Next week, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes will return to his alma mater, Ohio University, and give a featured lecture. According to a campus flyer, Ailes' talk will be entitled, "FOX News: Past, Present, Future," and will be given as part of the school's George Washington Forum on American Ideas, Politics & Institutions.
The director of the Forum told the Ohio University student newspaper that Ailes' address would spark a good debate about "free speech and the media" and stressed Ailes is "perhaps the most influential newsman in America today." (Ailes has donated generously to the school.)
Ailes has also lectured at the United States Military Academy at West Point. And last month, he was invited by the University of North Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communication to give the Roy H. Park Distinguished Lecture. Other notables who have given lectures at UNC's communications school this year include the editors-in-chief of ProPublica and Bloomberg News, as well as The New York Times' White House correspondent.
But does Roger Ailes really belong in that esteemed group? And more importantly, why do respected universities help perpetuate the myth that Ailes runs a news organization and that he occupies as an esteemed position within the journalism industry?
It's obvious that Fox News long ago cut the cord with anything resembling traditional journalism, and instead has transformed itself into a partisan attack machine. (i.e. The "voice of the opposition.") It's an irresponsible attack machine that, in a nation of 300 million people, consistently draws three millions viewers, which in the niche world of cable news means it's a success.
And you know what, Fox has every right to be in the partisan attack business. But for prestigious universities to usher Roger Ailes into their lectures halls under the guise of him being a news executive and letting him spin fantastic tales about how Fox is a fair and balanced news organization is a joke.
It's a joke because places of higher learning shouldn't help perpetuate the Fox myth while turning a blind eye to the lasting damage Ailes' enterprise is doing to journalism and to our national discourse. (Flashback: Obama is a "racist" with a "deep seeded hatred for white people.")
Trust me, the problem isn't that journalism schools and university lecture series dare invite conservative media figures onto campus. (Conservative author P.J. O'Rourke gave the UNC Roy H. Park lecture two years ago.) The problem is these events allow Ailes to go unchallenged about Fox News, and perhaps even more importantly, to cloak himself in the legitimacy of academia.
Recall that Ailes generated headlines at UNC when he made this boast [emphasis added]:
Now, I'll tell you something that will surprise you. In 15 years, we have never taken a story down because we got it wrong. You cannot say that about CBS. You cannot say that about CNN. You cannot say that about The New York Times, and the mainstream media won't report it, but that is the fact. We've lived with this bull's-eye on us for 15 years and our journalism actually is very good.
That claim is false. (See here, here, and here.) But the lie is central to Ailes' campus spin: Not only is Fox a bona fide journalism enterprise, but the Fox team is better at reporting, and more accurate, than The New York Times and CNN!
Other whoppers Ailes unfurled in North Carolina included his claim that he's a non-partisan player, that Fox is a serious, neutral outlet "committed to providing viewers with more factual information and a balanced and fair presentation," that he employs just "one conservative on Fox News," and that the channel loves having forceful and articulate liberals on to debate their points of view.
If Ailes wants to pretend that's what Fox News is about, than that's his choice. (That's not what Fox is about, though.) But Ailes shouldn't be invited to lecture college students and spread his Fox propaganda under the guise of journalism tutelage.
Keep in mind that Ailes once reportedly urged an employee to lie to federal prosecutors in order to protect one of Ailes' political allies. He has attacked National Public Radio executives as "Nazis." He's denounced Obama as a socialist and accused him of "sort of tromping around on the Constitution." (Ailes believed the president was going to create a national police force.) All which means he's clearly in no position to pontificate about honest newsgathering.
And in terms of overseeing an organization that misinforms people, nobody can match the Fox News record.
In 2003, a study by University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes concluded that "those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions" about basic facts related to the war.
A 2009, A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Fox fans were overwhelmingly misinformed about proposed health care reform being debated at the time. (i.e. Seventy-nine percent said reform would lead to a government takeover of health care. )
In, 2010, a "Misinformation and the 2010 Election" survey conducted by PIPA showed that regular Fox News viewers "were significantly more likely" to hold misinformed views.
And last year, a Farleigh Dickinson survey found that people who watch Fox were much less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government as compared to people who watch no news at all.
If communications schools and universities are looking for speakers to address partisan politic, or how to misinform large block of viewers, then Roger Ailes makes sense.
But to lecture students about journalism and fair play? No way.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.
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