Should a news organization that interviews or hosts a newsmaker be immune from criticism by the guest?
Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, who appeared at a Fox News town hall broadcast Sunday from the University of Dubuque, thinks not.
Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who moderated the town hall, apparently thinks so.
On this issue, we’re in Gillibrand’s corner. A media organization that engages with a news source, ostensibly toward fulfilling its obligation to responsibly and objectively inform its audience, might well be part of the conversation.
And when that media organization has a demonstrable symbiotic love affair with the most powerful man in the world, as well as his political allies, it should expect to be referenced when political opponents have the chance.
That doesn’t mean the media outlet has to like it. It’s not unusual for the Telegraph Herald to be on the receiving end of criticism from folks quoted in news stories, submitting letters to the editor or writing guest columns. It can be frustrating. But it is a price paid by providers of news and commentary.
So, considering how Fox News portrays the world, it’s not surprising that Fox News would push back when it finds itself in the rare position of broadcasting a dissenting opinion.
What was a bit surprising, however, was that on Sunday the pushback came from Fox’s Chris Wallace. On the long roster of Fox journalists and personalities — there is a distinction — Wallace is one of the best in the business. On the objectivity scale, he is at or very near the top.
But there he was on Sunday, interrupting Gillibrand when she started to criticize how Fox News has covered and commented upon the abortion issue, particularly recent state laws designed to severely curtail or outlaw the procedure. She was accusing Fox of spreading disinformation when Wallace interrupted.
“We brought you here for an hour. We’ve given you — we’ve treated you very fairly,” Wallace told her. “I understand that to make your credentials with the Democrats who are not appearing on Fox News, you’re going to attack us. I’m not sure it’s, frankly, very polite.”
Gillibrand didn’t call names. She didn’t hurl insults. She didn’t berate and bully. That’s the sort of stuff that’s more common from Fox News’ favorite source regarding non-Fox media outlets.
“OK, I’ll do it in a polite way,” she replied to Wallace. “What happens on Fox News is relevant, because they talked about infanticide on Fox News for 6.5 hours … right before President Trump’s State of the Union.”
She continued, “I believe all of us have a responsibility to talk about the facts.”
In our current fractured political environment, even what is and is not a fact is fodder for disagreement.
However, it is a fact — make that our opinion — that a news organization should not expect to steer or stifle what its news sources say because it controls the cameras or printing press.
Fox News would have come off better Sunday had Wallace let Gillibrand’s chips fall where they did and demonstrate thicker skin.