Several news organizations have begun the process of evaluating the disputed ballots in the state of Florida. Reporters intend to use a variety of methods to help answer lingering questions about who might have actually won the vote in the state if a hand recount had not been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
One prominent journalist at a national news outlet, however, advocates a different approach. John Gibson of Fox News Channel (12/15/00) would rather not know what really happened in Florida:
Journalists are supposed to criticize government officials for suppressing information or destroying evidence-- not advocate such actions. If journalism is to contribute to a democratic society, it must frequently expose the country to unpleasant truths. But for Gibson, guest-hosting Fox's popular "The O'Reilly Factor" program, the point of journalism is to preservethe legitimacy of those in power: "George Bush is going to be president. And who needs to know that he's not a legitimate president? Al Gore? Jesse Jackson? His political opponents? How does it do any good for the country to find out that, by somebody's count, the wrong guy is president?"
Gibson did suggest that the pursuit of truth could merely be delayed until it no longer mattered: "How about, if you want to do this thing, we lock those ballots up until George Bush is not president, so nobody can go use these ballots to undermine his position, to undermine the position of this country, to throw this country into chaos. If you want to know, if historians want to know, fine. Know some day in the future. You don't need to know now because he is president now."
Looking at public records is a crucial aspect of newsgathering-- a right that media outlets and journalists go to court to protect and preserve. It's distressing when a prominent journalist thinks the public's right to know should not infringe on the prestige of the president-elect.
While Fox News Channel strenuously disputes the idea that it has a right-wing tilt, Gibson's comments do seem to put the political health of a Republican office-holder ahead of normal journalistic principles. It's hard to imagine Fox suggesting that embarrassing facts about Bill Clinton should not be reported because they might make him seem less "legitimate."
ACTION: If you think media need to pursue stories that sometimes upset the status quo, let Fox News Channel know that you'd like to see that attitudein their journalists.
Fox News Channel
"The O'Reilly Factor"