Ever since it became a boil on the face of news gathering, I've been waiting for someone, anyone, to truly and convincingly defend Fox News — Faux News to those of us who defend news gathering as a craft verging on a profession.
I keep waiting and waiting. But at every opportunity the apologists for this sorry operation confirm exactly the point of its detractors: Fox is not driven by the pursuit of truth in the pure sense, that of William Allen White, James Reston and David Halberstam. Fox is interested in the numbers it can harvest by appealing to a culinary crowd that wants its news baked just so.
From a business standpoint, you can't fault it. Indeed, at a time when the news business isn't such good business, you'd be inclined to exalt it. But let's not.
Just as Rush Limbaugh's Arbitrons are used to justify his version of truth telling — you know, let the market decide if a man is a visionary or a circus buffoon — so, too, with Fox News. The ratings don't lie. And neither would Fox. It's all about news. The spin is over there. You know, elsewhere.
It's a fascinating proposition. Only Fox is committed to truth, say its fans, while the networks and the "mainstream media" are a liberal cabal. That kind of statement should cause any rational person to cock an eyebrow.
When I hear that only Fox can be trusted, the needle on my mental polygraph starts to scrawl the name of Edward R. Murrow in my frontal lobe. What a crock. The "only" part is what betrays the crockery. You can object to what ABC does from time to time. You can deride CBS on this or that. You might think the New York Times blew it here or there. But nobody gets it right every time, except apparently Fox News. It's the only news source we can trust, or so I'm told.
Actually, all we can trust it to be is of the slant Rupert Murdoch said it would provide at its inception — an alternative to the liberal media. Slanted, and proud of it, and ringing up the profits because of it.
Barack Obama and his team are calling Fox's hand on this matter. And what is wrong with that? If Fox can call itself a news organization, the White House can call it a partisan propaganda machine. Free speech. Yes? Free association, too. The White House says it will be less inclined to play into Fox's numbers game than it might be in dealing with actual news organizations that didn't get into the news business to play semantics games.
We report; you decide? It depends.
Charles Krauthammer, slamming Obama for what his spokespeople have said about Fox, says that what's at issue is that Fox is one media outlet that's not cowed by him. It's being punished, he says, for holding the president accountable. This argument might hold water if it applied in any sense to the previous administration and the flag lapel-pin legions stirring the pot over at Fox for a war that never would have been waged had the truth been known about its pretexts.
For sure, Fox was not the only entity in parade regalia. The New York Times was used by the Bush administration like few others in history. For too long ABC, NBC and CBS were mute about pre-war claims that turned out to be flotsam. But nobody beat the drum for war like Faux News. So, Mr. Krauthammer. When you say this news organization is the one ("the only one") to challenge the president, you'd better be specific about which president.
I said I keep waiting for defenders to actually offer a defense for Fox News, but they always end up agreeing with the point made by those of us who see it with disdain. At some point, after prosecuting the idea that it really is a news organization and a good one, they invariably end up saying, in effect, " We need Fox, because it gives us what the liberal media won't."
My point. Obama's point. Folks, we know you're watching and listening. Are you listening to yourselves?
John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.