In an appearance last month at the University of North Carolina, Fox News boss Roger Ailes made news with this line, among others: 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.”
Critics pounced with examples of Fox stories that didn’t bear out, including my favorite: The report that the Washington Monument was “tilting” in the aftermath of last August’s earthquake.
The claim of factual perfection thus looked like a prime question to place before the news chief during his appearance last night at Ohio University, where he sat down for an interview with former Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander at the invitation of the university’s George Washington Forum. Does Ailes really stand by the 15-year boast? Or was it just a provocative little stretch?
The query was on Alexander’s list, he says, but he didn’t get to it. “There’s been so much out there by Media Matters and others that it fell down the priority list,” says Alexander. “It wasn’t ideal for a long-form interview.”
Alexander had a different emphasis for the discussion, one that would drill deeper into Ailes as Ailes. “I wanted to deal a little bit with his personal stuff,” said Alexander, a visiting professional at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. “Why is he so paranoid — and he didn’t dispute that he was paranoid.” On this matter, says Alexander, Ailes professed that he lives in a “tough world” and that there are “lots of threats against him.”
Poynter.org has aggregated tweets from the session, an electronic trail that assumes outsize importance in a public session with Roger Ailes. That’s because Ailes and his people stipulated no videotaping of the proceedings. Alexander asked Ailes about this policy, which is odd coming from a guy who lives off of televised interviews. “I pressed him on that, and he basically said he’s concerned about people taking video out of context and using that against him,” says Alexander.
At least Fox News and its honcho are consistent on this front. Robert Ingram, the Ohio University associate professor who helped to put together the event, asked Fox if a video camera could be set up for the event. No, came the response. Why not? “They said that they didn’t want video out in the public domain that could be doctored in some way or another,” responds Ingram.
Hypocrisy, small-mindedness, cowardice! Except that this week, given all the Cory Booker action, the video-doctoring excuse is looking uncharacteristically sturdy.
Nor did Team Fox do anything to enforce the no-video thing. Ingram merely asked the audience to comply with the request, and people appeared to have done so. Should someone have elected to videotape the event from their seat, says Ingram, there was nothing he or anyone else could have lawfully done to stop them.
And despite his claims about the threats that he receives, Ailes wasn’t heavily escorted. “There was no [security] team,” says Ingram. The muscle consisted of one guy, whom Ingram describes as about six feet tall, no earpiece, dressed in a suit.