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Monday, March 17, 2008
The Deconstruction of a Fox News Segment
On Sunday, the Fox News show America's Election HQ had a segment on faked memoirs (the reason for the discussion was the recent discovery that author Margaret Seltzer's memoir of a South LA gang-banger was forged. Host Bret Baier interviewed James Hirsen of NewsMax about the controversy. Hirsen said that the spate of forged memoirs by Seltzer, James Frey, and Misha Defonseca were a reflection of the "moral decay" in contemporary American society. Hirsen pointed out the the journalistic hoaxes by Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair as evidence that literary and journalistic fraud are major problems.
To the casual observer, this exchange seems fairly innocuous; it isn't.
By deconstructing and analyzing this segment, it is possible to see why this segment is a microcosm of Fox News' war on journalism:
1. First things first: The name of the Fox News program is America's Election HQ. I have previously written about how Fox News and other have attempted to co-opt the "America" brand.
2. I found it highly ironic that someone from NewsMax would discuss the issue of literary and journalistic fraud. NewsMax was founded by Christopher Ruddy, a journalist whose reporting on Clinton white House counsel Vince Foster's death was so sloppy that the Murdoch-owned tabloid The New York Post fired Ruddy, an indignity that writer Michael Tomasky called "a pretty good working definition of embarrassing." Even right-wing pundit Ann Coulter characterized Ruddy's subsequent book on Foster's death The Strange Death of Vincent Foster a "conservative hoax book." As I have pointed out previously, journalistic misconduct by reporters like Blair, Glass, and Janet Cooke is innocuous compared to operatives-posing-as journalists like Ruddy whose shoddy reporting on Foster's death was a flagrant attempt to inflict damage on the Clinton administration (current Fox News CEO and chairman Roger Ailes also spread baseless rumors about Foster's death).
3. NewsMax has been the source of other journalistic hoaxes about Hillary Clinton (here and here).
4. This isn't the first time that a NewsMax operative appeared on Fox News posing as an impartial observer. I gave an example during the 2006 election season of a NewsMax operative covering for Senator George Allen.
Moral decay, indeed.
UPDATE: Media Matters has more on Baier.
UPDATE II: Not surprisingly, yesterday NewsMax posted an article on its website by Ronald Kessler that falsely claimed that Barack Obama attended a July 22, 2007 sermon at his church in Chicago in which the pastor, Jeremiah Wright made incendiary comments (Fox News analyst William Kristol cited the article for his March 17 New York Times column). As it turns out, a quick Google search would have revealed that Obama was on his way to Miami and not in Chicago. This episode is another case study of how disinformation in the fringe media is recycled in respectable journalistic outlets.
UPDATE III: Kristol acknowledged the error.
UPDATE IV:Terry Krepel of ConWebWatch has more on Kessler.
UPDATE V: More on Kessler