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October 31, 2003

Media bias

You hear about it all the time from the right wingers. Imagine how they would have howled if it had turned out that Howell Raines had, during his tenure at the New York Times, actually issued a daily morning memo instructing his staff how various stories should be spun to best fit his prejudices.

Well, it turns out thatís exactly what Fox News has been doing, according to a letter on Romenesko. Certainly we can expect those same champions of objective media to roar with outrage about this, right?

Well, probably not.

My advice to the pundits: If you really want to know about bias at Fox, talk to the grunts who work there - the desk assistants, tape editors, writers, researchers and assorted producers who have to deal with it every day. Ask enough of them what goes on, promise them anonymity, and you'll get the real story.

The fact is, daily life at FNC is all about management politics. I say this having served six years there - as producer of the media criticism show, News Watch, as a writer/producer of specials and (for the last year of my stay) as a newsroom copy editor. Not once in the 20+ years I had worked in broadcast journalism prior to Fox - including lengthy stays at The Associated Press, CBS Radio and ABC/Good Morning America - did I feel any pressure to toe a management line. But at Fox, if my boss wasn't warning me to "be careful" how I handled the writing of a special about Ronald Reagan ("You know how Roger [Fox News Chairman Ailes] feels about him."), he was telling me how the environmental special I was to produce should lean ("You can give both sides, but make sure the pro-environmentalists don't get the last word.")

Editorially, the FNC newsroom is under the constant control and vigilance of management. The pressure ranges from subtle to direct. First of all, it's a news network run by one of the most high-profile political operatives of recent times. Everyone there understands that FNC is, to a large extent, "Roger's Revenge" - against what he considers a liberal, pro-Democrat media establishment that has shunned him for decades. For the staffers, many of whom are too young to have come up through the ranks of objective journalism, and all of whom are non-union, with no protections regarding what they can be made to do, there is undue motivation to please the big boss.


But the roots of FNC's day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. They come in the form of an executive memo distributed electronically each morning, addressing what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how they should be covered. To the newsroom personnel responsible for the channel's daytime programming, The Memo is the bible. If, on any given day, you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it.

The Memo was born with the Bush administration, early in 2001, and, intentionally or not, has ensured that the administration's point of view consistently comes across on FNC. This year, of course, the war in Iraq became a constant subject of The Memo. But along with the obvious - information on who is where and what they'll be covering - there have been subtle hints as to the tone of the anchors' copy. For instance, from the March 20th memo: "There is something utterly incomprehensible about Kofi Annan's remarks in which he allows that his thoughts are 'with the Iraqi people.' One could ask where those thoughts were during the 23 years Saddam Hussein was brutalizing those same Iraqis. Food for thought." Can there be any doubt that the memo was offering not only "food for thought," but a direction for the FNC writers and anchors to go? Especially after describing the U.N. Secretary General's remarks as "utterly incomprehensible"?

The sad truth is, such subtlety is often all it takes to send Fox's newsroom personnel into action - or inaction, as the case may be. One day this past spring, just after the U.S. invaded Iraq, The Memo warned us that anti-war protesters would be "whining" about U.S. bombs killing Iraqi civilians, and suggested they could tell that to the families of American soldiers dying there. Editing copy that morning, I was not surprised when an eager young producer killed a correspondent's report on the day's fighting - simply because it included a brief shot of children in an Iraqi hospital.

These are not isolated incidents at Fox News Channel, where virtually no one of authority in the newsroom makes a move unmeasured against management's politics, actual or perceived. At the Fair and Balanced network, everyone knows management's point of view, and, in case they're not sure how to get it on air, The Memo is there to remind them.

In the unlikely event that I have any moles within the bowels of Fox, they should certainly feel free to leak a few of the morning memos to this site.


October 30, 2003

It's official

Via email from the man himself, the word has been delivered: Neal Pollack is declaring Tuesday "Luskin is a stalker" day. Details to come. And don't forget to watch him (Neal, that is) on the Daily Show tonight.

Update: "LIAS" day cancelled, at request of Atrios.


October 29, 2003


What a wanker.

Is Neal Pollack back from his tour yet? I think this calls for his patented brand of rabble rousing. "Donald Luskin" day, anyone?

Update: Atrios has a roundup of responses. I believe what we are witnessing here is Luskin's meltdown, the moment at which he becomes a laughingstock even to those inclined to agree with him. It's the sound of one man's credibility flushing down a toilet.

He has, in short, just made a motorcycle jump over a shark tank.

Update: a reader informs me that Fonzie actually made a water ski jump over the infamous shark tank. And Neal Pollack emails to let me know that he's still on tour, but will try to post something next week. And speaking of Neal, he says he'll be on the Daily Show tonight.

Update two: Neal suggests next Tuesday be declared "Luskin is a stalker" day on the blogs. I know some other bloggers are pushing for tomorrow. Is there any consensus on this? (Or maybe, when you think about it, every day is "Luskin is a stalker" day...)


October 28, 2003


I hope none of you were so naive as to believe the Liar-in-Chief when he claimed that that "Mission Accomplished" banner was just something put up by the sailors, and the administration had nothing to do with it. I hope you're intelligent enough to understand that the Liar-in-Chief doesn't friggin sneeze without Karl Rove focus-grouping it.

Bush Disavows Mission Accomplished Banner

WASHINGTON - Six months after he spoke on an aircraft carrier deck under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," President Bush disavowed any connection with the war message.

MSNBC's Buchanan and Press...

BILL PRESS: Bush said...the crew of the ship put that sign up. Now we find out the White House has just confirmed, we just got this handed to us...Senior Navy officials now confirm the sign was in fact produced by the White House.

Via MWO.

Morning afterthought: actually "focus grouping" isn't quite right. It's more about their obsessive attention to stagecraft. I mean, these people turned the aircraft carrier around in order to get the best light for Bush's speech. If you believe they just let the sailors hang up some banner without vetting it ten ways from Sunday, well, it brings us back to the proverbial bridge for sale.

I don't do comments

An alert reader informs me that some piece of shit is signing my (pen) name to comments on other blog message boards. It's not me, kids. You see my name, pen or otherwise, on somebody's board, it just means some asshole is playing games.


October 27, 2003

Dear god

I'm still recovering from the trip and trying to catch up on work and so on, but I wanted to post this in case you haven't seen it yet.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Car bombers struck the international Red Cross headquarters and three police stations across Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 200 in a spree of destruction that terrorized the Iraqi capital on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The string of bombings, all within less than an hour, was the bloodiest attack yet in the city of 5 million by insurgents targeting the American-led occupation and those perceived as working with it. It also appeared like a dramatic escalation in tactics ó in past weeks, bombers have carried out heavy suicide bombings, but in single strikes.

Bring it on, indeed.


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