Fox News chief Roger Ailes last night gave a talk at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. One of the things he said was this: “[In] 15 years we have never taken a story down because it was wrong. You can’t say that about CNN, CBS or the New York Times.” That account comes from the Twitter feed of journalist Gabriel Sherman. Another report on the event — it wasn’t livestreamed — contained this interpretation of the Ailes boast:
He claimed Thursday that the channel has never had to retract a story for inaccuracies...
The debunking began right away. NPR media savant David Folkenflik tweeted:
Ailes’ claim Fox has never had to retract story is obv untrue - ie deer tale bit.ly/HEtxG0 || Geraldo befogged:bsun.md/Itym8C
The two Fox stories cited by Folkenflik are whoppers. In the first, Fox fell for a hoax pursuant to which it reported that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had outfitted a bunch of deer in bright orange vests, the better to protect them. In the second, Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera was forced to admit to grave mistakes in his coverage of the Afghanistan war.
Neither of those is as towering as my favorite of this Fox genre. Last August, an earthquake radiated from Virginia and shook D.C. into a brief panic. Fox was on the case. The case of rumor, that is.
Anchor Megyn Kelly, in the aftermath of the tremors, looked into the camera and reported this:
One extraordinary comment from this D.C. police officer to our producer — this is just a one-liner but apparently he told our producer that they are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting. They are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting. That’s all I have ... a one line of that.
Despite Ailes’ suggestion of high-flying journostandards at Fox, the network hadn’t bothered researching the tilt before pushing it out to the public. Bill Line, spokesman for the National Park Service, told this blog, “We never received a phone call from Fox asking us about that. I learned about it on their Web site.”
The next day, Kelly added more nonsense to the nonsense:
We are told that engineers are today surveying the landmark trying to figure out how to make it safe again for tourists to enter. They spotted cracked stones near the top immediately after the quake. No word yet on how badly it is damaged but the Park Service is now saying that the statements from Washington, D.C., police yesterday that the monument may be leaning turned out not to be the case when they got close enough to inspect.
Note that Fox didn’t take responsibility for the report. It simply shoveled blame in the direction of its anonymous source — a cop, who, being a cop, would have no expertise on the geometries of the Washington Monument. More: The Park Service didn’t need to get “close enough” to the monument to knock down Fox’s “tilt” story; it knew the report was bunk all along.
The most interesting artifact about the Washington Monument-tilt story lies here. It’s the Web story about the tilting monument, still intact on Foxnewsinsider.com. It says this:
Megyn Kelly just shared word that a D.C. police officer told a Fox News producer that there is concern that the Washington Monument may be tilting following a 5.9 magnitude earthquake.
The Web page carries a key to unraveling what Ailes told his audience in North Carolina. Go back to the quote: “[In] 15 years we have never taken a story down because it was wrong...” Right: In the case of the tilting monument, Fox knows that the story is wrong, but it still keeps it up. Ailes speaks the truth.