Unintentionally inane sentence of the weekend, from Jon Klein, the former President of CNN/US, on the legacy of the late Roger Ailes, founder of the Fox News Channel (FNC): “By unreservedly infusing news with a right-of-center agenda, Ailes popularized the notion that all journalists are biased.” You read that correctly: The media were not widely seen as biased until Ailes created a biased network.
Talk about living in a bubble where journalists were paragons of virtue until conservatives got ahold of one cable TV channel and ruined the reputations of everyone in the media.
[Screen shot of Klein is from a 2015 CNN appearance unrelated to his new opinion article.]
Digging in on blaming Ailes for the public perception of media bias, Klein asserted: “Two decades after he crafted the bumper-sticker slogan ‘Fair and Balanced,’ trust in mainstream news outlets is at an all-time low, with the Pew Research Center reporting that three-quarters of Americans now believe that news organizations tend to favor one side.”
Decades of left-wing activism and bias by ABC News, CBS News, CNN, MSNBC, NBC News, NPR, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post etc had nothing to do with it! People were just suckered by a slogan.
Klein’s naive, if not deliberately obtuse, argument came in an op-ed for Sunday’s Washington Post, “The source of Roger Ailes’ power: Unending grievance.” The Post so liked Klein’s line, blaming Ailes for creating “the notion that all journalists are biased,” that the hard copy newspaper highlighted it in a jump-out quote. (Online posting of the piece: “The dark source of Roger Ailes’s power”).
He concluded by holding Ailes responsible for people choosing news sources which match their pre-conceived prejudices: “He leaves behind a nation that feels very strongly about what we think we know, and is woefully, willfully ignorant of anything that doesn’t fit the picture.”
Klein was President of CNN/US from 2005 to 2010, during which time he cancelled a rare TV outlet for conservatives outside of FNC, Crossfire, and created shows for liberals Fareed Zakaria, Eliot Spitzer and Piers Morgan.
An excerpt from Klein’s May 21 op-ed:
....The Internet did not, as is so often alleged, usher in the siloed media environment in which we find ourselves today and likely forever. Ailes did that — by proving that there is money, influence and power to be found in serving well-defined interest groups instead of trying to please the widest possible audience.
What’s more, by unreservedly infusing news with a right-of-center agenda, Ailes popularized the notion that all journalists are biased. “At least we’re honest about who is offering opinion, unlike CNN,” Ailes would often say. A lifelong political operative, he could not imagine journalistic scruples trumping partisan goals. As a master of messaging, Ailes knew that repetition is the key to buy-in — and sure enough, two decades after he crafted the bumper-sticker slogan “Fair and Balanced,” trust in mainstream news outlets is at an all-time low, with the Pew Research Center reporting that three-quarters of Americans now believe that news organizations tend to favor one side.
It made business sense for Ailes to paint the competition as the problem and Fox News as the only solution. He fashioned his network into a haven for millions who, like Roger himself, had for decades felt adrift in hostile territory — post- Kennedy America. It became a comfortable home base for the target audience, who would watch twice as long as CNN viewers watched my network on any given day. The channel’s ideological prism also insulated Fox News from the bane of traditional outlets — the slow news day. Producers could always unearth obscure stories that would be judged trivial by traditional journalistic standards and fit them into a larger narrative about the assault on values their audience held dear. The War on Christmas, anyone?...
Roger Ailes founded a news network but never claimed to be a journalist. As the most successful political communicator of his time, he had a different objective: turn talking points into news items for millions of persuadable eyeballs. He leaves behind a nation that feels very strongly about what we think we know, and is woefully, willfully ignorant of anything that doesn’t fit the picture.