In his May 5 column, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller noted that the "Fox News Primary probably did more to nominate Mitt Romney than New Hampshire or Michigan" and that despite the "acid rain of criminal charges" against News Corp. for its recent scandals, "at least for Americans -- Fox News is Murdoch's most toxic legacy":
In this beleaguered family of news enterprises, Fox is the good son. It is the most reliable profit center, expected to net a billion dollars this fiscal year. It is untainted so far by the metastasizing scandals. It is a source of political influence more durable than Murdoch's serial romances with British prime ministers. This year the Fox News Primary probably did more to nominate Mitt Romney than New Hampshire or Michigan.
And yet I would argue that -- at least for Americans -- Fox News is Murdoch's most toxic legacy.
My complaint is that Fox pretends very hard to be something it is not, and in the process contributes to the corrosive cynicism that has polarized our public discourse.
I doubt that people at Fox News really believe their programming is "fair and balanced" -- that's just a slogan for the suckers -- but they probably are convinced that what they have created is the conservative counterweight to a media elite long marinated in liberal bias. They believe that they are doing exactly what other serious news organizations do; they just do it for an audience that had been left out before Fox came along.
But we try to live by a code, a discipline, that tells us to set aside our personal biases, to test not only facts but the way they add up, to seek out the dissenters and let them make their best case, to show our work. We write unsparing articles about public figures of every stripe -- even, sometimes, about ourselves. When we screw up -- and we do -- we are obliged to own up to our mistakes and correct them.
Fox does not live by that code. (Especially the last part. In a speech at the University of North Carolina last month, [Fox News chairman Roger] Ailes boasted, "In 15 years, we have never taken a story down because we got it wrong." Gosh, even the pope only claims to be infallible on special occasions.) For a salient point of reference, compare Fox's soft-pedaling of the Murdoch troubles with the far more prominent coverage in The Wall Street Journal, which has managed under Murdoch's ownership to retain its serious-journalism DNA.
Keller went on to ask if "anyone [could] imagine Fox airing an unloaded profile of anyone left of center."