FOX in the media hen house

Posted: Nov 04, 2003 12:00 AM

Liberals may think they've found their Bernard Goldberg, the former CBS News correspondent who is making himself a good living, writing books about what he perceived as bias at CBS.

He is Charlie Reina, who, until last April, worked as a writer and producer of two shows at the Fox News Channel. The shows he produced were mine, "After Hours," and "Fox News Watch," on which I appear as a panelist.

Last week, Reina, a self-professed liberal, did a "Goldberg" when he posted a memo to Romenesko on the Poynter media Web site, alleging that higher-ups at Fox compose a daily memo to the staff, ordering them to slant news coverage to the right.

The Reina memo will be the left's smoking gun, "proving" what they have always believed - that Fox is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bush administration and that it deliberately colors the news (to borrow from a popular media critique book) to suit its own biases.

If the "mainstream media" understood why Fox, in just seven years, has risen so quickly to eclipse once-dominant CNN among cable channels, Fox would never have been born.

In 1996, at the Republican National Convention in San Diego, I met with CBS News President Andrew Heyward. I told him that the networks had ignored a major demographic (conservatives) and that the first network to pay attention to them would reap a ratings bonanza. I said conservatives believed their views were rarely acknowledged, and when they were, they were usually stereotyped or twisted in ways that were inaccurate and offensive. If he would hire someone with views like mine, I said, he would attract conservatives and boost ratings. He listened politely but did nothing.

I delivered similar speeches to other network presidents with the same results.

Along came Fox, and the disaffected became loyal viewers. Only Fox treats patriotism as something other than a sickness. Only Fox thinks America is a better country than its critics say. Only Fox thinks capitalism is good and not something for which an apology is necessary. Only Fox sees the world in tones other than moral equivalency.

The Reina memo says Fox executives suggest story angles. That isn't necessarily bad, because reporters, editors and producers must be reminded that Fox News is often the "other side," giving perspective ignored by the other networks. Fox employs many liberals, whose numbers probably are greater than the number of conservatives employed by CNN and the other networks. A liberal producer of one of Fox' top-rated shows told me last week that at another network where she worked, no memo from management on story coverage was necessary "because we all thought alike."

In an interview for the Oct. 27 issue of Broadcasting and Cable Magazine (which named him "Journalist of the Year "), Fox News Channel President Roger Ailes explains that Fox has succeeded because the network listens to the people. He rightly points out the arrogance of many journalists who, he says, talk down to, rather than to, the audience. Ailes adds, "The concept that the journalists are totally objective is crazy. They have friends. They have an education. They've gone to some school where some professor spun their brain out. They've got a view of life. They've got history. They've got parents. They've got people they like and socialize with. They have a view based on their experience. And they bring all that to journalism."

Ailes says there are no pro-life women working in any New York newsroom. Can a story on abortion be covered fairly by people with a singular world view? It's possible, but given the history of reporting on this subject it doesn't happen often.

There is no secret to Fox' success. The other networks remain in denial because they can't cope with bias the size of a log in their own eyes, so they criticize the ideological speck in Fox' eye.

A CBS producer called me last week, asking if I would come on the network and contribute commentary. I told him that while I was grateful for the invitation, my contract with Fox News Channel was for the exclusive use of my services. Besides, he is seven years too late.