Anticipation was high. The black-tie crowd had just finished a wonderful meal and enjoyed several moving presentations. The evening’s keynote speaker and top honoree was approaching the podium. But before he could utter a word, Sen. Ted Kennedy rose from a table in the front of the room and exited. His silent, rude snub was plainly intended to send the honoree a message: Your work and values are invalid. I’m taking my toys and going home!
Who could this loathsome individual be? Roger Ailes. His crime? He runs the most popular and successful cable news operation, Fox News Channel. Fox daily beats the liberal-leaning cable news stations, and that’s just too much for Kennedy, et al., to stand.
Fortunately, there are those in journalism who recognize Ailes’ genius and service to this country and to free speech. The black-tie event I’m referring to was held March 8 by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, and the group was presenting Ailes its First Amendment Leadership Award. I’m sure that many of the foundation’s members are liberal and that they disagree, perhaps quite vehemently, with Ailes’ personal views. But they rightly recognize Ailes as a staunch defender of free speech, one dedicated to the right of journalists to pursue the truth. And for that, they saluted him.
If only all liberals were willing to take such a principled stand. Shortly after the dinner, the Nevada State Democratic Party decided to pull out of a presidential debate they had agreed to co-host in August with Fox News. Caving in to pressure from MoveOn.org and other thin-skinned radicals, party leaders there took exception to one of the jokes Ailes made in his acceptance speech. After poking some good-natured fun at France and Hillary Clinton, he said this:
“And it is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’”
Nevada Democratic Chairman Tom Collins and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signed a letter claiming these remarks unfairly compared Sen. Obama to the infamous terrorist leader and “went too far.” Never mind that they were plainly aimed at President Bush’s tendency to mangle names – or, ironically, that Ailes probably included them to ensure that his barbs were more balanced. Their dislike of Fox and Ailes is so intense that it clouds their judgment.
That’s a shame, because Roger Ailes is someone that Americans of every political stripe can admire. First and foremost, he’s a hard-working individual whose drive and vision has led him to lead a highly successful news company. He’s been a leader in television for 40 years, having gone from winning Emmys for producing “The Mike Douglas Show” to presiding over Fox News, which regularly trounces its competitors in the cable-news field. He cares deeply about his employees, as demonstrated by his untiring efforts to free Fox’s Steve Centani and Olaf Wiig after they were kidnapped last August by four masked gunmen in Gaza City.
Moreover, Ailes is fiercely dedicated to the First Amendment – and, as he made clear in his speech, to making sure that it’s interpreted correctly:
It is important to remember that while the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, freedom depends on fairness in the press. Only people who understand different points of view can exercise an informed decision in the voting booth. Freedom of the press did not invent democracy. Democracy invented freedom of the press.
Bias is not necessarily what you believe in, but it can be reporting a story and leaving out other people’s valid beliefs. The First Amendment also guarantees freedom of speech, which is linked to another favorite word in today’s world – “diversity.” But diversity is not just skin color, economic status, geography and religion. It is also diversity of thought.
The greatest danger to journalism is a newsroom or a profession where everyone thinks alike. Because then one wrong turn can cause an entire news division to implode. We must respect and encourage diversity of thought and speech in the newsroom.
Perhaps that’s why Sen. Kennedy left early. He didn’t want to be reminded of a central contradiction in modern liberalism – namely, that for all their loud talk of “diversity,” many liberals would prefer to see alternative views silenced. For them, “diversity” is a buzzword, a political slogan – not something to be taken seriously. Yet, day after day, Ailes’ network presents – brace yourself – both sides of the political debate, implicitly exposing the left’s hypocrisy. And in the process, it racks up huge ratings.
“If any of your people are in trouble,” Ailes told the assembled journalists at the First Amendment awards, “Fox will be there.” Lucky for them. Lucky, in fact, for all of us.
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