Carr and Oates: A Writer/Journalist's View of Fox News

Tuesday, July 08, 2008 at 08:48 PM

Everybody who doesn't have one of those little mind control devices makes fun of Fox News, and, IMHO, rightly so. But what is it like to be a journalist forced to deal with this devil child of good old Rupert Grrdock? Or to be a serious thinking person who suddenly gorges herself on Tripe Central?

Two pretty good writers, David Carr of the NY Times and Joyce Carol Oates of literary fame, recently offered up two takes on this.

Carr wrote a column on what life is like when you're a journalist who has a story that is about Fox. And read "about" as expansively as you can, since the old Unfair & Unbalanced folks apparently take any mention of themselves as seriously as a hypochondriac takes a tingling in the groin.

According to Carr:

  • There is "scorched earth" between Fox News and those who cover it, to a degree that can't be explained simply by the fact that media reporting about other media’s approach to producing media is a pretty confusing business in which feelings are prone to get hurt.
  • Fox News and its public relations apparatus have waged a permanent campaign on behalf of the channel that borrows its methodology from his days as a senior political adviser to Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, with Fox's media relations "a kind of rolling opposition research operation intended to keep reporters in line by feeding and sometimes maiming them. Shooting the occasional messenger is baked right into the process."
  • The Fox strategy of constant attack generally convinces many reporters that it's simply easier not to write about Fox (Carr himself admits he "choked a few times at the keyboard when Fox News has come up in a story and it was not absolutely critical to the matter at hand").
  • Ailes and Brian Lewis, his longtime head of public relations, act as if every organization that covers them is a potential threat and, in the process, have probably made it far more likely.
  • As CNN has gained ground on Fox during this election year, Fox News has become more prone to lashing out ("fun is fun, but it is getting uglier by the day out there).
  • While writing a story which acknowledged that while CNN was using a dynamic election to push Fox News from behind, Fox was still No. 1, NYT writer Jacques Steinberg repeatedly called the public relations people at Fox News, who did not return his requests for comment at the same time they were e-mailing Steinberg's boss asking why they had not heard from him.
  • Fox then used altered photos of both Steinberg and his boss during the Fox attack response to the story on "Fox and Friends."
  • A Fox spokeswoman told Carr that "altering photos for humorous effect is a common practice on cable news stations."
  • Brian Lewis of Fox told Carr that members of his staff were not in the business of altering photos (but had no control over stories that appeared on “Fox and Friends” or other shows), called Carr's suggestion that there was something anti-Semitic about the depiction of Steinberg “vile and untrue," and denied that his staff had threatened one of Carr's colleagues or planted private information about him on blogs.
  • Reporters to whom Carr spoke said they have received e-mail messages from Fox News public relations staff that contained doctored photos, anonymous quotes and nasty items about competitors, and two former Fox employees said that they had participated in precisely those kinds of activities but had signed confidentiality agreements and could not say so on the record
News as campaign hardball. And yet some commentators profess amazement at how popular Keith Olbermann has become, and how quickly. That's hardly a mystery. He was the first serious television reporter/personality to treat Fox (& friends) as what they are.

Then there's Joyce Carol Oates, who recently wrote a novel based loosely on the JonBenet Ramsey case and which focuses on the "tabloid" experience in America. In an interview for, she says that as part of her preparation she "immersed herself in a steady diet of Fox News." She says:

I had the whole Fox News syndrome...I was watching Fox News while I wrote the novel, watching Bill O'Reilly. I do come from a Christian background and the Christianity on Fox News is just used for political purposes, it's so transparent. Bill O'Reilly always used to say 'secular progressive' for left wing. Secular progressive sounds pretty good to me! Fox News? I call it Hawk News. I don't watch that anymore. I just can't even look at it now.
Yet this is the channel that Dick Cheney allegedly requires that hotels turn his in-room tv to before he arrives.

Can you say "inmates running the asylum?" Running it right into the ground.