What’s the next big story? Sun rises in East?
Okay, it’s not exactly a man bites dog story that the liberal New York Times hates the conservative Fox News Channel. But why does Bill Keller, the paper’s top news editor, care about Fox at all? After all, he’s the executive editor of the New York Times, the most important newspaper in the universe (and if you don’t believe me, ask anyone who works at the Times) — and Fox is just one of a million cable channels.
Last month, at the National Press Club in Washington, Keller said that Fox News has created “a level of cynicism about the news in general” and that it has made America a more “polarized and strident” place thanks to the kinds of things said on Fox.
Then, just the other night, at a York Press Club event he took another shot at the cable network. “I think if you’re a regular viewer of Fox News, you’re among the most cynical people on planet Earth,” Keller said. “I cannot think of a more cynical slogan than ‘Fair and Balanced.’”
Let’s start with this: There are things that Fox News does that deserve to be criticized. I don’t like it, for example, when some of their opinion anchors become cheerleaders for events like tea party rallies. And while I know that some shows on the Fox News Channel are obviously straight news and others are obviously opinion shows, there are some programs on Fox that confuse me, because news and opinion dance a little to closely for my taste.
So Fox News should not be off limits. I’m just not sure Bill Keller is the right guy to criticize Fox, or any other news organization, given his own track record.
Remember, Bill Keller was running the Times newsroom in 2006 when his newspaper led a pack of media jackals on the so-called Duke Lacrosse Rape Case story, which, in both columns and news reports,smeared three white kids for a crime they never committed – a crime that nobody ever committed. Why? Because the supposed victim was poor and black and the supposed rapists were white, male and presumably well-off.
Never mind that the woman was a liar and had psychological problems. The story fit right into the Times’ liberal worldview. Bill Keller let the paper’s liberal biases corrupt – infect – the paper’s news coverage.
Two years later, in February 2008, during the presidential campaign, the Times ran a page one story, based on two anonymous sources, hinting that Senator John McCain had had an affair with a young, attractive lobbyist. McCain vehemently denied the allegation. Even the paper’s Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, slapped the Times around for the way it reported the story. “And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair,” he wrote, “whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide. … And if you cannot provide readers with some independent evidence, I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed.”
Eight months after that scathing critique from the paper’s own ombudsman and just one month before the presidential election, Bill Keller was part of a media panel in New York and was asked what he thought of the McCain campaign’s earlier criticism of the Times. “My first tendency when they do that,’ Keller said, “is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page, just to show them that they can’t get away with it.”
And this is the guy complaining about the cynicism at Fox News?
Can you imagine if Roger Ailes, who runs the Fox News Channel, had said something like that? Can you imagine if Ailes had said, “My first tendency when someone comes after Fox is to find the toughest story we have on that guy and put it on the air all day long – just to send a message that you can’t criticize Fox and get away with it.”
I think it’s safe to say that Bill Keller would have run a page one story about how corruption at Fox starts at the top.
Except in real life it was Keller who made the threat. Not Ailes.
So let’s go back to where we began: Why does Bill Keller care so much about Fox News?
Once the New York Times – the newspaper of record — led the national conversation. Once the Times shaped this nation’s events. Now Fox has a voice in the national conversation, and a loud one at that. Now Fox also helps shape events. And that drives media elites like Bill Keller nuts, because he and the other liberals who run the “mainstream media” think the people at Fox and the people who watch Fox are a bunch of yahoos.
There is tremendous frustration in the old “mainstream” media. They no longer control the flow of information. They know it. They hate it. They long for a time that will never return. So, in their frustration, they lash out at Fox, wondering why so many Americans tune in to such garbage.
But it is time and energy misspent. Under Keller’s reign as the paper’s top news editor, the daily circulation of the Times has dropped from 1,118,565 in 2003 to 876,638 in 2010 – a drop of 21.6 percent.
Under Keller, operating profits dropped from $540 million in 2003 to $234 million in 2010 – a drop of 57 percent.
From the Nobody-Asked-Me Department: Bill, worry less about Fox and more about matters closer to home. Much closer.