Jacob Weisberg has written an interesting piece in Newsweek regarding Fox News Channel’s legitimacy (or lack thereof) as a news organization and suggesting that reputable journalists choose not to appear on the network.
Weisberg closes by saying, “By appearing on Fox, reporters validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations. Respectable journalists—I’m talking to you, Mara Liasson—should stop appearing on its programs.”
As we say in the trade, “Good luck with that.”
Print organizations — struggling as they are — are too enamored with opportunities to generate publicity to freeze out the most-watched cable news network. And there’s considerable irony in leveling that call from the pages of Newsweek, whose correspondents — primarily through a relationship with MSNBC — spend an enormous amount of time pontificating on television.
Weisberg is absolutely right that journalists ought to be more selective about where they appear, but Fox is hardly alone among the transgressors. Indeed, even some of the most widely respected news outlets can become a hornets nest when they venture into unfamiliar territory — pop culture being a prime example — or in the thrill of the hunt, from Michael Jackson mania to the recent “Balloon Boy” story.
One recent personal anecdote on this score: An NPR program recently asked me to tape an interview analyzing the significance of this year’s Emmy Awards. The only problem was that they wanted to pre-tape the segment on Wednesday and then air it the day after the event, on Monday. As this timeline made absolutely no sense to me, I politely (OK, actually, not that politely) declined.
The bottom line is that cable news has a desperate need for official-sounding talking heads, and somebody is going to fill it — even if much of that comes in the form of “strategists” with dubious credentials, academics eager to plug a book or telegenic prosecutors with dreams of parlaying the next salacious true-crime story into becoming the next Nancy Grace.
Weisberg is accurate when he says that journalists help legitimize Fox when, say, George Stephanopoulos goes on “Hannity,” but the larger point is that news organizations don’t exercise enough discretion in general when it comes to sending reporters marching off to do TV appearances.
So will “respectable journalists” bypass Fox? Undoubtedly some will (and do). But in a broader sense, knowing when to “Just say ‘no'” to the siren song of television goes well beyond Fox for those who yearn to be “respectable.”