OutFOXed or smarter than one?

September 27, 2010

In an editorial tip-of-the-hat to its generally conservative audience, the self-proclaimed fair and balanced FOX network has built a lineup of high profile, high-powered anchors and contributors, including former governors Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas) and Sarah Pallin (R-Alaska) among others. It has been an effective strategy that has been coined “talk radio right” and remains largely popular among audiences and, in turn, many advertisers.

Politico points out in today’s The Fox primary: complicated, contractual that with 4 FOX regulars now exploring the possibility of running for president in 2012, at what point does the news network have to make a choice — drop these popular talent entirely; disclose its inherent political support by providing them an unlimited, unhindered platform; assure audiences that coverage is fair and balanced regardless of political ambition or finances; or appoint an ombudsman?
Fox is already counting down the days to this November’s mid-term elections. It would be fair to assume a similar countdown clock to 2012 will be unveiled shortly after November 2, 2010… so, when is the proper time to establish some distance?
It is abundantly clear that Ms. Pallin is already campaigning for something, endorsing GOP candidates and appearing for tea party fund-raisers nationwide. Messrs. Gingrich and Huckabee routinely appear on the political circuit of speeches as they graze the chicken dinners and sample the audience’s response to their message.

Is this apparent conflict of interest a problem for FOX? To an old ethicist it would seem unseemly. How can a network cover one of its own without bias? Without criticism or the basis of impartiality? Or, can it?

But what if this is the new standard? Is FOX comfortable evolving from “Your Election HQ” to becoming the “voice of the nation network”? By covering only those it appears to favor, from Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell, raising awareness and money for their campaigns, is FOX also building the inside track on whatever news and politics from within those in power, those it backed, and those who are dependent on their access to the FOX mouthpiece?

So – has FOX been outFOXed as Politico might suggest, or does the network care? Do they need to? Surely the toothless FCC is in no position to do anything.
In what is an essentially changing media world has FOX simply been the first to pick and back the candidates it favors? Too Machiavellian or just plain strategic?

And what happens after the votes are cast and it is time to pay the piper?

He was simply one of the best.  Howard Brodie was a master of his craft, an artist who drew images of World War II for the US Army and hundreds of courtroom sketches, including Charles Manson and Patricia Hearst among so many other high profile trials, for CBS News. He was a teacher, mentor and friend.

I first met Howard Brodie when an editor at the CBS News Los Angeles bureau in 1976. By then he was already a legend – one could tell because even the best and most experienced cameraman spoke enviously of what Howard captured with his eye and fingers. They would wait, anxiously, as Howard finished his sketches and they would ask how he wanted them shot – with a push in here? A tilt down there? Senior correspondents like the late Terry Drinkwater and producers including David Browning would eye each drawing appreciatively and adjust their scripts for that evening’s CBS Cronkite newscast.

One particularly busy day Howard rushed in from court and courteously, but leaving no doubt to the urgency of his question, asked if I would stand at my desk and stretch my left arm outward… “Freeze!” he asked, even as phones rang off their hooks around me. He needed to capture the muscle tone of an arm in that position; he had seen it in the court but needed the complexity of the muscles and tendons to finish it. I was his proxy. It took all of 20 seconds.

I knew then I had become a (very small) part of Howard Brodie’s art. I hardly remember the case but I always remembered the man – his presence was powerful, his courtesy was never failing, his laugh could punctuate a newsroom, his art simply powerful and stunning. He captured moments- as a reporter and artist – and created signature moments of trials of the century.

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