What is Fox hiding behind its brick wall?

Charles Geraci

The Fox News Channel has recently battled accusations that the network is unfair and biased in favor of the conservative viewpoint. What is not as apparent, however, is the way Fox shields itself from careful dissection by the rest of the news media.

While working for Editor & Publisher magazine over the summer, I witnessed several examples of this protectiveness, covering the Republican National Convention in New York.

Over the course of four days, I met several prominent journalists, including many broadcast personalities from CNN and Fox. As I walked the convention floor before the speeches, I spotted Shepard Smith, the host of “Fox Report,” speaking with another journalist. Though I waited patiently for nearly 10 minutes, he declined to be interviewed, saying I should seek permission from the channel’s higher-ups. Earlier in the summer, I tried this route to no avail with Bill O’Reilly, whose publicist did not return many of my calls and e-mails.

I dismissed Smith’s refusal as another isolated incident, until I asked Fox’s Greta Van Susteren for a few moments of her time later that week. Her response: “I’m sorry, I can’t. But if you ask Fox News and they say it’s all right, I’d be more than happy to.”

This from the Fox News anchor whose program is called “On The Record.”

Of all the interviews I conducted at the RNC, with everyone from Ralph Nader to Don King, only the Fox News folks explicitly refused my requests. What do they have to hide?

It’s a shame that Fox disregards the rest of the media, as the network strives so hard to be taken seriously and shed the stereotype that it caters to conservatives. Maybe Fox News should enter the “no spin zone” and live by some of its own rhetoric, rather than overprotect its journalists.

Although I found Fox incredibly detached and impersonal, CNN proved to be the exact opposite. All of the anchors and political analysts I spoke with were engaging, friendly and approachable. Several of them even had a sense of humor.

When I saw John King, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, on the floor, he alluded to his intense workdays. I asked him how many hours of sleep he’d been getting. “About three to four hours a night,” he said, then added, “That’s not bad in a campaign year.” He said he tries to eat breakfast every day and joked, “But I still have a few more pounds to lose!”

If I wanted to ask Bill O’Reilly how much sleep he’d been getting, I would first have to ask the bureaucracy at Fox News for permission. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch could clarify this policy for the benefit of the news industry.

Conservative bowtie boy and “Crossfire” co-host, Tucker Carlson, proved to be the most delightful CNN interviewee. During the RNC, he told me he went to The New York Times building to film for his PBS show. He was confused when the lights were off and the cameras weren’t rolling. “I got there an hour early. I was so tired, I misread my watch,” Tucker told me.

He awoke to the makeup guy tapping him. Tucker asked, “Was I snoring?” and the makeup man replied, “Like an animal!”

The next day I received a pass to the CNN diner, across from Madison Square Garden, compliments of Carlson. While Fox walked away without hesitation, CNN staffers allowed me to eat with them, watch “Crossfire” live, and mingle with newsmen such as Wolf Blitzer and Paul Begala.

I gave Fox News a chance. The network refused. And that, as Bill O’Reilly likes to say, is the “most ridiculous item of the day.”

Charles Geraci is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]