Those of us who cover politics have been struggling for years with the shifting identity of Fox News, the media organization owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch and managed by long-time Republican operative Roger Ailes.
It seems sort of self-evident on the face of it.
When a media operation is managed by a guy who worked as a media consultant for presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the first George Bush, and Rudy Giuliani, you have to assume that there’s an agenda.
But the truth is that there has always been a revolving door between the media and politics.
So journalists like myself held fire, trying to discern some method to Fox’s madness that transcend conservative activism.
On the day when one of Fox’s most popular personalities, Glenn Beck, is making a bid to eclipse (redefine? reinterpret) Martin Luther King, it’s time to stop pussy-footing around.
If it ever was a legitimate news organization, Fox no longer is.
Yes, Fox employ a handful of actual journalists.
But so has every media organization — from Madison Avenue to Pravda — that worked to manipulate public opinion.
The larger reality of Fox is that its major personalities and pundits now include the full pantheon of conservative activists, from Karl Rove and Sarah Palin to Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee.
It’s astonishing to realize that the only major Republican contender in the 2012 presidential race who is not on Fox’s payroll is Mitt Romney.
Still, the real proof that Fox is a political entity — and not a journalistic one — doesn’t lie in its personalities, or even in what they say.
No, the smoking gun lies in the people not included in the conversation, and in the things that go unsaid.
Last week, former Republican chairman Ken Mehlman admitted that he is a homosexual.
A man who helped to engineer the political fight against gay rights and same-sex marriage — an architect of the Bush White House — acknowledged that he had deceived America.
He reversed his own position, endorsing same-marriage — and urged the GOP to do the same.
It was, by any measure, an important story, offering fresh insight into the internal divisions and debates over culture-war issues within the conservative movement.
Fox News never mentioned it.
According to Politico, there were exactly zero reports of Mehlman’s story on Fox’s broadcasts, a fact which the organization has now acknowledged.
(Fox executives argue that the story was covered on their website.)
The point I’m making here is simply caveat emptor, buyer beware.
Other news organizations — including our own — make mistakes. And yes, we occasionally allow our biases to slip into stories.
But Fox simply isn’t a news organization.
It is one political organ of the conservative movement — and viewed in that context, is a very good and effective one. And not even particularly unethical.
Their deliberate deceptions, shadings, and omissions are no more grievous or flagrant than, say, the press releases and spin put out by the Democratic National Committee, or the White House.
In the best of all worlds, Fox would simply acknowledge this fact, fessing up to its true role and purpose.
That would be far more honest. And I’m guessing that their ratings and influence wouldn’t suffer a bit.