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Fox Discusses Journalism Ethics, Propaganda Network

Reported by Judy - November 14, 2006 -

Laugh out loud funny. That's what it was Tuesday (November 14, 2006) when Fox News "journalist" Rebecca Gomez discussed such topics as the ethics of magazines using doctored photos and the right of an alleged propaganda network for terrorists to operate in the U.S.

Gomez was the "wild card" on the "Live Desk's" A-List panel. Whatever in the world possessed host Martha MacCallum to believe that anybody from Fox News has any business spouting off on journalistic ethics is beyond me, but she brought up altered photographs of ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas and CBS News anchor Katie Couric, along with the topic of Al Jazeera beginning an English language version of its Middle East-based news network.

MacCallum showed a photo illustration of Vargas published in Marie Claire magazine depicting Vargas breast-feeding her baby at the anchor desk. The magazine put Vargas' head on someone else's body and clearly labeled the result a "photo illustration."

“But is technology being used responsibly in this case and other cases, or are readers and viewers being misled?” asked MacCallum.

Funny, I ask myself that question just about every time I see a Fox News graphic, like the one identifying disgraced Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida as "D" -- a "mistake" never acknowledged or corrected by Fox News. In fact, I asked myself that just last Wednesday when I saw the Fox News graphic on control of the U.S. Senate showing Democrats with 48 seats, one independent, and Republicans with 51 seats. Are readers and viewers being misled by a graphic that shows Republicans still in control of the Senate, I asked.?

Gomez must have missed that graphic, but she was indignant about the Vargas photo illustration, saying, “I think the magazine should have asked if she was comfortable with this, because if I were to interview with a magazine and then they showed a doctored photo of me, I would be upset.”

Ha! Like Fox News checks with Sen. Hillary Clinton or likely-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi each time it shows an unflattering picture of one of them, doctored or not. Did Fox News ring up Clinton's office to ask if she was "comfortable" with the string of pictures they ran last week when Dick "Toe-Sucker" Morris complained that she looks different in every picture? Why does Gomez think a magazine would work any differently from Fox News?

Next up was the CBS publicity photo of Katie Couric, which had been altered (without disclosure) to make Couric look thinner. This clearly was a different situation, since it was not disclosed to the viewer.

A-List panel member Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor, worried about truth being obscured by such undisclosed alterations. "I think we’re in very dangerous territory when we start doing this over and over again," she said.

Gomez chimed in a little later, noting, "This goes to show that it behooves the public that they need to be vigilant and understand what they’re reading, reading the byline material. It’s basically up to us because sometimes these magazines will cross the boundary of what maybe, you, you, or you think is acceptable. So it’s up to the public. But when we’re talking about a Newsweek or Time magazine, there should not be doctored photos in there, but when they’re talking about a new remedy for migraines, they will use a model on the cover, so we really have to be vigilant.”

Gomez is absolutely right. When are journalists going to take a stand against the unrestrained use of models for migraine remedy articles appearing on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines? What's next? Cable television reporters making up fake quotes about a presidential candidate getting a manicure and publishing the phony story on the news channel's web page?

[Note to Gomez: The "byline" is the name of the reporter who wrote the story. By itself, it won't tell you a lot about whether photos were altered or not. Maybe you mean the photo caption or the editor's note. Were you sick the day they covered that in Journalism 101?]

Gomez saved some of her indignation for the news that Al Jazeera will begin offering an English-language news channel on Wednesday. "I think it’s just terrible. … I would not let my kids watch any of this. I would not want to watch it myself. We know what happens in war. We know when someone’s dead. You don’t need to see it to know the reality of war," she insisted.

Hostin and another member of the Marc Lamont Hill, assistant professor of urban studies at Temple University, disagreed. "I think it's great," said Hill, noting he has watched Al Jazeera for 10 years and appreciated the Third World perspective it offered.

"But Marc, they’re saying they’re going to show the dead bodies," said Gomez, apparently panicking at the thought.

"They should," he replied.

Panel member Jeffrey Lichtman, a criminal defense attorney, then launched into the stereotypical representation of Al Jazeera as a pro-terrorist network that shows beheadings. "Once they cross that line and become a tool for the terrorists, as far as I’m concerned they can drop a bomb on the studio and obliterate the entire [thing],” he said, apparently unaware that the U.S. has in fact bombed the Al Jazeera office once.

"They're doing this because they’re trying to sway public opinion," sniffed Gomez.

As if Fox News doesn't air one meaningless Bush appearance after another, day in and day out, in order to "sway public opinion." And as if the Bush administration hasn't barred U.S. news organizations from showing photos of the caskets of U.S. service people killed in Iraq for fear that public opinion will be "swayed."

Fox News is all about trying to sway public opinion, about using technology to mislead and manipulate viewers. For them to appoint themselves the watchdogs over the rest of journalism is laughable.