MSNBC's Countdown, Abrams Report ask: Would FOX have been as forgiving?

››› ››› AVI ZOLLMAN

On October 1, the FOX News Channel website displayed a fake news article written by chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, in which the veteran reporter included fabricated quotes of Senator John Kerry saying at a Tampa rally, "Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? ... I do manicures," and describing himself as a "metrosexual" in contrast with "cowboy" President George W. Bush. FOX News Channel subsequently retracted the article and apologized for it. The controversy has caught the attention of other cable news channels: On October 4, CNBC's Capital Report, CNN's Crossfire, and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Abrams Report addressed the story.

Capital Report co-host Alan Murray read aloud from the fake article and then asked his guests, "That's pretty inappropriate, isn't it?" They responded:

TIM GRAHAM (Media Research Center's director of media analysis): Well, it's wrong. You don't make up quotes. And, you know, maybe if we can try to say somehow that the Republicans made Dan Rather's problem, maybe we can say David Brock fed that into the FOX News website to make FOX News look bad.

MICHAEL WOLFF (Vanity Fair media columnist): Or you can just say -- you can just say it's funny, which it is. I mean -- although FOX seems to have a little obsession with manicures. But otherwise, it does seem funny to me.

On Crossfire, co-host Paul Begala recounted Cameron's story, concluding:

Trouble is, John Kerry never said any of those things. FOX made them up. But while right-wingers are calling for Dan Rather's head, no one is demanding that FOX fire Carl Cameron, the journalist who wrote the phony Kerry quotes as a joke that just got taken a little too far. Nor, may I say, should they. Carl Cameron is an excellent journalist. He just made a mistake. Dan Rather's an excellent journalist. He made a mistake, too. Both men owned up to it. They quickly apologized for their mistakes, which is a lot more than I can say that [President] George W. Bush ever did.

MSNBC gave the story substantive treatment, with Countdown host Olbermann citing another flawed FOX story before interviewing a media expert, Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television, about the controversy:

OLBERMANN: FOX was just getting back on its feet when another political correspondent, Jane Roh, filed a report about a parody group called Communists for Kerry. One problem -- she forgot to mention it was a parody, and she forgot to mention the group was actually pro-Bush.

FOX's response to that: Roh was duped. She actually believed the folks were serious. The "Faux News" stories got some media attention, but not a fraction of the CBS Killian memos saga. Is that appropriate? Or is there a political bias there or what?

[...]

THOMPSON: Could you imagine if Jennings or Brokaw or, heaven forbid, Rather had put this on one of their respective websites?

And, you know, there should be a hue and cry about this. Even though it was a silly story, even though it was relatively easy to find out -- or to realize that it was fake -- let's remember that Rather, in fact, put something on from a source that due diligence was not done upon.

Here you've got a guy who made up the quotes, put them in there. And I don't care how it got on the air, that stuff shouldn't be happening. Those kinds of things shouldn't be being written in the newsroom and put in places where they can get on to the website.

I think the people at CBS were responsible for that. Heads ought to roll. I think the same thing ought to happen over at FOX News.

On The Abrams Report, anchor Dan Abrams accepted FOX News Channel's explanation while asking whether the network would be as generous if one of its competitors had made the error:

ABRAMS: My "Closing Argument": Why FOX News and one of its reporters deserve a break. A lot of you writing in about FOX mistakenly posting an article on its website by the political reporter Carl Cameron with made-up quotes from Senator Kerry after the debate. Jokingly, Cameron claimed Kerry had said, "Didn't my cuticles look great" and "It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me. I do manicures." And the whopper: "I'm metrosexual. He's a cowboy."

FOX News removed the article and issued an apology saying it had been written in jest. It -- quote -- "should not have been posted or broadcast and it only made it on the website, they said, as a result of -- quote -- "fatigue and bad judgment, not malice." I believe that.

Now some of you saying it shows FOX's true colors, so to speak. That this is evidence that they're out to get Kerry. Whether they are or not, this doesn't prove anything. Reporters mock candidates all the time. They just don't usually get published. My concern is not about what Cameron wrote but about what may be a double standard. If a CNN reporter or a reporter for any other broadcast network, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, jokingly wrote mocking quotes of President Bush, come on, FOX would have wall-to-wall coverage of how this demonstrates liberal bias.

As I've said in the context of other media scandals, it is not always about bias. Sometimes it is just in FOX's words, bad judgment, not malice. I know a lot of people want to assume the worst, but mistakes happen, and when they do, it doesn't necessarily mean it was based on bias. It just may mean that the reporter is human.

On this one I give Carl Cameron the benefit of any doubt. I just wonder whether his network would do the same for me or anyone else.

In the wake of FOX News Channel's error, senior vice president John Moody distributed a memo describing Cameron's article as "stupid parody." The memo enumerated changes in internal policies: "First, and immediately, the scripts queue is OFF LIMITS for editorial use until the item has been broadcast or the script is approved for use. Second, the use of scripts queue for humor, sarcasm, parody or other unprofessional conduct is strictly forbidden. Failure to follow this directive is a dismissable offense."

Stories/Interests
Media Ethics, 2004 Elections
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