.”
DNC Chairman Tom Perez
Now, normally, I would take issue with this. Mainly because words like “fair” are quite subjective and downright arbitrary and don’t belong in a serious political discussion, and the very idea of “neutral” is at worst nebulous and at best lies in the eye of the beholder. Hate speech, liberal or conservative ideas, broad mayhem set beside intellectual exchanges all fall under the right to free speech and a free press. However, it has become increasingly disturbing how much FOX News has acted as a state-run propaganda wing of the White House in the past two years, specifically in the past 14 months. So much so that it must be finally stated that what has become of the already marred FOX News brand over the past decades has reached an untenable level of subjective glad-handing and worse still a direct link to governance. Therefore, it can no longer be looked upon as anything resembling a news source. It is for intents and purposes the kind of bizarro shit you see on YouTube, read on Facebook, or listen to at the end of the bar around 3:15 am—and once again (yikes!) working as an unelected branch of the federal government.
A recent study by New Yorker magazine has fully revealed the length and breadth of the damage FOX News has done to what was already loosely being sold as journalism. The exposé, brilliantly researched and written by respected investigative reporter, Jane Mayer, with a myriad of inside sources, is beyond damning. It lays out a systemic pattern of back-and-forth sharing between Donald Trump and its public employees of information, suggested policy, and agenda formats for U.S. public and international policy, plus a measure of cover-ups on legitimate stories of executive branch crimes, and misleading and/or alternate reality concepts peddled as facts.
It appears when the public elects a product of television—and its shortcuts to reasoning and immediate gratification of response, extrapolated in the concussive mendacity of Twitter and most of the Internet—there are consequences. It appears the choice of this president to use one singular communication tool, positioning itself as “news” to both figure governing techniques and ideologies, and to have those echoed back to him as if a cheerleading squad, then promote fiction as a narrative to have it reported as fact—thus creating new fictions—is both stupid and dangerous.
Now, to be fair (fair?), there is—and the New Yorker is as guilty of this as any—an alternate argument that much of what comes from commentary or coverage on the liberal side has also been peculiar, icky, and oftentimes downright lunacy. I used to watch FOX as my role here dictates to digest all the areas of coverage until I started to experience a dramatic shift in merely defending this president or stretching the credulity of an argument into pretzels as an insult to my intelligence. But, I also watch MSNBC, and can report that while it is the oft-times overly enthusiastic opposition wing of this edict, and it goes beyond the pale in setting up scenarios (much like FOX during the Obama administration) giving hope to the resistance that soon there will be impeachments and all the stuff that riles up the bases on both sides, it has never directly influenced presidential policy. You have to go back to an early 20th Century Randolph Hearst-level of journalistic corruption to equal the well-organized presidential publicity machine FOX has become wherein its hosts and programming—Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and FOX & Friends, which even those within the Donald Trump orbit have admitted the president is both obsessed with and educated by—have crossed the barrier normally set up for purported news organizations.
The most egregious example of this is the recent furor over an emergency at the nation’s southern border, which has been roundly refuted by those actually controlling the border and every other news organization. Again, there are many in the Republican Party and even the White House staff who see the entire episode as classic Trump hyperbole, but by in large has received legitimate “coverage” on FOX News, including the election-period nonsense about invading caravans of “illegal alien” criminals, and the completely made up figures of drug trafficking, et al. Whether the argument about border security is lacking or is fine is up for debate, but a crisis? No. Yet it is covered as such by FOX, which is regurgitating the paranoid musings of a lunatic as a legitimate story. Either way it is not news and therefore cannot be considered a source of news. In the end, it cannot be allowed to do news-like things such as moderate debates.
Bill Sammon, managing editor of FOX News’ Washington bureau, recently referenced poor Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Shepard Smith, and Martha MacCallum as those who “embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism.” This is true in the sense that those are sincere reporters who find themselves besmirched by their affiliation with this clown show. Problem is if they are truly pros they would not only quit FOX, but go on a pilgrimage to stop these embarrassingly pro-Trump-or bust tactics. They can stay if they wish. I shall not. And apparently those not named Donald Trump, who have a choice to be covered by legitimate news outlets, will not either. And who can blame them?
Enough with FOX News.
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James Campion is the Managing Editor of the Reality Check News & Information Desk, and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus, Midnight For Cinderella, Y, Shout It Out Loud—The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon, and Accidently Like a Martyr—The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon.