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The Right Man For Fox News

Former president Bill Clinton takes Chris Wallace to task during an interview for last week's
Former president Bill Clinton takes Chris Wallace to task during an interview for last week's "Fox News Sunday." Clinton accused Wallace of conducting "a nice little conservative hit job." (By Michael Simon -- Fox News Via Associated Press)

Despite its "fair and balanced" mantra, Fox is widely viewed as conservative, with nearly seven in 10 national journalists in a 2004 survey citing it as an especially conservative news outlet.

And Fox sometimes puts its thumb on the scale. When Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was attacking President Bush, the network ran such on-screen graphics as "Chavez Insults U.S.: Where's the Outrage?" "Taking Cheap Oil From Hugo Chavez: Act of Treason?" and "New York Audience Gives Chavez Standing Ovation . . . Why?"

Fox gets its ideological sheen not from its reporters but from its high-profile conservative hosts, such as Sean Hannity, John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly, who regularly complains about the "left-wing press." And while the network has some liberal commentators, none has the prominence of Newt Gingrich.

But Fox may have moderated its journalistic approach a bit in recent years, with Ailes hiring Wallace from ABC News, former CNN anchor Bill Hemmer and Harvard analyst Marvin Kalb.

From where Ailes sits -- he says he gets asked for autographs in the real America, if not at Le Cirque -- the issue is the rest of the media. After the 9/11 attacks, he says, some journalists "ridiculed" him for wearing a flag pin.

"The New York Times had to fire a person for making up news," he says. "We haven't taken down a major story. If we make a mistake, we correct it in an hour."

Ailes believes he has helped discredit the notion that conservatism is "a freak point of view" in the media, noting that Rush Limbaugh, whose television show Ailes once produced, recently did a "Free Speech" commentary on the "CBS Evening News."

"We have forced a dialogue into the news business that didn't exist before we got here," Ailes says.

Foley's Showdown With ABC

On Friday afternoon, a strategist for Rep. Mark Foley tried to cut a deal with ABC's Brian Ross.

The correspondent, who had dozens of instant messages that Foley sent to teenage House pages, had asked to interview the Florida Republican. Foley's former chief of staff said the congressman was quitting and that Ross could have that information exclusively if he agreed not to publish the raw, sexually explicit messages.

"I said we're not making any deals," Ross recalls. He says the Internet made the story possible, because on Thursday he posted a story on his ABC Web page, the Blotter, after obtaining one milder e-mail that Foley had sent a 16-year-old page, asking for a picture. Within two hours, former pages had e-mailed Ross and provided the salacious messages. The only question then, says Ross, was "whether this could be authenticated."

The St. Petersburg Times last fall obtained the earlier e-mail, asking the 16-year-old for a picture, and interviewed the boy, who wrote a friend that he considered the message "sick." But the boy would not go on the record.

Executive Editor Neil Brown says the paper's policy against making accusations based on unnamed sources was a factor. "We just didn't feel like we had the story," he says. "We had a lot of stuff implied. . . . If I had it to do over again, I think we probably would have been more organized about pursuing it. But hindsight is 20/20."

The paper did interview Foley, who assured a reporter that the e-mail exchange was innocent, Brown says.

Delivering a Verdict?

Linda Greenhouse, the New York Times' Supreme Court reporter for three decades, has no shortage of opinions.

She aired some of them in June when she was honored at Harvard, saying that "our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha and other places around the world. And let's not forget the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism."

Don't those remarks, publicized last week by National Public Radio, go too far for a beat reporter covering such issues at the high court? Greenhouse says her comments were "statements of fact," not opinion, as underscored by the court striking down the administration's policy of holding terror suspects without charges.

"The notion that someone cannot go and speak from the heart to a group of college classmates and fellow alums, without being accountable to self-appointed media watchdogs, means American journalism is in danger of strangling in its own sanctimony," Greenhouse says.

Tom Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland's journalism school, calls Greenhouse's remarks "ill-advised," saying that while she can "still report objectively on contentious issues before the Supreme Court, the average person can reasonably ask, how can that not color her stories?" But former Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent says it is impossible "to find any trace of her views in her work."

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