Tag Archives: Fox News

Math for journalists (and everyone else too)

By Christopher B. Daly 

In the wake of last week’s election, many Republicans seems to be facing not only a political problem but also an epistemological one. Epistemology is the term philosophers use for the study of knowledge itself. It is an inquiry that asks: How do we know what we know? (or, How do we know what we think we know?)

Two recent pieces raise the issue.

David Carr,in his column in the New York Times, emphasizes the crisis that overtook Fox News on election night, when some professionals at the conservative news network were forced to choose — live, on television — between Republican orthodoxy and journalistic empiricism. Carr rightly applauds Megyn Kelly for insisting on a fact-based approach while she was on-air with Republican Party strategist, fund-raiser, consultant (have I left any roles out?) Karl Rove, who doubles as a paid news “analyst” for Fox. As the Ohio vote was being counted last Tuesday night, it was becoming clear that Obama would win the state and, thus, the country. Rove insisted that Fox set aside the facts and hold off on placing Ohio in the president’s camp.

Inexplicably, though, Carr did not cite the definitive quote in the exchange. Kelly turned to Rove and asked:

“Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?”

(Jon Stewart rightly pounced on it as a moment of political/journalistic/epistemological crisis, and you can see the video.)

 

How about math we do as Americans to determine reality?

 

Many of the same issues are raised in a searching piece in Politico today about the “cocooning” of many Republicans. On election night, some Republicans found it difficult to believe that Obama was actually winning, largely because they only watch Fox News and only hear the views of analysts like Karl Rove. The piece, by Jonathan Martin, points in the direction of the book I am working on about the rise of conservative media after WWII, with the working title: Inside the Meme Factory: The Rise of Conservative Media and Think Tanks. Stay tuned for that. (If you think that an idea/slogan like “the rich are job-creators” arises spontaneously, you got another think coming!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Fox News chief: 4 more years

By Christopher B. Daly

Politics aside (now, how often do you see that phrase in a presidential campaign season?), let’s give Roger Ailes of Fox News his due. He did the following:

–had an original idea

–got someone else to fund his idea

–built a news outlet from scratch

–made it profitable

–made it hard to ignore

–took home $21 million in salary and bonuses from News Corp. last year.

On that set of facts, he deserves to be ranked with Horace Greeley, Ted Turner, or Arianna Huffington. (I know, I know: there are other facts that I have not introduced into evidence here. I’m just saying. . .)

Ailes, who is 72, signed a new contract with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. that extends his work life (and his ultimate control over Fox News) through the 2016 elections.

Roger Ailes (Jennifer S. Altman / LA Times)

Roger Ailes (Jennifer S. Altman / LA Times)

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“Wait, wait”: Would someone please impose an embargo on the news media

By Christopher B. Daly 

Kudos to the SCOTUSblog for this remarkable tick-tock on what went wrong in the initial reporting about the Supreme Court ruling on the Obama health care plan back on June 28. Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog, has put together a 7,000-word reconstruction of the first half hour of reporting, focusing on the screw-ups  at CNN and Fox News. He has done us all a service with his meticulous, minute-by-minute (and sometimes second-by-second) narrative of that day’s hits, balks, run-downs, and errors.

What this post-game review suggests to me is that, first and foremost, the news business needs to do better. As a former wire service reporter (10 years with the AP, both on desks and in the field), I appreciate the need for speed. SCOTUS decisions move markets; they sometimes hand the White House to one party over the other. Often, they are the epitome of breaking news. That said, it is insane for reporters to cover Supreme Court opinions on the fly. No one benefits. In Goldstein’s tick-tock, the description of the gyrations of the front-line legal correspondents reminds me of nothing so much as an episode of “Iron Chef” — in which highly talented people are subjected to insanely artificial difficulties (“OK, now you have two minutes to make a three-course meal out of kale and strawberries. GO!”). There is absolutely no reason to turn this scheduled event into a speed-reading contest.

The Supreme Court also has some lessons to learn. It is insane that the Court does not post its opinions, in full, on the Web at 10:00:01. Why should the White House and Congress have to wait? Why should citizens have to wait? Why should prisoners facing execution or stock traders or anyone have to wait? In this day and age, to hand out paper decisions is an affront.

But most important of all, after reading Goldstein’s report, I am strengthened in my belief that the Court and the news business need to get together on a slow day and figure out a better system for these kind of hand-offs. The answer is staring them in the face: an old-fashioned news embargo. The Court could simply identify 10-20 of the top court reporters — all vetted, credentialed experts — and invite them to come to the building at 8 a.m. The journalists could all then be locked in a room (like jurors) with no wi-fi access. They could then take their time to read the opinion (in full), digest it, and craft a coherent and accurate story. At 10:00, those stories could all be released, all at once. That way, all the news organizations that care about speed would have a multi-way tie and the issue of who was “first” would be moot. That way, the first version would also be the right version. That way, the public gets a full, careful, accurate version at the earliest possible moment.

P.S.: The world would certainly be a better place if people would stop posting comments just to gloat. Goldstein mentions a couple of these kind of comments that SCOTUSblog received from readers rubbing it in that CNN and Fox were right and SCOTUSblog was wrong. In retrospect, they look like the doofuses they are.

Twitter postings / Topsy

Twitter postings / Topsy

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Filed under blogging, CNN, Fox News, Journalism, Supreme Court

Journalism 101: Read the whole opinion

By Christopher B. Daly

It comes down to this: two major news organizations (CNN and Fox News) blew their initial coverage of the most important Supreme Court ruling this decade. They did so because reporters at both cable news outlets made a rookie mistake by generating headlines without reading the whole SCOTUS opinion. In these situations, reporters often face an apparent dilemma: Do you want to be first? Do you want to be right?

The answer, of course, is that a conscientious reporter should want to be the first one who is also right.

And, just so I don’t let anyone else off the hook, this message needs to be embraced and shared by editors, desk people, and top management. The message has to be sent early, often, and unambiguously.

How do I know?

Aren’t I just a professor, safely watching this from the sidelines?

Well, yes and no. I worked for almost five years in a news cockpit, covering the state government of Massachusetts for the AP. In that role, one of my duties was to read the opinions of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the SJC, the oldest continuously sitting court in the English-speaking New World, older than SCOTUS). When those opinions were newsworthy, as they often were, I had to bang out an immediate hard-news lead. Directly across the room from me in the Statehouse Press Gallery, my competitors at UPI were doing the same thing. We could tell from the sound of our typing who was writing and who was finished and had transmitted the story. The stakes were not as high as they were on Thursday at SCOTUS, but covering the SJC is essentially the same challenge.

So, here are my takeaways from the health-care bulletin fiasco:

–News organizations need “beat” reporters. That is, they need reporters who specialize in an area (health care, let’s say, or covering the Supreme Court) and become experts in it. General-assignment reporters (and god love ’em, we need them too) cannot be thrown at every new situation and expected to learn on the fly.

–The Supreme Court should re-institute the “embargo” system. An embargo occurs when the news media are given material in advance, on condition that they agree to withhold it until a specific time. When that agreed-upon moment arrives, the journalists are all released from their promise and can all disseminate the news at the same time. That system has several advantages. It means that reporters are quarantined for a period of time that they can use to their benefit — they can read the whole opinion, maybe more than once; they can check their notes and background materials; they can even call experts for analysis and comment. They can use the time to craft a story that is accurate and complete, knowing that no other news organization that participated in the embargo is going to scoop them. Granted, it is not natural for a news professional to endorse any system that delays the delivery of news. But the reason we sometimes accept embargoes is that they ultimately serve the best interest of our audiences, which is what we should care about the most.

–We need bloggers too. A delicious irony from Thursday is that two big-deal professional news organizations (yes, I am lumping Fox News in here, arguendo) discovered their mistake in part by reading a blog! The highly regarded SCOTUSblog got the story right and prompted part of the correction process. So, let’s give a hat tip to the power of a small group of experts using the Web to communicate.

(And a special salute to Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog, seen at right. Talk about beat reporters! He has been covering the Supreme Court for 54 years, or far longer than any of the current justices has served.)

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“Fox & Friends”

By Christopher B. Daly 

In reading today’s Times story about the Fox News morning program “Fox & Friends,” I found it difficult to decide which of these facts was more startling:

____ Gretchen Carlson graduated from Stanford University, with honors no less!

____ Gretchen Carlson plays classical violin.

____ Gretchen Carlson was Miss America in 1989.

It has been reported. Now you decide.

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The Murdoch hearing (cont.)

By Chris Daly 

James Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is set to appear again Thursday before a committee of the British Parliament to answers about the behavior of Murdoch employees in Britain.

 

The NYTimes has a preview today, along with a couple of sidebars.

 

But the most extensive coverage I have found is in the Guardian, which seems determined to try to topple the entire Murdoch empire.

He has already been asked so many questions on so many subjects that it seems unlikely he could avoid making mistakes and possibly worse. He may want to bring a bodyguard (like his dad’s wife, Wendi — shown below waging a counter-attack against a prankster who tried to “pie” Rupert during an earlier round of Parliamentary hearings.)

 

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Watching the watchers

By Chris Daly

The news about the news business is suddenly all-Murdoch, all the time.

I am struggling with my reflexive reaction to government meddling with journalism, which is to say: hands off. Murdoch is the one person in the news business for whom I might consider an exception. (And that is based not on his right-wing politics, but on his declared intent to destroy the NYTimes. That puts him in a different category — a destroyer or vandal of journalism.

[Aside: is it just me, or does it seem that the Times is on a mission to print as many unflattering, aging photos of Murdoch as possible?]

AFP/Getty

So, it is with somewhat mixed feelings that I greet the news that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (who may actually be richer than Murdoch) has called on U.S. authorities to investigate the behavior (not the views) of all Murdoch employees in the United States for possible criminal actions. That would involve FOX TV News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and other properties.

Here’s a story from The State, based in Rockefeller’s home state of West Virginia.

Stay tuned.

 

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