Will John Roberts Drink the 'Fox News Kool-Aid?'

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Anchorman John Roberts' decision to jump from CNN to Fox News has some media observers and critics wondering if he will be able to keep his straight news approach to reporting or be forced to "drink the Kool-Aid" or become "Foxified," as some have put it.

CNN and Fox announced earlier this week that Roberts, recently removed from CNN's morning show, would become an Atlanta-based reporter for Fox News. CNN has said it was in discussions with Roberts to work out of Atlanta, as he had wished, but the Fox deal ended such discussions.

What will the move mean for Roberts and Fox?

"Fox has a well-established framework and everyone who joins Fox becomes a part of that framework," said Eric Deggans, media critic for The St. Petersburg Times. "The question I always have is how much of the Fox Kool-Aid are they going to drink? I think much of that depends on how much of a life do they want to have outside of the Fox life?

"Bill Hemmer is very much a part of that process," he said, citing another former CNN person who has risen to prominence at Fox. "Then you look at some of their reporters. Wendell Goler plays it as down the middle as someone at Fox can do. It is hard for someone to be a high-profile anchor at Fox and not be complicit in the way the channel leans to the right. I assume when anyone high-profile like John Roberts agrees to go work for them, they have already done that deal with the devil in their head.

"Fox's branding and framework and process is so strong that everyone who appears on Fox is subservient to it in one way or another. How do they want to fit into that formula and how far are they willing to do? I think there are very few people who join that operation in a high-profile way who then can leave and be considered a more traditional, down the middle reporter. Even some of the people who are more independent like Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith have still kind of been co-opted in ways that they do have to prove that they are separate from that."

Roberts declined comment to Media Matters, referring request to CNN and Fox.

Joanne Ostrow, Denver Post TV critic, said Roberts needs to be watched to know for sure.

"I don't know what his personal politics are, or his motivation for going there," she said. "You have to wonder if he's somehow content to go along with the regime over there. It helps Fox to have more of these recognized names that come from more mainstream networks.

"He is supposed to be Mr. Journalism. I want to wait and see. I don't know his motivation or his personal politics. It will be interesting if we say a month from now 'yeah, he is drinking the Kool-Aid.'

"They have gone after some good folks, but I don't know if they share their political agenda."

Hub Brown, associate professor in broadcast and digital journalism at The Newhouse School at Syracuse University, said he fears for the future for Roberts.

"He has a great reputation and he is a great professional and I do fear for the future for him a little bit because I have not seen too many people who have gone to Fox and not have had to sort of march to the Fox tune," Brown said. "To his great credit, Shepard Smith has been able to avoid doing that. If he can be in the kind of mold of Shepard Smith that probably helps him and it helps Fox.

"If he becomes a typical Fox anchor, that credibility will go away. Their entire line-up, they basically editorialize from the news desk 24/7. There is no one who can be an objective viewer of news and not see that. It will be interesting to see."

Gail Shister, a former longtime TV critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer and currently at TVNewser.com, said it is up to Roberts.

"I think Fox has made some impressive hires lately, I don't think it will hurt him. I think it is a great get for Fox," she said. "It will not hurt him as long as he does straight reporting."

Robert Bianco of USA Today, meanwhile, said Fox's history with former CNN people does not bode well for Roberts.

"If they have hired him to be a journalist and bolster their journalism credential, than that is a good sign," Bianco said. "If he has gone there for the freedom to express his political opinions, whatever they are, as many reporters seem to do, than that is not a good sign. That has certainly been the pattern, but I would not want to guess that that is what he intends to do.

"I have no problem with any of Fox's talk shows, I think that is where opinion belongs. I do disagree when they insert opinion in what is supposed to be a news show. We have to wait and see if he behaves like a journalist on these shows or like a masked commentator."

Al Tompkins, a Poynter Institute senior faculty member in broadcasting, pointed out that Fox taking another CNN person as it continues to criticize CNN is a bit hypocritical.

"That does force you to wonder how Fox keeps hammering away at CNN, then hiring away some of CNN's higher profile folks," he said. "What they are saying is that it is something about the culture of CNN more than the individual. Fox definitely has a way of being and the people who go there tend to adapt to that way of being pretty quickly.

"It has a much clearer conservative attitude, much more likely to be critical of the administration, not just the administrations actions, but the administration more generally."

He then used the term, Foxified, describing it as: "a much sharper tone and I think it would be right to call it a conservative tone. These folks who have made the move adapt to that voice pretty quickly."

"Others I think have found their Fox voice - there is a pretty discernible difference between a Fox voice and a CNN voice. I would describe the difference as Fox is more conservative, more Republican. I would describe the CNN voice as more neutral. If you go to Fox, you go there knowing that the tone of your reporting will be different than the tone of your reporting at CNN, mostly.

"Fox has more of a Republican and conservative voice and most people seem to adapt to that. The anchors seem to be the ones who set the tone. The anchors have such a larger role.

"He will have to show himself to be valuable to Fox viewers. He'll cover things that they care about in a way that makes sense to them. The tone you sense of Fox is more anchor induced than reporter induced."

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