Media Matters

Looking Aslant at the News Biz

There’s a reason why the left media gets "Outfoxed" -- it has everything to do with how you market news.

By 7.16.04

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Back in 1991, when I was covering an assignment for Bloomberg, I met a young lady at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court who reported for the Boston Herald. We traded some notes and info. Curious, I asked her if I could visit the Herald newsroom. She invited me by the next week.

It looked like the place the dog threw up. It had a torn tan carpet patched with duct tape, computer terminals and desks covered with paper and grime, and a low stained acoustic tile ceiling with fluorescent fixtures that made everything look even worse.

I asked the reporter what sort of editorial policy she followed.

"At the Herald," she replied, "we're supposed to expose hypocrisy in public figures wherever we find it, regardless of politics, and rake Ted Kennedy over the coals as often as possible."

At Investor's Daily (which later became Investor's Business Daily) in the 1980s, the newsroom, though smaller and marginally cleaner (only because newer), looked much the same. There, editor Steve Ludwig explained publisher William J. O'Neil's editorial policy to me:

"Whatever makes me money is good. Whatever loses me money is bad."

Compare those two editorial positions, delivered in the pungent words of practicing reporters, to the statements of Fox News Executive Vice President for News Tom Moody, from editorial notes and memos Moody wrote on various subjects. The memos make up the centerpiece of pejorative attention in the new anti-Fox film, Outfoxed, produced by Robert Greenwald. Outfoxed, a low-budget art-house and DVD release, has been getting outsized media play because of its own slant, and because it was partly funded by MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress. Howard Kurtz wrote up the Moody quotes this way in a Sunday media column in the Washington Post:

[Moody] wrote in March about the 9/11 commission hearings: "This is not 'what did he know and when did he know it' stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate."

In an April memo on Iraq coverage, Moody wrote: "Do not fall into the easy trap of mourning the loss of US lives and asking out loud why are we there?" Two days earlier, during U.S. military operations in Fallujah, Moody said: "It won't be long before some people start to decry the use of 'excessive force.' We won't be among that group."

And in a May 2003 note on President Bush's judicial nominees, Moody wrote that some were "being held up because of their POSSIBLE, not demonstrated, views on one issue -- abortion. This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in the days to come."

Robert Greenwald thinks this just awful. Au contraire. It's smart marketing, which all good news policies are -- news being a product. ("Writing on the backs of advertisements," George Bernard Shaw called it.) Compare Moody's instructions to his crew to what other news crews have actually done since the Moody memos, on every subject he wrote about, and you find that Moody shrewdly anticipated what every other net would cover, and how. His instructions set Fox apart. If setting one's network apart from all the other networks make one conservative, that means?

Fox leads the other cable nets in the ratings. Maybe people want something other than a new and improved version of Tide.

In addition, Moody's notes reinforce good journalism, as traditionally practiced: cynical, contrarian, chary of perceived truths. My gosh. He's speaking Truth to Power. Hasn't Robert Greenwald noticed?

Apparently not. Then again, Greenwald has probably not toiled in a grimy cubicle at the Herald, where they would tell him to forget about the Fox muckraking, go dig up something on Ted the K. instead. Or at the old Investor's Daily, where Steve Ludwig would probably have told him, "Congratulations. You've just figured out how Fox News makes money."

So who's outfoxing whom?

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.