Seeing FOX for What It Is:Â News Corp donations mandate reevaluating the networkâ€™s role
ByÂ Zachary Roth
From Columbia Journalism Review
Will this week mark the beginning of a new phase in the way that Fox News is perceived by the rest of the media, and perhaps ultimately the public too? As surprising as that sounds, it seems plausible.
Politicoâ€™s Ben SmithÂ reported yesterday that News Corporation, Foxâ€™s parent company, had donated $1 million to the Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby thatâ€™s shaping up as the single most important outside backer of Republican candidates this election cycle. That news came on the heels of another $1 million contribution by News Corp., this one to the Republican Governors Association.
Until now, the rest of the media has largely treated Fox News as one of its own. When the issue of Foxâ€™s ideological agenda has periodically come to the surfaceâ€”generally when the Obama White House has decided to make an issue of itâ€”other reporters, particularly those in the Washington press corps, have tended to come to Foxâ€™s defense. Theyâ€™ve pointed out that Major Garrett, until August the networkâ€™s White House correspondent, is fair, and that itâ€™s unseemly and (the biggest dodge of all) politically unwise, for the White House to go after the press. And mainstream print outlets likeÂ The New York Times,Â The Washington Post, and the Associated Press still canâ€™t bring themselves to flatly refer to Foxâ€™s ideological agenda, instead relying on versions of the tried-and-true â€œcritics say,â€ formulation.
But in giving $2 million to GOP-affiliated groups this cycle, Fox has largely dropped the pretense (and yes, other companies, like GE, that own big media outlets have made political contributions before, but not on anything like this scale.)*
So will the rest of the media now feel emboldened to do the same?
The early indicators are encouraging. Even before news of the donation to the Chamber surfaced, theÂ Los Angeles Timesâ€™s James Raineyâ€”a columnist rather than a straight reporter, admittedlyâ€”wrote Wednesday of a â€œnew orderâ€ in which â€œFoxâ€™s supposed news personalitiesâ€”not just its prime-time opinion makersâ€”routinely pound away at conservative talking points.â€ And Politicoâ€™s Smith, pivoting off Rainey,Â called on reporters to cover Fox â€œas the political actors they often are,â€ adding: â€œreporters donâ€™t have to take Fox at its word on its own â€˜balanceâ€™ any more than we have to take a politician at his word.â€
Whether the rest of the media follows Smithâ€™s advice is perhaps the key question going forward. Wringing oneâ€™s hands at the decline of â€œobjectiveâ€ journalism misses the point, because Fox can and will continue to do what it wants. Whatâ€™s important, if only for the sake of simple accuracy, is simply that Fox comes to be seen for what it is. And itâ€™s at least possible that this weekâ€™s news will start to make that happen.
UPDATE, 2:20 PM: This sentence article originally suggested that Fox had given money directly to the Republican party. The text has been changed.