Wick Communications

To be ‘Fair and Balanced’

In journalism on June 15, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Now comes word that Fox News plans to drop its storied “Fair and Balanced” motto. The television network rode the tagline through the Clinton/Bush/Obama years to the top of the ratings. The intimation was that others, well, weren’t. That Fox was staking out true north while other national news organizations were lost in the woods of partisanship.

Well, obviously, it was never that simple. I think most folks would agree that Fox News has long been a right-of-center news organization. So what did it mean to be “Fair and Balanced?”

In his story in New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman suggests that former Fox Chairman Roger Ailes used the slogan for unfair and unbalanced purposes:

Ailes invented the slogan when he launched the network in 1996, and over the years it became a quasi-religious doctrine among Fox’s anchors and viewers. The effectiveness of Fox News as a vehicle for conservative ideology depended on it. “If you come out and you try to do right-wing news, you’re gonna die. You can’t get away with it,” Ailes once told a reporter.

Inside Fox, Ailes held “Fair & Balanced” seminars with staff members. “He would call a group of senior producers and make you watch the channel and he’d point out stuff, like a banner that’s slightly liberal,” a senior producer told me. “He would say, ‘The news is like a ship. If you take hands off the wheel, it pulls hard to the left.’” Ailes also used “Fair & Balanced” when making hiring decisions, such as saying a job candidate “wasn’t ‘fair & balanced,’” because the person went to a college he didn’t like…

Is that fair and balanced? I don’t know. Ailes is no longer here to defend himself. For all I know, he thought his televised child lived up to the sloganeering. …

Here is what I know: we do damage to our industry when we claim the moral high ground and instead set up camp at the base. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Our values must mean something because journalism is a solemn trust. If words don’t matter the sacred trust will erode and we will be, well, exactly where we are.

As the “fair and balanced” era comes to a close, I am hopeful that it can truly begin.

— Clay Lambert

 

 

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