Fox News and Liberal College Fail to Answer to Higher Authority, by
In abruptly settling a lawsuit on Tuesday, Fox News admitted to airing falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election. There was much less coverage of Marymount University’s decision earlier this year to do away with nine undergraduate majors. Two disparate, unconnected stories? No, I don’t think so. Underneath lurks a disturbing similarity that exposes the cracking foundations of two of our nation’s vital institutions.
Guests and hosts on Fox News supported claims that voting machines covertly transferred votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Fox star Tucker Carlson tried to squelch a reporter’s tweet that there was no voter fraud in Arizona involving the manufacturer of the voting machines. In a text, he urged: “Please get her fired. Seriously….” Why? Not for bad or untrue reporting but because her story was “measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down.”
In February, the trustees of Marymount University, the Catholic liberal arts school in Virginia, unanimously voted to do away with undergraduate majors in disciplines including history, English, theology and religious studies, philosophy, art and mathematics. A college spokesperson indicated this was done to improve its finances and increase enrollment.
In the case of Fox, money trumped the network’s promise to provide the “most watched, most trusted” news. With Marymount, money overrode the goal to provide an education “grounded in the liberal arts … that values diversity and focuses on the education of the whole person.”
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman said, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profit.” I understand that. I myself founded a Silicon Valley internet company. But are there not businesses like the kosher hot dog brand Hebrew National that “answer to a higher authority”?
In the very first provision of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, freedom of the press is guaranteed. Why this special treatment? As former President Herbert Hoover explained, “Self-government can succeed only through an instructed electorate.” The Washington Post’s motto says it this way — “Democracy dies in darkness.” Lies do not instruct nor enlighten. So don’t Fox’s Tucker Carlson and his colleagues have a moral, if not legal, obligation to instruct and not deceive the electorate? Isn’t being a source of news critical to democracy, and therefore different from a business that manufactures computers or builds roads? In a time when newspapers are going under at a disturbing rate, one can understand the pressure to turn out profits, but a news network still has a special role in a democracy.
Marymount University said it was cutting programs that were “no longer serving Marymount students” in order to invest in programs that give the school a competitive advantage. The competitive advantage is doing an especially good job in preparing students for well-paying positions in “the fulfilling, in-demand careers of the future.” Yes, students do have loans to pay off, and the university can do no good if no students apply. But take a step back and think about what’s happening. A liberal arts university is eliminating art as a major. A Catholic university is eliminating theology and religious studies as a major. Pope Benedict said: “A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints.” Shouldn’t any liberal arts college measure the success of its students by values imparted as well as by dollars earned?
Those reporting and those teaching should not be just holding down a job. They should be supporting the pillars of democracy, our freedom, now and in the future. And if news sources and universities are motivated only by money, I fear what the future holds for our democracy and for today’s students.
In Keith Raffel’s checkered past, he has served as the senior counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, started an award-winning internet software company and written five novels, which you can check out at keithraffel.com. He currently spends the academic year as a resident scholar at Harvard. To find out more about Keith and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at creators.com.