A little over a week ago, Fox News sponsored a rally in Washington, D.C. to vent their bitterness over having lost the election last year to a black man. The 9/12 Tea Party Project was conceived and promoted entirely by Fox televangelist Glenn Beck, and for six months it was peddled to his viewers with the help of just about every other personality on the network. The whole affair could have had a Fox logo stamped on the bottom.
Then, a few days ago, Media Matters posted a video showing a Fox News producer stage managing a live event at the Tea Party by whipping up the crowd to cheer for correspondent and ambusher, Griff Jenkins. It was an obvious violation of journalistic ethics caught on videotape, but I had no intention of writing about it because it seemed a rather insignificant incident for a network that had fabricated an entire rally. Jenkins’ reporting (and everything of Fox News) was already drenched with bias before this producer sought to manufacture the crowd response.
But now, in the aftermath of that embarrassing display, Fox News VP and Washington Managing Editor, Bill Sammon, has issued a memo on the subject of “standards” that raises the bar for irony:
For those of us who have only been at Fox for a relatively short period of time, it’s useful to remind ourselves that, as journalists, we must always be careful to cover the story without becoming part of the story. At news events, we’re supposed to function as dispassionate observers, not active participants. We are there to chronicle the news, not create it.
That means we ask questions in a fair, impartial manner. When approaching interviewees, we identify ourselves, by both name and news organization, up front. We seek out a variety of voices and views. We take note of the scene in order to bring color and context to our viewers.
We do not cheerlead for one cause or another. We do not rile up a crowd. If a crowd happens to be boisterous when we show it on TV, so be it. If it happens to be quiet, that’s fine, too. It’s not our job to affect the crowd’s behavior one way or the other. Again, we’re journalists, not participants – and certainly not performers.
Indeed, any effort to affect the crowd’s behavior only serves to undermine our legitimate journalistic role as detached eyewitnesses. Remember, our viewers are counting on us to be honest brokers when it comes to reporting – not altering -the important events of the day. That is nothing less than a sacred trust. We must always take pains to preserve that trust.
The fact that Sammon finds it necessary to remind his colleagues that journalists do not create the news is pretty sad to begin with. But it’s all the more astonishing when Fox News is presently plastering its air with reports about ACORN by James O’Keefe who explicitly states that…
“I’m not just reporting on something, I’m becoming something I’m reporting on.”
Sammon is being disingenuous and dishonest by pretending that he is interested in dispassionate observations. His pathetic admonitions sound like a scolding to the staff of a junior high school newspaper. His own appearances on Fox News are littered with prejudice and intended to sway the opinion of the audience. His confirmed partisanship is revealed in his reporting as well as the collection of books he has written.
The fallacy that Sammon is perpetuating that Fox News is either fair or balanced is beyond a joke. They do not seek out a variety of voices and views. They routinely cheerlead for one cause. It’s impossible for them to undermine their legitimate journalistic role because that would presuppose they were legitimate. What’s more, the last thing their viewers are counting on is for them to be honest brokers. To the contrary, their viewers are counting on them to provide the non-stop partisan propaganda that feeds their paranoia and rage. That’s the only sacred trust Fox News seeks to preserve.