Bill O’Reilly seldom needs much incentive to go after the New York Times as a bastion of liberal villainy, so this quote from Times editor Bill Keller will doubtless be red meat for the Fox News Channel host.
I think the effect of Fox News on American public life has been to create a level of cynicism about the news in general. It has contributed to the sense that they are all just out there with a political agenda, but Fox is just more overt about it. And I think that’s unhealthy. We have had a lot of talk since the Gabby Giffords attempted murder about civility in our national discourse, and I make no connection between the guy who shot those people in Tucson and the national discourse. But it is true that the national discourse is more polarized and strident than it has been in the past, and to some extent, I would lay that at the feet of Rupert Murdoch.
Keller’s statement — picked up by the Huffington Post from a forum at George Washington University — is a shrewd assessment of what Fox News (and talkradio) have done — in essence, using opposition to the mainstream media, and its “liberal bias,” as license for their own conservative tilt. Whatever one thinks of Murdoch’s journalistic enterprises — including his stewardship of the Wall Street Journal — it’s hard not admire the marketing genius that went into that calculus.
Still, I’ll be stunned if Fox News doesn’t retaliate. Just a few weeks ago, O’Reilly went ballistic over a “reprehensible” New York Times editorial in the wake of the recent shootings in Arizona that spoke of holding “Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger” in the U.S. Having been singled out by some for his coverage of Dr. George Tiller — the abortion provider who was later murdered in his church — the Fox News host is perhaps especially sensitive to such criticism.
The bigger picture, though, is that there’s no greater symbol of what Fox purports to hate — perceived liberalism, masquerading as journalistic objectivity — than the New York Times. And since Murdoch doesn’t own a Kraken (yet), Unleash the O’Reilly!