On Sunday, Fox News’ Howard Kurtz and Chris Wallace engaged in a discussion about journalistic integrity.
“Is journalism becoming more intolerant?” Kurtz asked. “I mean, ten or twenty years ago, would we have seen the publisher of The New York Times completely flipping and criticizing a conservative op-ed that he had defended because a bunch of newsroom staffers didn’t like it?”
It feels like the inmates are running the asylum. You know, I’ve been critical sometimes of the Times, and I think that their liberal tendency tends to bleed out onto their news coverage – some people have accused Fox of the same thing in terms of our tendencies – but I thought that what happened in the last week at the Times was just extraordinary.
Wallace then explained that Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) had written an op-ed in which he advocated using the military to end the riots that erupted following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
After the op-ed was published in The New York Times, the paper received major backlash from their own staffers, and publisher A.G. Sulzberger defended it before backing down. The editor for the NYT editorial page, James Bennet, later reportedly apologized and resigned.
“It was a profile in a lack of courage,” Wallace stated.
Kurtz continued, asking Wallace: “Given the long history of racism and police brutality in this country, crystallized by the killing of George Floyd, does it now seem to you that there are many people in newsrooms – this goes far beyond The New York Times – who just don’t believe that dissenting views, let’s say sending in the military to control riots, should be aired at all, that it’s just too offensive to them?”
Wallace replied in the affirmative, noting that while there aren’t “two sides to every issue,” it isn’t “over the line to even discuss the issue of how you put down violent protests,” which is what Cotton advocated in his op-ed.
“I’m not sure I agree with him about it, and it certainly would have been an extraordinary step, but it doesn’t seem to me that it’s so far over the line that there aren’t two sides to that argument,” Wallace said, later adding, “but to suggest that it was improper for that – and this is a U.S. Senator – to suggest it was improper for him to even express that opinion, boy, that’s not good.”
“It’s called debate; it’s called free expression,” Kurtz stated.
The host went on to explain that he believes the “new woke standard” began “in part” when President Trump was a candidate, and that there were journalists that discarded the rules of journalism because they “deemed Donald Trump to be such a threat to the country.”
Kurtz noted that he believes this is still going on.
“Now they want to see him defeated in November,” the host said. “Do you agree with me, and do you think that’s a slippery slope?”
Wallace agreed, but he added that this standard appears to have begun before Trump. The Fox News anchor claimed that people will compliment him on his “fairness,” which he said he finds “fairly depressing” as fairness is the most basic standard of journalism.
“Today, I think that it’s gotten so polarized, whether it’s on cable news, whether it’s in newspapers, that fairness is kind of unusual, and that is a terribly sad reflection on our business,” Wallace suggested.
Kurtz pivoted, asking Wallace about his criticisms of Trump referring to the press as “the enemy of the people,” but also the Fox News anchor’s indictments of the media.
Wallace replied in part:
You see some reporters now who have become advocates. I see it in the press briefings now. You know, I was pretty tough in the press briefings with Ronald Reagan and his press secretaries in the 80s, but we were basically trying to get information. Some of the press briefings now … it’s more playing gotcha or more just trying to get in arguments and advance their point of view. That’s not what we’re supposed to be doing, and that’s what I see too often among my colleagues in the media…
Kurtz then brought up the idea that younger journalists might see objectivity as an outmoded method of reporting, and Wallace rebutted that by saying that the “truth” is what matters. He cited the coverage of the civil rights movement and the “the brutality of southern sheriffs” as evidence of the importance of journalists simply “shining a light on reality.”
“When reporters start taking sides, I think that’s very dangerous,” Wallace concluded.
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