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Defending (Somewhat) and Chastising Fox News Channel

by John on 03/25/2012

This post is not necessarily about Fox News.  It’s more about you — as the most important journalist in your life.

In this social media world, you have a major responsibility.  You must — in your public discussions with friends and online — deliver clarity and context to comments aired publicly.

Let me use two stories in the media this week — both tied to Fox News Channel.

The first is Geraldo Rivera’s comments about the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.  On Fox News Channel’s Fox and Friends, he said that Trayvon’s hoodie was as much to blame for his death.

The outrage was wide and loud — but logical.  Geraldo seemed to blame Trayvon or his parents for his death.  Geraldo came across as callous during a raw emotional time.  As a professional on-camera talent, Geraldo deserves criticism for being inarticulate and sloppy with his thoughts.  Plus, he said it on the network perceived by some as, at best anti-black, or worst racist.

However, what’s missing from the criticism of Geraldo is context.  Watch that clip again of what he said.  Notice how he said it.  Geraldo was trying to talk to parents.  He said they should be aware of what kids are wearing; certain clothes, gang-like clothes, raise suspicions among parts of our society — including parts of our society that are allowed to have guns.

I am not defending Geraldo here.  (My disclosure: I was a guest a couple of times on Geraldo’s syndicated talk show in the 1990s and he was fabulous to work with and a real professional.  I found him a sincere and down to earth person off camera.)  I am putting his comments in context and trying to be fair — where many have not.

Read Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, a novel from 1952.  It is still relevant today.  It talks about white versus black racism.  But Ellison also discusses black versus black racism.  Ellison, who is black, says African Americans need to take responsibility and blame for some of the problems facing them.  I think this is a theme Geraldo was trying to bring across — but he failed.

The second incident was the President’s belief that he is losing approval ratings because of Fox News Channel keeping up the incorrect belief that he is a Muslim.  Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote about it.  Fox News’ Bret Baier denied the charges — saying there is no evidence of any on-air Fox News personality saying that Obama was Muslim.

But here’s where Fox News is guilty of a lack of context and honesty.  (My disclosure about Fox News: I have always applauded them as broadcasters in getting ratings and brilliantly tapping a niche market.  But I have chastised them for their crony journalism while acknowledging as part of a publicly traded corporation they have the right to make a profit.  In addition, I have done on-camera projects for Newsmax with Bill O’Reilly and Dick Morris who were very professional to work with.)

First, Bret Baier is probably right.  No on-air Fox News personality has ever said Obama is Muslim.  But Fox News personalities don’t correct — or offer opposing arguments — to guests who have made those statements.

Second, Fox News personalities also raise questions in a way that put ideas into viewers’ minds that exonerates them of making any accusations. They have done it, in my opinion, on other issues like global warming and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  

The tactic is akin to starting a question like this: “I am not saying you’re a child molester…” or “Have you stopped beating your wife.”  They raised the issue — and placed the notion in the viewers’ heads while being able to deny any false accusations.

Am I saying other networks like MSNBC don’t use similar tactics?  No.  Each network uses their own tactics.  That’s why I contend watching those networks are usually a waste of your TV viewing time.

But watching them — and being able to put them in context — could help you reduce the Inflamed nature of our too much of our discourse.

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