Oh, Howell Raines, Why Do You Even Bother?

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Photo: Joe Kohen/Getty Images

Former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, who resigned in 2003 after the sensational Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal, has an editorial in the Washington Post today called "Why don't honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?" (Poor Jon Stewart must be feeling a little ignored today.) From the Post:

Through clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators, Ailes has overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II. Yet, many members of my profession seem to stand by in silence as Ailes tears up the rulebook that served this country well as we covered the major stories of the past three generations, from the civil rights revolution to Watergate to the Wall Street scandals.


This is not a liberal-versus-conservative issue. It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: "The American people do not want health-care reform." Fox repeats this as gospel. But as a matter of historical context, usually in short supply on Fox News, this assertion ranks somewhere between debatable and untrue.


There's more, of course. Raines claims that Fox too easily believes Republicans when they say that they, too, want health-care reform. He says Roger Ailes has created "a news department whose raison d'être is to dictate the outcome of our nation's political discourse." And that Fox has "sold a falsified image of the professional standards that developed in American newsrooms and university journalism departments in the last half of the 20th century." And that its "style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt" seeks only to "illustrate a preconceived universe as rigid as that of medieval morality."

Weee! Fun! Of course, Raines's first mistake here is to think that anybody over at Fox takes what they do as seriously as he is taking what they do. Ailes freely admits that his focus is not the fussy, vaunted concept of old-school journalism. "I'm not in politics, I'm in ratings," he told Barbara Walters. "We're winning."

His second mistake was deciding that he should be the one to call them out on their tactics. By picking himself to speak for all the other journalists who he claims aren't speaking out, he enables the Fox News publicity department to ignore the entire substance of his essay and shoot back a gleeful comment like this: "We find it ironic that Howell is dispensing advice to other journalists after he nearly single-handedly destroyed the journalistic credibility of the New York Times." See, Howell? It's like Roger Ailes said — it's not about substance and process. It's about winning.

Howell Raines: Why don't honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News? [WP]