Jan 1 2002

Fox at the Front

Will Geraldo set the tone for future war coverage?

Just as the Gulf War marked an important milestone in the evolution of CNN, the war in Afghanistan appears to be a defining event for Fox News Channel. Fox may reshape the way wars are covered with its aggressive cheerleading for the U.S. armed forces and their allies, and its hostile, even insulting portrayal of their opponents–who have been described by Fox personnel as “rats,” “terror goons” and “psycho Arabs.”

Fox’s management seems to lampoon traditional notions of journalistic impartiality. “We don’t sit around and get all gooey and wonder if these people have been misunderstood in their childhood,” Fox News chair Roger Ailes told the New York Times (12/3/01). “What we say is terrorists, terrorism, is evil, and America doesn’t engage in it, and these guys do.”

A central tenet of Fox’s war reporting is the steadfast belief that dead Afghan civilians don’t merit much media attention (Extra! Update, 12/01). As Fox’s lead anchor Brit Hume told the New York Times (12/3/01), “The fact that some people are dying, is that really news? And is it news to be treated in a semi-straight-faced way? I think not.”

“Semi-straight-faced” might be a charitable way to describe the reporting of Geraldo Rivera, who jumped from CNBC to become Fox News’ primary war correspondent. Rivera’s comments prior to his departure (Washington Post, 10/2/01) signaled his new approach to journalism: “I’m feeling more patriotic than at any time in my life. Itching for justice–or maybe just revenge.” If he found Osama bin Laden, Rivera vowed, “I’ll kick his head in, then bring it home and bronze it” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/6/01). Here are some of the highlights of his actual reporting from Afghanistan, a sampling that captures the essence of Fox News Channel’s new face of war correspondence:

November 20: We want to be there when they bring Osama bin Laden to justice. We want–I’ve got a New York City fire department hat I want to put on–on the body of his–you know, the head of his corpse. It’s deeply personal, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is my professional calling.

November 26: On the road into Kabul from the Bagram air base, there is eloquent testimony to the devastating effectiveness of our airstrikes, awesome and precise, with very little collateral damage. This was the Taliban front lines until our B-52s arrived.

November 29: Rivera: We’ve been in various conflicts, and we keep our chin up and keep focused on the fact that we want Osama bin Laden to end up either behind bars or six feet under or maybe just one foot under or maybe just as a pile of ash, you know. That’s it.

Fox anchor Laurie Dhue: All right. Well said, Geraldo.

Rivera: We want to win.

December 6: And these are great fighters, by the way, Bill, they don’t have sleeping bags or uniforms, but they got courage, and they’ve been fighting these bad guys for years all on their own without any help from the rest of the world. Now they are truly the enemy of our enemy, so they’re our friends.

December 6: As you are about see, this rat can still bite…. We’re undaunted, though. We’re going back up the hill. These guys are getting ready to mount their third straight day of assaults on the Tora Bora complex…. And then, you know, then it’s going to get really ugly. Then it’s going to be brutal hand-to-hand, eyeball to eyeball, bayonet to bayonet fighting to root the rats out of their last nest.

December 7: Every boom I kind of said, “Go for it, boys. How this, Osama? Remember September 11.” And they were rockin’ all night long, rockin’, rockin’, one shot that you could tell were the precision-guided munitions, and then the clusters of a half a dozen or so from the B-52s. But they did not sleep in Tora Bora. I mean, imagine, if we’re here a couple of miles away, we were shaken, I can imagine what the rats in the nest are feeling as the ground above them really rattles.

December 7: You know, my head’s been filled with pop cultural references all morning long. I just remembered the one from Police and Sting. You know, there is speculation that bin Laden, because he is so sophisticated, is monitoring Western news organizations with a satellite dish and may indeed be watching this broadcast right now. If he is, remember that Sting lyric, “Every move you make, every step you take, we’ll be watching you,” Osama.I think the noose is tightening. These mujahideen freedom fighters, helped by the plastering that bin Laden and the terrorist thugs have been getting all night long from our B-52s and fighter bombers–it’s only a matter of time, Rita, and I want to be there–I want to be there for the final chapter.