I found this article by David Carr of the New York Times about Fox News entertaining. I read it a couple of times and although there are some begrudging indications of some kind of respect the basic messages seem to be: 1) I hate Fox News and am pee-ohd that they are still rated number one 2) They alter pictures of New York Times reporters and don’t tell people they altered them 3) They are far too aggressive in dealing with negative reporting.
The article would make a good study in someone trying to be somewhat fair and balanced in covering someone or something that he/she clearly can’t stand. It doesn’t work very well. Mostly I find the attack by what has been considered by many to be the bastion of unbalanced, liberal reporting against the new bastion of conservative reporting to be quite funny. Here’s a sample: Fox News found a huge runway and enormous success by setting aside the conventions of bloodless objectivity, but along the way, it altered the rules of engagement between reporters and the media organizations they cover. The conventions of bloodless objectivity? Why didn’t he just say, OK, we were never unbiased either but at least we were more polite about it. This is just silliness. Not sure what is bothering him more–the “enormous success” or the fact that the bias fell on the other side of the political spectrum.
But of more interest is the discussion within this article about the changing nature of media. It is no accident that Fox News apparently has taken a political approach to protecting its reputation. This approach–the war room strategy I call it in my book–was perfected by President Clinton in his first campaign and detailed in George Stephanapoulis’s (spelling?) book. It was the strategy of continual monitoring for attacks and then very rapid response to anything emerging that even smelled like an attack. It was very effective for the Clintons and has been adopted by all campaigns since then so that it has become part and parcel of our political discourse. I advocated in Now Is Too Late that corporations with reputations at risk should adopt this. Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News, saw this strategy work first hand and to his detriment in the campaign to re-elect the First Bush. He took its lessons to heart and put it in practice at Fox News–that’s the gist of Carr’s bitterness.
The PR head of Fox News commented: “Yes, we are an aggressive department in a passive industry, and believe me, the executives and talent appreciate it,” Mr. Lewis said, adding that with the 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of blogs, a new kind of engagement and activism was required.
That is the important lesson. While I don’t consider the news business to be a “passive industry,” the kind of aggressiveness in maintaining its reputation and taking on its critics is symptomatic of the era of instant news where reputations are at higher risk largely because of the vicious competition for public attention. It’s this kind of aggressiveness–if not the same tactics suggested by Carr–that are essential for reputation protection for all organizations. And if Mr. Carr is practicing these principles and doesn’t like that I am criticizing him for faulting Fox for employing them, then he will get on my case and soon.