There was a time when American journalism was the gold standard of the world. We created the world's first journalism school. Newspapers and, later, broadcasters all over the world looked up and tried to emulate our practices. But no longer.
I've traveled the world quite a lot in the last 10-15 years. I've read local newspapers and watched TV news in places where journalism once was illegal -- Moscow, St. Petersburg, Prague, the former East Germany. Around the world I've seen the influence of the American tradition, and it is a powerful force for good.
Then came Rupert Murdoch.
We live in an open society. Usually what immigrants contribute to American culture enriches us all. But Rupert Murdoch, immigrant from Australia, has injected into American journalism a vile corruption, a willingness to abandon the truth and embrace falsehood when it's convenient and profitable.
Murdoch is a smart and ruthless businessman, and he's used his skills to create a highly successful national TV network. He's taken over newspaper after newspaper, culminating in wresting control of the Wall Street Journal from the Bancroft family. And he's put together a 24-hour cable news channel that could have been an awesome force for good ... but instead has become a source of poison pumped right into the heart of journalism and American democracy.
My disgust with Fox News is not political. I'm not offended that opinion is being mingled with facts. I'm offended that opinion is being constructed on top of fabrications, inventions, falsehoods, lies.
The most recent and most egregious example, the libelous attack on Shirley Sherrod of Athens, Georgia, is just part of a series from a pseudo-news organization that has become part of an assembly line producing mind poison.
Let me be perfectly clear. This is not about left and right. It's about right and wrong.
Here's how the assembly line works. Someone invents a lie. The lie gets passed around among liars, growing and getting momentum. Fox News then gives it a big ride into orbit. Talking points are distributed to TV hosts, TV guests, politicians and bloggers. The chorus gets louder and louder. Soon it makes no difference whether it's true or false, because the poison is so thoroughly injected into the civic conversation that permanent damage has been done -- to individuals, to organizations and institutions, and ultimately to America.
It's like Henry Ford's factory. No one person actually builds the car. Everybody just adds a bolt here, a nut there. And there are plenty of nuts.
Andrew Breitbart, the blog network operator who posted the deception in the Sherrod case, can feign innocence. Somebody else edited the video. He never saw the whole speech. Fox News can feign innocence. It just reported on the controversy. Somebody else is always at fault.
There are legitimate journalists working at Fox, trying to practice actual journalism in a corrupt vessel, but that only makes this more tragic. People, get out. Find an honorable job.