A former executive editor of the New York Times has charged the president of Fox News, Roger Ailes, with "using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration -- a campaign without precedent in our modern political history."
"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," Howell Raines wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
"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," Raines continued.
His words drew a sharp rebuke from a Fox News spokesperson who called it "ironic" that Raines would attack Fox's journalistic credibility, given he resigned as the Times' executive editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal.
"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," the unidentified Fox staffer told TVNewser.
Not all reaction to Raines' opinion piece was negative. Eric Boehlert at MediaMatters lauded the piece and argued Raines "didn't go far enough."
"As Raines notes in his column ... today's Obama-era Fox News has shredded any semblance of professional, modern day American journalism. It long ago cut the chord with that tradition," Boehlert writes. "And yet last fall, the tsk-tsking chattering class agreed that it was the White House that was way out of line when it fact-checked Fox News."
Blogger Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake is less generous to Raines, pointing out that he was "the editor who oversaw Judy Miller’s Iraq War propaganda." Times reporter Judith Miller became the focus of controversy over her reporting about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the US invasion -- reports that would later turn out to be false.
Miller was again in the spotlight in 2005, when she spent three months in jail for refusing to reveal to a court who provided her CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity in what would become the Plame affair.
"I’ll admit that when I first suggested that Judy Miller was not engaging in journalism when Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby outed Valerie Plame to her, I wished that other journalists would have the courage to acknowledge that what she was doing was not journalism. It would have been nice, then, to have a column like this, calling on journalists to expose disinformation in the guise of journalism," Wheeler writes. "But really. Does Howell Raines have no sense of irony?"
That "sense of irony" reached as far as a column by Mark Kellner at the journalism Web site Poynter. Kellner wrote that Raines' piece "redefines chutzpah" in its casting of Fox News as irresponsible, while ignoring the Times' own perceived transgressions.
"Where was the NYTimes in (ahem) exposing the exploits of Messers. Spitzer, Paterson Jnr., Massa, Frank, Dodd and Kennedy(s)? Not at the head of the parade," Kellner writes. "If Mr. Raines wishes to engage in fantasy, that's his privilege. But it's a shame that the Washington Post chose to inflict it on the rest of us."
In his column, Raines asserts that commerce is behind the trend towards Fox-style journalism.
Why has our profession, through its general silence -- or only spasmodic protest -- helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt? The standard answer is economics, as represented by the collapse of print newspapers and of audience share at CBS, NBC and ABC.
Ailes [once said] that he should be judged as a producer of ratings rather than a journalist -- audience is his only yardstick. While true as far as it goes, this hair-splitting defense purports to absolve Ailes of responsibility for creating a news department whose raison d'etre is to dictate the outcome of our nation's political discourse.
Raines resigned as executive editor of the Times in 2003, after reporter Jayson Blair was discovered to have fabricated numerous stories he had written. The Times' management had hoped Raines' resignation would restore the paper's credibility following the scandal.