Why Fox Is Essential Viewing
The Republican convention brought more evidence of The New York Times’s soft spot for Fox News. On Friday, the paper offered a glowing profile of Carl Cameron, Fox’s chief political correspondent. “Propelled by a boundless enthusiasm for presidential politics, vast quantities of Red Bull (which he carries by the six-pack in his roller suitcase) and nicotine gum (which he admits to chewing `like a fiend’), his days on the campaign trail often runs 20 hours,” Jeremy W. Peters wrote. The article described Cameron’s star status at the convention, his collegiality, his easy access to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign, and his straight shooting. “Fellow journalists say they detect no bias in his reporting,” Peters wrote.
The Cameron profile recalled other complimentary pieces that the Times has periodically run about top Fox figures, like its January 2010 paean to Roger Ailes and its indulgent profile of Glenn Beck in the Times magazine later that year. When the Times is not cosseting Fox, it largely ignores it. In the last few years, it has run very few pieces analyzing Fox’s fiercely partisan coverage and its outsized impact on conservative opinion.
The reason, I think, is clear: fear. Fear of being accused of liberal bias. And fear of being attacked, either on the air or by Fox’s vigilant supporters in the comments section. (Back in the mid-2000s, when Frank Rich was regularly criticizing Fox as “GOP TV,” an irate Bill O’Reilly threatened to “get into” the “lives” of him and then executive editor Bill Keller. O’Reilly’s on-air attacks on Rich so rattled him that he sought security advice.)
The Times’s neglect of Fox is typical. Few major news organizations pay much attention to its programming. And that’s too bad, for Fox is not only a major news network but also a key political actor, and watching it offers a window into both the state of the Republican Party and the conservative movement as a whole. While watching Fox (and listening to conservative talk radio) during the 2008 presidential campaign, I found the commentary on it utterly toxic and, based on it, predicted (in a piece for CJR) that the right would wage a nasty campaign to discredit President Barack Obama. One month into his term, the Tea Party erupted.