Last Friday, CNN anchor John King referred to the popular Fox News morning show, Fox and Friends as “state TV” over their rather lackluster questioning of President Trump on why he chose to lie about having tapes of his and Comey’s conversations. King’s remark, while not totally serious, raises important questions regarding the journalistic independence of Fox News under the current administration.
State TV, more commonly referred to as state media, generally fits a profile of being financially backed or controlled by the government. This, in turn, often results in a degree of, or total, government control over covered topics and opinions. As a result, a government may be able to shape an otherwise negative narrative into a positive. Perhaps even more sinister, a government may be able to cover up a negative narrative or story entirely. Such heavy government control over the media is generally a feature found in authoritarian countries with few media and free speech protections. Russia, Turkey and China, for example, all have extensive state media apparatuses. Media sources such as TASS, Russia Today, Anadolu Agency and Xinhua all serve their respective governments in various capacities, often projecting a particular government news narrative onto their own people or, in the case of Russia Today, onto an international audience.
Of course, Fox News doesn’t exactly fit the profile of state-run media. The constitutional and legal protections allotted to the media and the people in the United States essentially prevents this. However, there are some startling similarities between how these state media apparatuses operate and how Fox News approaches the current administration.
The White House has taken an interesting and, frankly, worrisome approach to White House press briefings in recent weeks. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has, on multiple occasions, banned the use of television cameras in these briefings. In fact, “spokesmen for President Trump have allowed question-and-answer sessions with reporters to be televised just six times in the past six weeks.” Bans of this nature effectively prevent transparent coverage of the increasingly unpopular administration.
Furthermore, even when cameras are allowed, Spicer has made it a habit to avoid answering any difficult questions, particularly those raised by CNN and other not-so-friendly-to-Trump outlets. At the same time, Trump and other senior administration officials give exclusive interviews to Fox News. Trump also utilizes his personal Twitter account to promote various Fox News articles and clips, essentially playing favorites with outlets that will push his and his administration's narrative.
This type of activity, quite frankly, is unprecedented. Never before has an administration so wholeheartedly embraced one media outlet. Not just that, but never before has a media outlet been so wholeheartedly ready to take on such a role. So, while Fox News may not fit the usual profile of a state media agency, it certainly shares some startling and concerning characteristics.