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ROGER AILES DEFENDS FOX NEWS PRACTICES

Refutes Criticism by Project for Excellence in Journalism

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Fox News Network's chairman-CEO, Roger Ailes, today brushed aside recent research from the Project for Excellence in Journalism that suggested his news operations harbored a conservative bias.
Photo: AP
Roger Ailes defended his news operation at today's media breakfast.

Mr. Ailes made his comments this morning at a media breakfast at Syracuse University's Newhouse School in Manhattan, where he was interviewed by New Yorker media columnist Ken Auletta.

+ The Project for Excellence in Journalism is a Washington-based organization affiliated with the Columbia University School of Journalism and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

One-sided news coverage
In its "State of the American News Media" report issued March 13, the Project concluded that the Fox News Channel had the most one-sided news coverage of the major networks. Fox was specifically cited for being twice as likely to broadcast positive news stories about the Iraq war than its competitors. Its reporters were also found to have included their opinions in seven out of 10 news reports. Reporters from Fox rivals CNN and MSNBC only included opinion in about one in 10 of their stories, the report said.

Responding to the criticism, Mr. Ailes said survey questions or polls of the sort the Project conducted can always be spun. "I took a poll of Pew and 98% of my organization thought they were biased," he joked. "You can't get too worked up about it."

Heavy on political analysis
He went on to defend Fox News' programming, which runs a lineup heavy on political analysis, arguing that there is simply too much time in the day to do all hard news all the time. "You need news analysis, it's part of TV today," he said. But, he insisted, "hard news -- you can't really spin that." He said he always asks staff to "reach out to a point of view they don't always agree with, to be sure they add some balance to the stories."

In response to criticism from the Project that cable news channels often run stories based on only a single source, Mr. Ailes acknowledged that cable operations are often less staffed. He also pointed out that Fox News has one-third the staff of CNN.

"The journalism in cable sometimes is light because the depth of investigative research isn't there," he said.

No 'Tailwind'
Mr. Ailes asserted, however, that the "American people know what they're watching. The news audience is older, they're more educated, they have more money. There is no tricking anybody." He went on to say that Fox News had not had a "Tailwind," the 1998 journalistic debacle aired by CNN that inaccurately accused the military of gassing American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam war. The story was later retracted. Mr. Ailes said Fox had also avoided the kind of problems CBS News had following its report on President Bush's Air National Guard duty, for which anchor Dan Rather later apologized.

When asked about the greatest challenge at Fox News, he said it was "complacency and people who get to be successful or get too much money." When asked if there was anything CNN had that he envied, Mr. Ailes replied with a quick no. But, after a few seconds, decided he envied the positive press CNN gets. He said there was nothing he envied about MSNBC, but that the network has "hired every blonde that doesn't already work for us -- and apparently it's not working."

Sound marketing practices
His advice on sound marketing practice is, "You tell your story, figure out your message and get people to identify with it." Mr. Ailes described how Fox adopted the line, "America's most powerful brand in news." When a rival contested the phrase, he responded, "It's a marketing slogan!" In advertising sales terms, he said that because CNN refused to break out numbers on a head-to-head basis, he concluded that Fox News must be beating them.

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