I blogged recently concerning the attack from the Right on the media. See Freedom of the Press, where I wrote:
“Mainstream media is also under attack… from a coordinated campaign financed by right-wing moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, funding media news centers to disseminate disinformation. Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing radio talk shows, among others, have created and disseminated ‘news’ from an alternate reality – one divorced from science, or responsible reporting, where concocted conspiracies concerning Obama’s birth certificate, and treasonous wrongdoing at Benghazi, and undocumented felonies relating to emails of a Democratic candidate for President dominate the agenda…. Obviously wide-spread disinformation – slanted for political purposes – undermines the goal of an intelligent and informed electorate every bit as much as does direct information suppression.”
Now Eric Alterman, in an opinion piece in June 19/26, The Nation, “The Witch is Dead“, reviews that attack from a different perspective, reviewing the impact of Roger Ailes, the recently deceased “media mastermind” at Fox News. Alterman’s piece is important because the devil, in this case Ailes, is in the details and because policy and context cannot be divorced from those involved.
By creating a propaganda channel under the guise of ‘fair and balanced’ news, and then using it to undermine the very idea of truth—all in the service of racism and sexism—Ailes, with Rupert Murdoch’s backing, paved a path for a whole host of faux ‘journalists’ and right-wing demagogues to do the same. Inside the headquarters of Fox News, he fostered a culture of sexual intimidation and racial animosity, one that was reflected on the air as well. Had Ailes not spent two decades tearing down the journalistic safeguards that were supposed to defend our country against just such demagoguery, it is impossible to imagine that a pathologically dishonest, egomaniacal, racist, sexually predatory huckster like Donald Trump could ever have been elected president of the United States.”
And Alterman further on :
But Ailes didn’t do it alone: He was empowered by everyone he worked with at Fox. Nobody who stayed there long enough to realize what was going on without quitting deserves to call himself or herself a ‘journalist.’ Ailes certainly received his share of criticism in the wake of his comeuppance and recent death. But what about all the people who made excuses for him before the wave of sexual-harassment lawsuits and reports of secret payoffs turned him radioactive? What about the Fox executives, past and present, who enabled his sexual terrorism? What about the liars who did his bidding on the air? What about the so-called ‘mainstream media’ members who adopted Ailes’s lies as truth and even defended Fox when others tried to expose it—and him?”
Clearly nothing is more toxic to real news than the ratings success enjoyed by Ailes and Fox, success that totally undermined a straight media concerned about journalistic standards, ethics, and content. Alterman again, “All the more alarming, then, that Ailes was the most powerful and influential person in American politics and media. Former NBC News president Neal Shapiro reflected after Ailes’s death that, whenever some piece of breaking news came up, ‘Other newsrooms always wondered: How will Fox play this?’ Sure, Fox’s ratings are in the toilet now, but the rest of cable news looks like an army of Ailes’s monsters. CNN is constantly imitating Fox, while MSNBC is hiring away its ‘talent.'”
Alterman does not address the problem of how to remedy the damages Ailes created. I note in my blog. Freedom of the Press, that Ailes enabler Rupert Murdoch and the bent media were unleashed when the Federal Communications Commission eviscerated the Fairness Doctrine, and when rules restricting the consolidation of media ownership were removed. Finding the right rules is a balancing act – protecting investigative journalism and public interest debate while skirting the ever-present danger of censorship or propaganda by the government and the media oligarchs. What we do know, from recent events, is that the appropriate balance has been lost and that it is time for reform.
(Please note that the Alterman article is presented under a different title online.)