Oct
04
2010

NYT Lets Fox Go Anonymous to Trash-Talk Obama

You may have heard that Barack Obama shared some thoughts about Fox News Channel in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. When asked about the channel, Obama pointed out that media outlets with a political perspective have been relatively common throughout U.S. history, but that he believed Fox's perspective is "ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class."

The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg had a piece (10/2/10) on Fox's political activism this year–particularly News Corp's million-dollar donations to the Republican Governors' Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But Fox's response to Obama's criticism of the network gets the last word in the piece–in the form of an anonymous source:

An executive at Fox News who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity expressed "astonishment" over Mr. Obama's focus on the network. "We are so in his head," he said. "Can you believe with all the other things going on in this world he's preoccupied with Fox News?"

The Times–mostly in the wake of the Iraq War/Judith Miller debacles–attempted to clamp down on the use of anonymous sources. But such sourcing patterns persist. Former Times public editor critiqued the paper on these failures a few times, in one case (3/21/09) pointing to specific rules that would seem to apply here:

The policy says anonymous sources should be used only as "a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information is not available any other way."

And:

The policy says the newspaper will not allow personal or partisan attacks from behind a mask of anonymity.

Rutenberg's piece seems to fail on both those counts. You learn nothing of real value from the anonymous Fox source, and it would seem to constitute an attack of some sort, since the Fox executive is saying that Obama is "preoccupied" with Fox News instead of dealing with more important matters.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.