The death of Roger Ailes, the mastermind behind the eruption of Fox News as the brightest star in the cable news universe, on Thursday at age 77 evoked for me memories of my days as a young reporter in the mid and late 1960s.
As I covered Republican political events in my home state of North Carolina, I was surprised to hear complaints among the GOP faithful about the “liberal Greensboro Daily News” or “liberal Winston-Salem Journal.” Yes, even then, more than half a century ago, what is described as the “mainstream media” was viewed as out of touch by many on the right.
Those sentiments were jarring to me because I grew up admiring and respecting the Daily News, the Journal and other newspapers. I believed newspapers reported honestly the news of the day. So I dismissed those complaints, even though, when I thought about it, I realized only a few conservatives pounded typewriters in the newsrooms I was familiar with. And, in those days, I leaned left myself.
One who obviously took to heart such complaints was Ailes, who with Rupert Murdoch founded Fox News in 1996. When he talked about the challenges of birthing the new network — “no studios, control rooms, stars, programs or anything else”— Ailes said one thing was certain: “We knew there was an audience.”
That audience and the network that serves it continue to be looked down on by the big league newspapers, television networks and the stars of both. The mainstream media have never fully come to grips with the complaints of millions of Americans who don’t see their worldview, their attitudes, their understanding of the way news should be reported reflected in news coverage. As a conservative now, I sympathize as I read news stories that — in the words chosen, the way the articles are written, the assumptions that underlie the tale told — reflect a liberal slant.
The high and mighty in the mainstream media can see bias, slant and point of view in Fox News coverage but not in the work in their own pages and broadcasts.
Friends asked me if I regretted retiring in 2015 and not being around to write about the 2016 presidential election. I’m thankful I wasn’t. I would have made a fool of myself, writing that the Grand Old Party of conservatism would never nominate someone like Donald Trump. Then, a Never-Trumper, I would have written the country would never place its future in the hands of such a reckless character.
I had plenty of company in being wrong. But I don’t see any sign that the major newspapers and broadcasters have learned anything from their election coverage debacle. The New York Times, the greatest news gathering organization in America, missed the biggest election story of a generation, but no political reporter or editor was transferred to the food section, the metro staff or some other newspaper Siberia.
A fan of the Sunday morning news talkfests, I see the very pundits who were so wrong about Trump fling their all-so-certain opinions from the heights of “Meet the Press” and other shows.
As someone who spent my professional life, starting at age 16, in the newspaper business, I’m saddened and disappointed that editors, reporters and broadcasters seem not to have learned much from 2016. Now, Trump has made it easy for them not to have to own up to their mistakes. His foolish thundering about “fake news” and the press being an “enemy” of America gives the mainstream media a pass on its huge failings.
Ailes saw those failings and built a media juggernaut on it. His career crashed with allegations of sexual harassment, which he strenuously denied. Still, his work in transforming the news universe deserves the accolades being bestowed on it by conservatives. Unfortunately, it appears the mainstream media don’t seem to have learned the lessons of Fox’s success.