FOX chairman Ailes defended his network as "fair and balanced;" Media Matters disagrees

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In a December 19 interview on C-SPAN's Q&A, FOX News Channel chairman and CEO Roger Ailes staunchly defended his network's "very fine journalists" who have "done an excellent job" and "come in every day to try to be fair." Ailes rebuffed questions of FOX News' objectivity, insisting that the "hard news we do is not in question." Ailes also emphasized the "journalistic standards" of the members of FOX News host Brit Hume's Special Report panel. Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances of inaccurate, incomplete, and distorted reporting from FOX's "hard news" reporters, as well as many examples of what Ailes apparently considers to be the "journalistic standards" of Special Report panelists.

Below are excerpts from Ailes' Q&A interview followed by evidence Media Matters has documented that refutes his claims:

"The hard news we do is not in question. ... I think the key is to be accurate."

AILES: There's a lot of ways you can create subtle bias. But the networks for years have mixed these things, and now they're claiming we mix it, when, in fact, [The O'Reilly Factor, hosted by] Bill O'Reilly is a news analysis show, or [On the Record with] Greta [Van Susteren] or somebody else, and the hard news we do is not in question. We haven't retracted a story in eight years.

[...]

I think the key is to be accurate. If you're accurate in your reporting, then fair will follow because it's hard to -- if you're accurate, it's hard to be unfair. So I think that what we try to do is do the news, get to the air as fast as we can, although we would rather be fair than be first. And we're doing pretty well.

Media Matters has documented numerous instances of smears, falsehoods and distortions from FOX News Channel's "hard news" reporters; including chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, who fabricated statements from Senator John Kerry during the 2004 presidential race as part of a "parody" of the Democratic candidate's alleged manicure, and included them in an October 1 "Trail Tales" report on the FOX News Channel website; the article was removed soon afterwards (but an archived version is here). Cameron has also inaccurately reported that President George W. Bush never said "mission accomplished;" spun a speech by Kerry to make it seem like the former Democratic presidential nominee portrayed Bush as a "warmonger;" and misstated facts about Democratic campaign rallies.

Following are examples of other FOX News "hard news" correspondents' and anchors' engaging in falsehoods, distortions and smears:

• Major Garrett, general assignment correspondent, spun the release of the Osama bin Laden video immediately prior to the November 2 election to favor Bush; repeated the false claim that Democrats were perpetrating voter fraud in Philadelphia during the 2004 presidential campaign; miscast Democratic lawyers as eager to legally challenge the results of the November 2 election; and distorted support for Kerry among veterans who served with him.

• Jim Angle, senior White House correspondent, repeated a Washington Times misquote of Kerry, alleging he had supported a pre-emptive war with Iraq in 1997; echoed White House on release of Bush's military records; and presented a misleading explanation of an August, 2004 Congressional Budget Office report to blunt the criticism of Bush's tax cuts.

• Greg Jarrett, anchor, falsely claimed that the House of Representatives implemented the 9-11 Commission's recommendations on intelligence reform in October, 2004; and repeated Republican attacks on the Democratic National Convention, Kerry, and his running mate, Senator John Edwards.

• Brian Wilson, FOX News correspondent, falsely referred to the Democratic Texas district attorney investigating House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (R-TX) ethical violations as "intensely partisan"; and selectively cited polls to suggest Kerry received a negative "bounce" after the Democratic National Convention.

• Trace Gallagher, Los Angeles bureau correspondent, while gushing over Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), wrongly claimed that he had balanced California's budget.

• Chris Wallace, FOX News Sunday host, repeated the Republican talking point that Kerry had been inconsistent on Iraq policy; ridiculed Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, by comparing her to Eva Peron; and drew a misleading comparison between the tonnage of missing high explosives from the Al Qaqaa weapons facility in Iraq and the tonnage of all munitions that had been secured in Iraq.

"Brit doesn't do opinion television. ... [A] hard news show really has to have the facts."

AILES: [FOX News Channel managing editor and chief Washington correspondent] Brit [Hume] doesn't do opinion television during his [show]. [FOX News Channel hosts] Bill [O'Reilly] and Sean [Hannity] do opinions. And I think that's quite clear. So my opinion of something may not be accurate, based on facts, it is my opinion, whereas a hard news show really has to have the facts.

Hume has often run afoul of the facts on his "hard news" program, Special Report with Brit Hume. For example, he claimed that coalition forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; provided false cover for Sinclair Broadcast Group after its decision not to run the anti-Kerry documentary, Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal; lied about Kerry cutting weapons systems to defend cuts made by Vice President Dick Cheney; falsely claimed that Bush actually said that Iraq did not pose an imminent threat; and falsely claimed (along with other FOX personalities) that a school in Cupertino, California, had banned the Declaration of Independence because it mentions God.

"There's an opinion segment at the end of Brit's show, where journalists ... There is a journalistic standard for journalists."

AILES: And so there's an opinion segment at the end of Brit's show, where journalists -- now, we don't mix journalists and spinners, you know. Some shows do that. They'll take [CNN host and columnist] Bob Novak and [CNN and PBS host] Tucker Carlson and put them against two guys who can say they had lunch with Martians. There's no journalistic standard for spinners. There is a journalistic standard for journalists.

Special Report with Brit Hume ends with a daily "All-Star Panel," which regularly features Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke, Washington Post staff writer Jeffrey Birnbaum, and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. Following are examples of their "journalistic standards":

• Fred Barnes selectively cited a Center for Media and Public Affairs study to refute Kerry's post-election accusation that FOX News had launched unwarranted attacks at him, when in fact CMPA findings supported Kerry's charges; falsely asserted that Kerry was against a ban on so-called "partial-birth abortion"; and wrongly denied that his publication, The Weekly Standard, had ever alleged that gay marriage would "destroy the institution of marriage."

• Morton Kondracke falsely accused Kerry of distorting information about the International Atomic Energy Agency's pre-Iraq war warning about the high explosives at the Al Qaqaa munitions facility; repeated the false charge by the discredited Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that Kerry did not deserve all his Purple Heart citations; and claimed that "for all I know," the growing insurgency in Iraq was "designed ... to help elect John Kerry."

• Charles Krauthammer claimed "we haven't had any discussion" of Kerry's anti-Vietnam testimony, when he and many others had already discussed it on a number of previous occasions; quoted Kerry out of context to falsely claim that Kerry had initially supported the use of local Afghan warlords in attempting to capture Osama bin Laden; and repeated the unsubstantiated assertion that terrorists wanted to see Bush defeated in the 2004 presidential election.

• Jeffrey Birnbaum wrongly attributed a belittling quote from a "Doonesbury" comic strip to former vice president Al Gore instead of to its original target, former President George H.W. Bush; implied that the pre-election release of the Osama bin Laden video would aid President Bush; and joined in with other conservatives in distorting Kerry's record on intelligence spending.

While he was defending the distortions of his employees, Ailes made a distortion of his own about ABC News President David Westin:

I saw David Westin the other day take a shot at FOX News. Now, David is the process of trying to turn himself into [former CBS News president] Fred Friendly. He's a corporate lawyer who's trying to be a great journalist. But he has got some problems... He's the guy who had his head of politics [ABC News political director Mark Halperin] during the election basically come out and say they [ABC] didn't have to be fair, they should support Kerry in the debates. I find that odd. I think David's got a lot of work to do in house before he goes out taking a shot at us.

Washington Post staff writer Howard Kurtz noted in a December 13 Washington Post "Media Notes" article that previewed Ailes' December 19 appearance. Kurtz wrote:

Ailes mischaracterized a memo from ABC's political director, Mark Halperin, as arguing that "they didn't have to be fair, they should support Kerry in the debates." Halperin wrote that while Bush and John Kerry should be called on exaggerations and misstatements, the Bush campaign was engaging in more distortions, and "that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides 'equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that."

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