It's time for journalists to stand up against Fox News

Rolling Stone’s profile of Fox News chief Roger Ailes this week provides the latest item in a long line of evidence that Fox News is a morally bankrupt sham of a news organization – a propaganda outlet that engages in intentional lying to advance its partisan cause. If you haven’t read the piece yet, do. It’s vital media criticism.

I’ve met plenty of journalists who bristle when I criticize Fox News. They’ve told me that, as defenders of free speech and the First Amendment, journalists should not be in the business of trying to silence other voices in the media marketplace.

But as defenders of truth, journalists also have an obligation to call out voices that intentionally spread lies to the public. Fox News’ owners and executives have a right to speak. But they don’t have a right to set the public agenda. It’s past time for responsible journalists to stand up against Fox News.

Tim Dickinson’s piece reviews many of Fox News’ offenses against the truth. Don’t fall for the line that it’s only Fox’s commentators who distance themselves from the truth to promote their agenda. Fox newsroom personnel are guilty, too. Fox Washington managing editor Bill Sammon has been caught bragging about spreading lies about Barack Obama, for just one example.

Despite my enthusiasm for Rolling Stone’s piece, one article now and then won’t cut it. Fox News broadcasts around the clock. An effective industry effort against the organization must hit it every day. Traditional fact-checking efforts and media criticism sites aren’t enough, either. There’s a huge difference between a news organization that spreads false reports by mistake and one, like Fox, that spreads it by design. The intent behind Fox’s mendacity is a bigger story than even the lies themselves.

Okay, I sense the pushback. Many traditional journalists are uneasy with such advocacy. But advocacy is an essential part of journalism – if we’re not pushing to teach, to engage and to motivate with our reporting, then what’s the use of writing it?

I won’t criticize Fox News for its advocacy, or even for its partisanship. I think both fine for news organizations. Newspapers for generations have employed crusading editorial writers and op-ed columnists. My problems with Fox News are its lying and its bigotry. (Check the Rolling Stone piece for more on Ailes and his stance on “the gays.”)

We need advocacy – advocacy for the world view that evidence matters, that it can’t be brushed aside it if challenges a desired ideology, and that it shouldn’t be selectively molded to fit that ideology. We need advocacy against granting public influence to voices that promote ideology over evidence and the protection of powerful friends over spreading the truth.

We need more journalists who will follow the lead of Jon Stewart, and mock Fox News for its hypocrisy, attack it for its lies, and report the truth of its motivations.

More importantly, we need journalists who can engage Fox News’ viewers and fans, and show them how Fox’s “reporting” is hurting them, their incomes, their jobs, their communities and their security.

Ultimately, few of our readers care if Fox News doesn’t meet our professional standards as journalists. But do care about their jobs, their families and their communities. Fox New warps that concern, twisting it to motivate people to support Fox’s agenda of phantom menaces. If more people saw how what Roger Ailes wants for America was hurting them, support for Fox would drop and support for more accurate journalism, in aggregate, might rise.

That’s the business opportunity for journalists willing to stand up to Fox News. As popular as the news channel might be, many Americans are sick of Fox News’ lies, and frustrated with the rest of the journalism industry for not doing more to counteract Fox. Inspire that audience with a strong stand for truth – and a strong stand for the public’s interest – and you might be able to capture some of that audience for yourself.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. says:

    As a non American who through study has taken a big interest in media in America I don’t understand why Fox News gets away with such lies. Perhaps the viewers of Fox news are not aware of the lies because they dare not watch any other news station. But as an outsider looking in it is very worrying to see the Fox News channel which appears to be inciting hate towards anyone that does not agree with their rather limited vision. I get free speech and all of that but Fox News should come with a warning. The warning should be this is not a fair nor balanced opinion based propoganda tool. If you want to really see what is going on in America and the rest of the world go elsewhere

  2. says:

    Well, I will begin with saying the obvious… There are liberal news agencies that will lie, and sling lies at people like Sarah Palin when she first entered into the political fold. It is a shame that some nobody is trying to sell the “bigotry” card when there was no proof to cite such an example. Talk about poor journalism. And, you claim that Fox News lies? What about MSNBC, or CNN? I have listened to them lie repeatedly over things like the voter intimidation case dismissed by Eric Holder. Tell you what, why doesn’t this administration do something about our borders (more concerned about muslim extremists than Mexican citizens coming across) instead of filling suits against states that are trying to protect their citizens. Our government is fractured and to a point I have never seen before. I used to vote Democrat, but I am neither a Republican or Democrat now. I vote with my head and my conscious. I cannot say that I agree with the trillions of dollars spent by this president in such a short time and it infuriates me that the media has this love affair with Obama when he has done nothing to cut unemployment, grow jobs, or reduce the spending. Where is the change and transparency he promised?

  3. says:

    I see the point of this piece, but this overall agenda of news organizations is rampant throughout the industry. In my opinion you devalue you argument using true honest journalism in the same sentence with john steward from a commedy central. You say and agree journalism is free speech and should be honest and factual, but really you only use fox as your one example, you youself are not being true when you know they possess the agendy of each network. So lets be truthful and honest across the. industry and be careful as our own pieces may just
    show our own agenda and sustain for a different view.

  4. says:

    Using Rolling Stone article as PROOF, really? NUFF SAIS

  5. says:

    Get over it. Fox is ere to stay. I am just a normal person who watches Fox News. Sojust doyour job and don’t worry about Fox. I love Fox

  6. says:

    Right on Brother!

  7. totally agree. thanks for the good post. hopefully more journalists take note

  8. says:

    What a huge difference there is between advocating free speech and advocating the truth. As a matter of fact lies–loud, oft repeated, and unopposed– results in the loss of free speech as part of the collateral damage. Each lies takes up space that could be occupied by the truth.

  9. says:

    I’d have to say, I couldn’t agree more with your post. I’ve been saying this for the longest time now. However, I don’t think FOX News should be the only one to be criticized. In my opinion, all of the big networks, and even cable news (including the likes of CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, HLN, and others) deserve criticism, as well. There have been countless times that I’ve heard reports from ALL of these networks that were either misleading or influenced by corporate interests. I also see a trend of the networks ignoring stories from impoverished communities and catering to the affluent audience that garners better ratings. A perfect example is drugs. News organizations rarely report much about the war on drugs until it reaches the safe (illusion of safe, anyway) confines of the suburbs and rich neighborhoods. Then the networks turn into advocates all-of-a-sudden?