For generations in this country, there has been a sort of a gentleman's agreement in terms of what constituted professional behavior among journalists. And there has been a sense of shame when members crossed those lines into unprofessional behavior. Bosses chastened those employees, people were fired, and ethics panels were summarily convened to make certain the transgressions didn't happen again. Fox News, though, has walked away from all of that. And guess what? The rest of the press hasn't said boo.
That's been the sad case for years. (Playing dumb about Fox News' partisan pursuits now qualifies as a Beltway intramural sport.) Indeed, the loophole, or the caveat, to journalism's gentleman's agreement has always been that the guidelines were voluntary and self-policing. There was no governing body, either within journalism or without, that regulated the product. The only collective deterrent from producing bad journalism, aside from rather lax U.S. libel laws, is a collective sense of shame, a shared feeling that making a factual error -- or worse, purposefully pushing false information under the guise of journalism -- was both unprofessional and unacceptable.
But clearly, Fox News does not share that sense of shame, because it's not part of the larger journalism brotherhood. Fox News doesn't feel like rules such as fairness, accuracy, neutrality, and independence apply, which is obvious since Fox News breaks those rules with stunning regularity. In fact, its programming day seems designed to break the traditional rules ad nauseam. That's what it's built to do. And if nothing else, Fox News is ruthlessly efficient.
So, Fox News has altered the game by unchaining itself from the moral groundings of U.S. journalism. And guess what? There is no industry shame being rained down on the outlet. The rest of the press not only doesn't complain, it defends Fox News and even apologizes on its behalf, which is what we've seen unfold for the last two weeks.
Read the entire Media Matters column here.