Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When the Media Is the Story

I was surprised by how much time Fox News Channel devoted to its owner Rupert Murdoch's testimony before a committee of Parliament yesterday.  Fox News has been downplaying the importance of the phone hacking scandal that brought down the News of the World tabloid--and has made almost no mention of the accusations that NewsCorp reporters may have hacked the voice mail accounts of 9-11 victims here in the US--trying to retrieve messages left by those on the doomed planes or the Twin Towers.

More than likely, the wall-to-wall coverage of the Murdoch testimony (including a countdown clock on the NBC networks) forced Fox's hand--fail to show it and you look like total shills.  I'll be honest--it's the first time I can ever remember US networks devoting commercial-free time to Parliament committee meetings.  Not even testimony on the Princess Diana car crash and investigation into "conspiracies" warranted the "breaking news" banner at the bottom of the screen.  But when you can embarrass your competitors--especially the top-rated network--you take every opportunity you can.

Of course, the folks in the Fox newsroom had to be ecstatic when the Soupy Sales wannabee crashed the hearing and tried to throw a shaving cream pie in Murdoch's face.  No longer would the anchors and analysts have to come up with explanations for their bosses either knowing or not knowing about illegal activity--now they could focus exclusively on the "attack" and Murdoch's "brave efforts to continue his testimony".  Meanwhile, the folks at MSNBC were bemoaning the attack--as their anchors worried on-camera if the "shaving cream incident" would make Murdoch into a "sympathetic figure".

In a way, I feel for the serious reporters (and there are some) at Fox News.  You know they are getting direction from the top to ignore the phone-hacking story--to stay focused almost exclusively on the lack of a debt ceiling deal (or the whereabout of Casey Anthony)--and hope something else comes along soon that will distract the competition. 

I had to deal with the same situation here a couple of years ago when a co-worker got himself arrested in the Washington DC area.  There were directives from corporate officials to do NO STORIES on the arrest, court proceedings or sentencing of that employee.  When I balked at that, the response from the corporate suits was "we don't cover all the news stories."  That incident actually played a part in my decision to take a "sabbatical" from radio news last year to pursue "other opportunities".

Hopefully, this phone hacking controversy won't cost us Fox News Channel.  I like having clear deliniations in political slants in our national news coverage.  When I need a good laugh, I can turn on MSNBC and watch Rachel Maddow try to defend the indefensibly poor economic policies of the Obama Administration.  And when I feel the need for a good scare, I watch the blonde anchorettes on Fox try to explain the lunacy of Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin.

It may not always be "fair"coverage--but taken all together it does get "balanced" out.

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