I've had a few things to say about the CBS Memo debacle and I've been commenting frequently media issues over on Jay Rosen's Press Think, so I thought I would throw in my 2-cents on the recent embarrasments for Fox News.
Josh Micah Marshall has taken the lead in covering the foulup over at Fox News.
As noted here (Is Fox News literally making stuff up out of whole cloth about John Kerry?), Fox News posted an article with obviously fabricated quotes from Sen. Kerry. I say "obviously fabricated" because you'd have to be pretty dense to believe such quotations were accurate:
Rallying supporters in Tampa Friday, Kerry played up his performance in Thursday night's debate, in which many observers agreed the Massachusetts senator outperformed the president.
"Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!" Kerry said Friday.
With the foreign-policy debate in the history books, Kerry hopes to keep the pressure on and the sense of traction going.
Aides say he will step up attacks on the president in the next few days, and pivot somewhat to the domestic agenda, with a focus on women and abortion rights.
"It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me! I do manicures," Kerry said.
Kerry still trails in actual horse-race polls, but aides say his performance was strong enough to rally his base and further appeal to voters ready for a change.
"I'm metrosexual he's a cowboy," the Democratic candidate said of himself and his opponent.
A "metrosexual" is defined as an urbane male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.
Fox News has since corrected the post with the following statement (Trail Tales: What's That Face?
Earlier Friday, FOXNews.com posted an item purporting to contain quotations from Kerry. The item was based on a reporters partial script that had been written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast. We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice.
The reporter who wrote the false quotes was Carl Cameron, Fox News' chief political correspondent.
Fox News has also issued the following memo to its employees (There was a mini-brouhaha):
PLEASE READ: Last week, we experienced separate lapses of judgment, resulting in the posting, on our website, of inaccurate material.
Credibility is our lifeblood. When we make factual mistakes, we affect adversely all the hard work that we've done for eight years to become the country's leading news channel.
There is enough blame to go around. In last week's incident, a stupid parody of a quote was included in the script queue. It was picked up unthinkingly and included on the website.
For that reason, we are implementing a number of changes: first, and immediately, the scripts queue is OFF LIMITS for editorial use until the item has been broadcast or the script is approved for use. Second, the use of scripts queue for humor, sarcasm, parody or other unprofessional conduct is strictly forbidden.
Failure to follow this directive is a dismissable offense.
Marshall believes this memo "leaves the key issue entirely unstated." He is probably referring to the numerous questions he believes should be followed up on (A Few Questions
). In particular, I suspect he is referring to whether or not Cameron should continue to cover the Kerry campaign.
Frankly, I agree with Marshall, I think that we should know more about why Cameron did what he did and what Fox News' reprimand consists of. Indeed, without a satisfactory explanation (and apology) from Cameron himself, he should probably be suspended from covering the Kerry Campaign, at least until the election. This was a serious lapse of judgement on Cameron's part and a failure in the publication system at Fox News. Based on what is currently known, I'd suspend Cameron for totally unprofessional behavior. Of course, I'm not sure that Marshall and I would fully agree on the reasons for proposing that Cameron be suspended until more is known.
For one, I think we need to cut some slack to reporters for joking about the subjects they cover. If all the reporters who said derogatory things about the candidates and politicians they reported on were taken off the beat, I'm not sure how much political journalism would be left. Indeed, being able to joke at a politician's expense can be a healthy sign of the distance a journalist needs from the subject. I'd worry about a reporter who couldn't laugh at the expense of the subject they covered.
What Marshall seems to be implying is the most heinous offense is that Cameron is biased. However, a joke, even such a puerile one, is not necessarily an indication of bias. It might be that Cameron makes equally crude jokes about both parties. In any case, even if Cameron was biased, what should our response be?
Well, I don't think the response should be the same as those who decry the "liberal media" and have called for Rather's firing because he is biased. All reporters are biased, objectivity is a myth and we should just get over it. What we need is more transparency and skepticism about claims. We need journalists who are rewarded for humble reporting that adheres to the facts and logic, rather than misleading rhetoric. We also need to make sure that, to the extent possible, there aren't gatekeepers for news.
Marshall errs in buying into the whole "bias" debate at all. Arguing about bias isn't going to get us anywhere. The real questions have to do with transparencey and accountability in news organizations given inevitable bias.
As for Fox News being taken by a group called "Communists for Kerry," geez. Seems like a reporter and editor need a trip to the clue factory (More Good Stuff).