Fox News managing editor Bill Sammon was widely condemned yesterday for an email telling the networks staff not to report on even the most widely accepted scientific facts without immediately challenging them, as I reported here.
The only ones defending Fox News are, predictably, the originators and repeaters of the very disinformation that FoxNews reporters are being ordered to repeat. The leading online disinformer, discredited former TV weatherman Anthony Watts of WattsUpWithThat, actually went so far as to fabricate phony claims about the email in order to defend Fox News
Yesterday, he wrote (falsely) that it was a stolen email and illegally obtained on the basis of no facts whatsoever. In fact, as MediaMatters explained to CP, It was provided to us by a recipient. I think that was pretty obvious from the story and from the email itself, which was clearly sent to a great many people in FoxNews. It would be hard to imagine that no one on the distribution list thought the email was journalistically inappropriate.
So why would Watts make up such a libelous claim, one that is so transparently false and easily checked (notwithstanding the fact that it is his modus operandi)?
He was trying to make a bizarre and torturous equivalence between the massive hack of Climategate emails and Foxgate in order to try to smear Al Gore (and me). #FAIL
Lets move on to the more interesting, but still erroneous, critique from disinformers like Watts. They claim that Fox News is only following standard journalistic practices. First off, anyone who actually believes that FoxNews is following journalistic practices should read Howell Raines: Why has our profession helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?. Raines, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former NY Times executive editor, explains
For the first time since the yellow journalism of a century ago, the United States has a major news organization devoted to the promotion of one political party. In a bygone era of fact-based commentary typified, left to right, by my late colleagues Scotty Reston and Bill Safire, these deceptions would have been given their proper label: disinformation.
[Ailes] and his video ferrets have intimidated center-right and center-left journalists into suppressing conclusions whether on health-care reform or other issues they once would have stated as demonstrably proven by their reporting.
As for Fox News, lots of people who know better are keeping quiet about what to call it. Its news operation can, in fact, be called many things, but reporters of my generation, with memories and keyboards, dare not call it journalism.
The Foxgate email sent to Media Matters did little more then confirm what everybody already knew about FoxNews.
But what of the claim that FoxNews in this particular case was just trying to bring fair and balanced coverage to the climate story? Recall that, as MediaMatters explained, the Foxgate e-mail was sent by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.
Sammon wrote we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.
As Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, told TechNewsWorld:
His memo on climate change, by contrast, underscores what Fox has become: not a news organization, not even an honest opinion outlet, but a source of political propaganda. The real obligation of journalists is to help their audience understand that the scientific community is almost unanimous that the climate is changing, that human activity is a major cause and that voluminous amounts of data support that view.
For the record, the 2007 Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded its review of scientific literature and relevant observations:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level........