News at Fox News?

October 19, 2009 5:05 p.m.

Earlier this evening I watched a segment on the Newshour about the now-open feud between the Obama White House and Fox News. The segment ran a quote from a Fox News exec who took the White House to task for not distinguishing between Fox’s talk shows — which lean heavily right — and its straight news which supposedly adheres to traditional standards of fairness, objectivity and editorial integrity. What surprised me is that the host and the guests seemed, at least implicitly, to grant this distinction.

At TPM we have all the cable channels running through the day in our news room. So I think we collectively can count ourselves as experts at cable news watching — admittedly a rather dubious honor. And the whole point of Fox is that no distinction exists.

I’m sure there are legit, ethical journalists in the organization (in fact, I’ve known several of them. And God help them.) And there are standouts like Shep Smith who goes off the reservation with some regularity. But as a product the straight news is almost more the stuff of parody than the talk shows which are at least more or less straightforward about what they are.

As we know, MSNBC has now made a big push to refashion itself as a liberal or perhaps just non-hard-right-wing alternative to Fox. But the distinction between the two operations becomes clear whenever you watch ‘news’ on MSNBC as opposed to Maddow, Olbermann or Ed.

If you actually watch Fox News with any regularity it’s hard to see any point to discussing the fact that the station operates more or less openly as a wing of the GOP. The more interesting question is whether and (I would say) how news organizations with strong editorial viewpoints can maintain the highest standards of journalistic integrity, fairness and reportorial excellence. That’s a critical question for journalism today because in many ways that is the direction much if not all reportage is going. But it’s a conversation Fox isn’t even a part of except as the paradigmatic example of how it’s not done.

As business, a thing of genius. As journalism, really?

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