I rarely make political posts, but this time I had to make an exception. In fact, this really isn’t a political post at all — it’s a post about critical thinking. I saw this Youtube video which got a few hundred Diggs. The title of the video is Employees Expose FOX NEWS Distortions, and there were scores of comments from people that appeared to agree with the video. I was intrigued, so I watched.
The video starts with Bob McChesney, founder of an organization called Free Press, asserting that Fox has “eliminated journalism.” That’s an interesting premise, and one I was interested to learn more about–after all, Fox’s methods bother me. “There is no journalism at the Fox news channel,” he says.
Next, a collage of video images include Bill O’Reilly, Hannity and Colmes, and others (didn’t recognize everyone–I don’t watch much Fox). The problem? These videos, apparently intended to back up McChesney’s “no journalism” premise, aren’t showing any of Fox’s journalists or news anchors. These are all pundits, commentators, and talk show hosts. These people are not journalists. It’s like complaining about the quality of news in the newspaper, and then pointing to the editorial page as an example. And as outright annoying as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly are, their bully tactics have absolutely nothing to do with any alleged problems with journalism on the network.
At about 1:10, the video directs its energy at proving that Bill O’Reilly lies about not saying “shut up.” Indeed, after O’Reilly asserts he’s only said the phrase once in the history of his show, we’re treated to seven examples of O’Reilly using the phrase. But… why? What does that have to do with the thesis statement “There is no journalism at the Fox news channel” or the title of the video, “Employees Expose FOX NEWS Distortions?” The answer: Nothing.
Then it gets worse. Larry Johnson, a former Fox News correspondent, asserts that some Fox employees “express great reservations” about communicating “almost as if they’re being monitored by a Stalinist system.” It’s hard to know what that really means, given the gushing hyperbole, but the disappointing truth is that:
Many companies monitor employee e-mail.
Most companies expect employees to behave like good corporate shareholders and act in the best interests of the company.
Is it surprising to anyone that Fox would not think kindly of a Fox News booking agent that trash talked her own company?
Around 3:00, an anonymous source tells us that people tried to ruin his career because he didn’t “leave on their terms” and because he refused to sign a confidentiality agreement. Again, I have to ask what this has to do with the statement “There is no journalism at the Fox news channel” or the title of the video, “Employees Expose FOX NEWS Distortions?” Moreover, this assertion is so steeped in undisclosed backstory that it’s valueless. It sounds like the he-said half of an acrimonious divorce.
At 3:35, we get a real shocker: employee activities are “monitored.” I would certainly hope that on-air activities are being monitored! As employees of a news network, how could you possibly expect to not be monitored and evaluated? I had to listen to this section twice to see if I wasn’t being punked. But the source gives no indication that he’s trying to say his cubicle or car is bugged (which is illegal, by the way, and thus, if true would be grounds for the lawsuit of the century). If he did mean that, I’m sure he would have been far more direct in saying so. So all we really get is an utterly obvious and common sense statement presented in a sinister way to make it sound really bad.
At 4:00, we get new a bombshell: Clara Frenk says that she was warned by friends not to work at Fox because “it is a really conservative news network.” I waited for her to say something incriminating, or something we didn’t know. Of course they’re conservative! The only thing I can really take away from this exchange is that Clara–and most of her friends–are liberals. There’s nothing wrong with that. But how is that different from being a somewhat conservative journalist, going to a job interview at Newsweek, and being warned by friends that “you might not want to go there; it’s a very liberal news organization?”
I love one anonymous source at 4:30: “If you don’t go along with the mindset of the hierarchy in New York… you’re history.” Does that make Fox News evil? Lack journalistic ethics? No, it makes their management structure inflexible, anti-collaborative and probably not a lot of fun to work for. If you’re hoping to work there, I suppose, caveat emptor.
Around 4:35, we talk about the memo of the day–and see examples of memos in which Fox executives identify daily news focus themes. Again, there’s nothing unethical about that. Indeed, while a couple of the memos made me somewhat uncomfortable (emphasizing one particular political hot button, like abortion, in the judicial nomination process, for example), others seemed like reasonable memos. Every news organization needs to identify clarifying themes, and I found one memo on the 9-11 commission to be practical guidance for a news organization that needs to know where to direct its energies. Or how about the “damning” memo about one of John Kerry’s speeches: The memo identifies his likely topics, and then (I hope you’re sitting down) suggests covering the beginning of the speech but moving onto other more important news as appropriate. The memo says, “It is not required to take it start to finish.” Keep in mind that speeches like this are rarely, if ever, carried in their entirety (unless you’re watching CSPAN).
Around 7:00 we talk about the network’s “fair and balanced” slogan. (It’s a great marketing campaign, we’re told.) And then we move on to the razzle dazzle of the animated graphics. But by this point, I could go on no further. Where’s the evidence to back up the statement “There is no journalism at the Fox news channel” or the title of the video, “Employees Expose FOX NEWS Distortions?” In the first 7 minutes of this video, I saw a lot of imprecise venom being hurled at Fox, but nothing meaningful. There was virtually nothing at all said about their actual journalistic practices at all, so I doubted any surprisingly coherent arguments would spring up in the video’s final 120 seconds. Which makes this video pointless–and in fact the dude that named the video is the one practicing outright distortion. But that didn’t stop all those folks from dogpiling in the comments section. It’s that kind of non-critical groupthink that depresses me. I think I’ll go take a nap now.