Tag Archives: Fox News

In Fox News We Trust — Should Walter Cronkite be rolling over in his grave?

The bad news for liberals and progressives arrived via a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University: Fox News was the news source among broadcast and cable networks Americans trusted most.

Fox beat all networks handily, garnering 29 percent as “most trustworthy” among the 1,286 registered voters called between February 26 and March 2. CNN took second place with 22 percent, CBS and NBC tied at distant third with 10 percent each, ABC followed with 8 percent and forward-leaning MSNBC was at the back of the pack with 7 percent.

The Washington Post was aghast that “for millions of Americans Fox News is the mainstream media.” Liberal blogs found the poll results “terrifying” and bemoaned the fact that the conservative network, a “Murdoch-owned scream machine” to one blogspot, had become a “ratings juggernaut.”

Should Walter Cronkite, icon of liberal or mainstream broadcast news during the 1960 and ’70s, be turning over in his grave?

Not too often. A Gallup poll conducted in late 2014 revealed that 60 percent of Americans don’t trust all news media; other recent polls have told us that “America’s confidence in news media remains low.”

But follow-up questions are rarely asked in these polls. We don’t discover if confidence was ever high, when that was, and why confidence diminished or disappeared.

The Quinnipiac poll takes a perfunctory shot at asking and gives the following results: 48 percent of voters interviewed say that the information presented on television news is “less newsworthy” than in the heyday of broadcast news, only 7 percent consider it “more trustworthy” and 35 percent consider it “about the same.”

Almost the same percentage (42 percent) is saying that the news presented on Cronkite at CBS or Huntley-Brinkley on NBC was more than or as “newsworthy” as the 48 percent who consider the news on television today “less newsworthy.”

That could be because the half hour Cronkite and others had available then rarely featured celebrity scandals or tales of crime the full hour allotted to Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow permits to titillate viewers. Cronkite did not compete with the National Enquirer or PEOPLE Magazine.

But we do not learn whether or not the respondents in the poll speak from experience, from having watched nightly news on the three networks when they dominated television news, and compare what they remember to the fare on the cable channels today.

Moreover, how much do they know about stories, from political to economic or foreign news, to judge them more or less accurate, as worthy or unworthy of their trust? And, where do they get the information to shape such judgments?

Newspapers and magazines, alas, are not mentioned in these polls, nor are the young people who tend to, as they often inform pollsters, “seek out personal venues for getting information.” A Facebook message from a friend, citing a passage from a blog or comment by another friend, is such a venue, as are late night TV jokes or news as seen by stars of Comedy Central. Entertaining while sneaking in facts works.

Fox News gloated when, on March 9, the Quinnipiac poll crowned it King of Newscasts. Soon after, reports of a major shake-up and realignment at MSNBC were published. Liberals and progressives, after all, still have NPR and three biggies of daily print journalism—the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times—to carry the banner for the Democrats’ agenda and for social reforms.

Yet, they ought to take a look at what Fox News did well to perform so well on the latest poll, and how MSNBC screwed up. Personalities on the screen matter, in a way they of course never did in print or in the old broadcast news business. Edward R. Murrow was not a laugh every three minutes and reported without chatting or shouting. Hectoring, the boys and girls at MSNBC might discover, does not make a conversation.

But there is solace in the really big picture. Another poll revealed that “Americans don’t trust each other.” Only one third of respondents in an Associated Press poll believed that “most people can be trusted.”  As 27-year-old Bart Murawski of Albany, NY, put it: “I’m leery of everybody.”

Including the hosts and talking heads on the news.


GJR book review: Is he what Ailes the media? Writer peels curtain back on Fox News chairman

Roger Ailes: Off Camera
Author: Zev Chafets
Publisher: Penguin Books
Hardcover: $26.95, 258 pages

Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News, is a man the media industry has learned to take seriously, even fear. Though much less well-known to the public than his boss, Rupert Murdoch, his considerable talent and work ethic is responsible for building Fox into the undisputed leader of cable television, leading the cable ratings wars the past 12 years over rivals CNN and MSNBC.

Zev Chafets’ “Roger Ailes: Off Camera” is the story of more than just Ailes’ command of Fox News and its on air-personalities, all of whom Ailes hired since setting up the network with Murdoch’s blessing (and money) 17 years ago. It’s also the tale of a tough small-town boy from Warren, Ohio, a declining factory town in northeastern Ohio. In fact, it is the first third of the book that I found the most compelling, because it explains why Ailes, astute as well as profane, became who he is. Chafets, who had unlimited access to the Fox chairman and others at the network, tells how Ailes got into many fights as a boy (something his working-class father encouraged) despite the fact he has hemophilia, a blood disorder that made bruises not just painful but also potentially fatal.

Chafets also relates how Ailes was devastated upon returning home at Christmas during his freshman year at Ohio University to find his home sold and his belongings discarded. “My mother was what you could call self-absorbed,” Ailes told Chafets in explaining his mother’s decision to leave his father and go West with another man. “She did what suited her.” Still, he remained close to his mother and stepfather, as well as to his natural father, the rest of their lives. Family and small-town values of hard work are paramount in Ailes’ world.

It’s also tale of a man who took advantage of every break he got, from producing the Mike Douglas show for KYW-TV in Cleveland and Philadelphia, where he made key contacts in the entertainment industry, to being a political adviser to Republican presidential campaigns. Ailes has never shied away from political conservatism (he and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh have a long-time professional relationship), yet he also counts liberals such as the Kennedy family and Barbara Walters as among his closest friends. Over the years, Chafets explains, Ailes would combine his political and corporate consulting with television production. He served key political consulting roles for presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Ailes is credited with counseling Reagan, who had looked old and confused in his first debate In the 1984 presidential campaign with Democrat Walter Mondale, to jab back in the second debate. Ailes candidly told the president the country was wondering whether he was past his prime. The result: Reagan came up with the quip, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Reagan won reelection in a landslide.

Chafets also shows what many liberals see as Ailes’ evil genius. In 1988, Chafets says Ailes was “the spine stiffener for the sometimes indecisive Bush,” directing a brilliant ad campaign that painted liberal Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Bush’s Democratic opponent, as soft on crime for furloughing a convicted murderer, Willie Horton. In the early 1990s, as Ailes transitioned out of politics into being a broadcast executive, liberals looked at him warily and have fought back against his tight rein at Fox News, which he took over after a short stint at CNBC.

Most readers, especially Fox News viewers, will find stories behind Ailes’ hiring and relationships with such Fox stars as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly the most compelling part of the book. For example, readers learn how O’Reilly and Hannity, Fox’s biggest stars, don’t speak to one another, although their offices are on the same floor. Chafets also relates a story of the importance Ailes places upon loyalty in explaining his firing of financial analyst Jim Cramer, now with CNBC, for discussing another job opportunity with a Fox rival and being caught publicly criticizing Ailes.

The book is a quick read and is filled with plenty of admiring anecdotes from those who have worked with, or known, Ailes. Those anecdotes, many filled with stories of Ailes’ kindness and dedication, strike me as being the book’s weakest portions, for I suspect many are telling these stories out of a desire to curry favor with the powerful Fox chairman.

Ailes, rotund and balding at age 73, is under no illusion that the reviews will stay positive after he’s dead. He has no intention of retiring, but he says he knows he has at most another decade to live. He plans to write his memoirs and spend as much time as he can with his only child, a son, Zac, who is just entering his teen years. “Right now, everybody thinks I’m the greatest guy in the world,” Ailes says. “The eulogies will be great, but people will be stepping over my body before it gets cold.” The legacy – the founding of a network from scratch devoted to the conservative 50 percent of Americans, and its commercial success under his leadership – will almost certainly remain

Fox sues Carnahan over Fair Use

Fox News’ copyright suit against Robin Carnahan’s campaign may be the first time that a news organization has sued a candidate for use of its copyrighted content, experts say.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the claim is frivolous, lawyers say.

News organizations previously have insisted that campaigns take down ads with copyrighted content.  But experts have not yet found a precedent for the lawsuit that Fox filed a week ago

This suit — like most involving the fair use exception of copyright law — will rise or fall on the particular facts of the campaign’s use of a Fox News broadcast from 2006.

The 32-second ad turns a Chris Wallace interview with former Rep. Roy Blunt into an attack ad against Blunt. The Fox footage runs through most of the ad.  Wallace is asking Blunt whether he is the right person to clean up Washington in light of his connections with lobbyists, such as Jack Abramoff, during his House tenure.

“The burden will be on her (Carnahan) to demonstrate that her ‘use’ of the Fox footage was a ‘fair use’ under the four-factor test outlined in Section 107 of the Federal Copyright Act,” said Laura Hlavach, who teaches copyright as a professor in the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  “That test is exceptionally fact specific.”

One of the four factors is the amount of copyrighted material used in the ad.  This may be Fox’s strongest argument in that almost the entire ad is composed of the Fox footage.

Hlavach pointed out that in 1985 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected First Amendment and fair use arguments made by the Nation magazine when it published 300-plus words of President Gerald Ford’s extensive memoirs.

“Ford’s publisher (Harper & Row) had specific evidence of injury to market value, which would seem to be much harder for Fox to prove here,” wrote Hlavach in an email.  “But I think the Harper & Row case is relevant because the Court seemed rather willing to reject the Nation’s ‘public interest’ arguments.”

As Hlavach suggests, Fox may have a hard time making its case on a key factor in fair use cases, that the Carnahan ad harmed its commercial market for the copyrighted material.  It is unclear there is much of a market for the Wallace clip.

Another factor that a court analyzes in fair use cases is the character of the use.  Uses for the purpose of criticism and education are favored, while those with a commercial character are not.  Fox argues that the purpose is commercial because the ad is used on Carnahan’s Web site adjacent to a plea for campaign funds.  But Hlavach and other lawyers say that solicitations for campaign funds are not generally viewed as commercial.

The other factor in the fair use test is the nature of the copyrighted work.  The fact that this was a news show and is expected to generate commentary on all sides of the spectrum may help Carnahan more than Fox.

One unusual argument that Fox makes is that the ad harms its reputation as an objective news organization.  Experts on copyright law say that reputational harm is not part of copyright.

Ben Scheffner, a lawyer who writes a blog about campaigns and copyright wrote, “The complaint repeatedly emphasizes the alleged reputational damage to Fox for use of the footage. Even assuming that the ad does falsely imply that Fox and/or Wallace are endorsing Democrat Carnahan (a dubious proposition, it seems to me), reputational damage is just not a cognizable copyright interest.”

Slate, in an article critical of the Fox suit, wrote the Fox press release announcing the suit sounded “like a press release for the Blunt campaign.” Slate noted that the Fox network is “owned by a corporation that recently made a $1 million donation to the Republican Governors’ Association and a $10,000 donation to Blunt himself. The lawsuit is another kind of gift.”

In addition to the copyright claim, Fox maintains that the Carnahan ad invaded Chris Wallace’s privacy by using his material for purposes he did not intend, and that Carnahan violated Wallace’s “right of publicity” by using his image in ways that Wallace did not approve.

A celebrity has broad power to control his or her image.  Most journalists are not celebrities, but Wallace may be because of his high profile on Fox and his famous father.

Hlavach noted this theory is in conflict with the general character of a reporter. “Often the ‘right of publicity’ only applies to performers and people who have built up a certain ‘right of publicity’ as a function of business development. It is strangely intriguing to see a news reporter argue a ‘right of publicity.’ So much for being a ‘fly on the wall”’!”

Even a short clip, like the one Carnahan’s campaign used, can qualify as a violation of the right of publicity.  Hlavach pointed to “a TV station that aired the full 15-second acts of a state fair performer (Hugo Zacchini, the “human cannonball”). The Court held that the First Amendment did not prevent Mr. Zacchini from bringing aright of publicity lawsuit against the station,” she wrote.

Carnahan has asked the court to move quickly in the case for fear of chilling political expression.  In its reply, Fox pointed out that Carnahan is continuing to use the ad prominently despite the suit, an act it says “borders on deceitful.”

“Defendant boasts — on its own website — that the Carnahan Ad is still being displayed on television and on the Internet,” Fox claimed. “Thus, it is clear that Defendant has not been deterred — let alone impaired — by the consequences of its tortuous acts.”