Carl Cameron Boxes Outfoxed

Carl Cameron, the chief political correspondent for Fox News Channel, still hasn’t seen Robert Greenwald’s Fox News–bashing agit-documentary, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism . But he said it didn’t bother him that Fox News’ credibility was being strafed by the left. “This is the silly season, where everything becomes relevant,” he said. “I’m totally O.K. with it.”

But he’s not O.K. with it. “From what I understand,” he said a little later, “they’re accusing Fox of a variety of journalistic sins, but in the process of accusing us, they’re attempting to prove it by committing them.”

Carl Cameron is a hard-working reporter who’s living on a political landscape so hot that it that makes a reporter defensive about what he’s not. That means he’s running around the landscape telling other reporters-like Howie Kurtz from The Washington Post -that he’s not unfair and imbalanced.

Other reporters like and respect him. So do his sources. But this is the season of the slag.

So Mr. Cameron is in Outfoxed looking bad for sucking up to the President in a pre-interview, the same way that Paul Wolfowitz looks bad in Fahrenheit 9/11 for licking his comb, or the way lots of beaten and battered liberals look bad staggering out of Fox News Channel studios after being Hannity’d or O’Reilly’d.

It’s that kind of year.

Carl Cameron’s hard-boiled choir-boy look and crisp on-air news stand-ups don’t make him the kind of West Side Highway billboard-ready face of Fox News that Bill O’Reilly is. Instead, Mr. Cameron is the guy Fox shoves out when they need to produce a good old-fashioned, non-ideological reporter. Just call John Kerry’s people , insisted Rupert Murdoch’s publicity team. They love Carl .

“We feel that Carl has been very fair to us,” said Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Kerry’s chief spokeswoman. “And I’ve enjoyed working with him.” That’s probably what Eisenhower’s press secretary said about the correspondent from Izvestia .

“I am-and I think all of Fox is-very grateful that the Kerry campaign has seen fit to work closely with us,” said Mr. Cameron.

Since when are network news correspondents grateful that campaigns “work closely with us”?

And Ms. Cutter said she considered him an anomaly. Asked if her trust of Mr. Cameron extended to Fox News, she said, “No. Carl is a wholly owned entity …. I think we’ve had some trying moments with them.”

That’s life in the era of the politicized cable channel. In this bitter election year-in which MoveOn.org took a full-page ad in The New York Times to compare Rupert Murdoch’s news channel to Soviet-era Pravda -Mr. Cameron has had to defend himself. At first, he was hesitant to talk on the record about the film. He said he didn’t want to talk publicly about his former wife.

“Frankly, I haven’t seen the damn tape and I don’t even know what I said,” he said. Here’s what Mr. Cameron said in the film:

Outfoxed has off-air footage showing Mr. Cameron pandering to George W. Bush in a sit-down interview on July 19, 2000: Mr. Cameron tells Mr. Bush that his wife, Pauline Cameron, was campaigning with Mr. Bush’s sister, Dorothy (“Doro”) Bush Koch. This delights Mr. Bush.

Bush : Things are good. Your family?

Cameron : Very good. My wife has been hanging out with your sister.

Bush : Yeah, good.

Cameron : She’s been all over the state campaigning, and Pauline has been constantly with her.

Bush : Yeah, Doro is a good person.

Cameron : Oh, and she’s terrific. When she first started campaigning for you, she was a little bit nervous, but now she’s up there-

Bush : Getting her stride?

Cameron : She doesn’t need notes, she’s going to crowds and she’s got the whole riff down.

Bush : She’s a good soul.

Cameron : She’s having fun, too.

Bush : She’s a really good soul.

Pretty standard for Washington.

Mr. Cameron told Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz last week that Ms. Cameron had not, in fact, campaigned for Mr. Bush in 2000. “The whole thing is, in retrospect, an embarrassment that I feel really bad about,” said Mr. Cameron after looking at a transcript of the conversation. He said that trick editing by Mr. Greenwald made it look as though he said that his wife had campaigned alongside Ms. Bush.

Actually, he said, his wife had simply shown interest in campaigning, but never did.

“That did not happen, nor did I say that,” he said. “What I described was Doro campaigning all over the state and Pauline, having seen Doro at one community event, being interested at going out and helping, and maybe campaigning with Doro. But I never said that, nor did Pauline ever campaign all over the state with Doro. It was an unfortunate piece of editing in the movie that gave a far worse impression than the reality.”

This may seem Wag the Dog –ish to you, but how the statement “She’s been all over the state campaigning and Pauline has been constantly with her” was edited into something other than what Mr. Cameron meant is difficult to imagine.

But what does it matter? Network news guys make sucky small talk with Presidents all the time. Does Andrea Mitchell bring up the nice dinner parties she and Alan Greenspan attended during the setups for her interviews? If she does, that’s Washington.

Finally, Mr. Cameron broke a sweat where he really didn’t have to and said he had augmented the facts and given Mr. Bush the wrong impression about his wife’s involvement. “I feel bad about the conversation,” he said.

Then he got a little bit angry.

“Anybody who suggests that this is somehow tainting my coverage is overlooking my coverage,” he said. “There is no other reporter in the country who reported more often George Bush’s misstatements. Every time he misspoke the English language, Carl Cameron, more than any other reporter, put it in the national news.”

Then he returned to being contrite. “All of which I say not to excuse myself for what was a regrettable and unfortunate conversation that I wish never happened,” he said.

What a nutty world we live in. In Outfoxed , the narrator says that everyone at Fox News knew that Mr. Cameron’s wife was working for the Bush campaign. And his competitors were fast to leap upon him from anonymous corners. One source familiar with the situation, who declined to be named, told NYTV that Mr. Cameron had attempted to get his wife a job with the Bush transition team.

“Ridiculous,” responded Mr. Cameron. “Ridiculous.”

“At another network,” said a rival cable executive, “the person would not be in that position because there are rules in place that would prevent the news division from that kind of exposure.”

Despite the political affiliations of his former wife, Mr. Cameron said he wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat. After all, he was the reporter who broke the Bush D.U.I. story and reported Mr. Bush’s drunk-driving record the week before the 2000 election. And he did it on Fox News.

“My relationships with Republicans in the 2000 campaign didn’t stop Fox from reporting the D.U.I. story that Karl Rove said cost George Bush the popular vote,” said Mr. Cameron.

But by all accounts, Carl Cameron is not the kind of reporter who ought to be in the business of defending himself. “Carl earned our trust in the Dean campaign,” said Joe Trippi, campaign manager for Governor Howard Dean’s Presidential run. “The only reason Governor Dean agreed to be on the premiere of Chris Wallace’s show was that Carl made the request.”

Even Peter Hart, the media analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting-a talking head in Mr. Greenwald’s documentary and the go-to man for facts and figures that bedevil Fox News’ claim to balance-couldn’t think of bad things to say about Mr. Cameron. “He’s a different character, I think,” he said. “There are probably occasionally moments where he marches along party lines, but there are some exceptions.”

Carl Cameron got his start on TV in 1992 at New Hampshire ABC affiliate WMUR, a station long integrated into the primary process, where he met big players in Presidential politics. “If they were going to try and spin me, what they’ve got to do is they have to overcome a 15-year relationship, wherein we’ve been through battles and wars and conflicts and agreements in the past,” said Mr. Cameron. “And they can’t suddenly just start spinning stuff and have it be incongruous to a long-standing relationship. Because I’ll call them on it, or they’ll call me on it.”

A number of Mr. Cameron’s Beltway colleagues were willing to go to bat for him as a reporter, including his rival at CNN.

“Carl is so solid,” said Kelly Wallace, CNN’s correspondent on the Kerry trail. “I always learn something new in his reports. And I am not sure he ever takes a day off. He is everywhere.”

Fox News chief Roger Ailes agreed, taking out a full-page ad in the trades on July 20 that dubbed CNN the “Caught Napping Network” for its slowness in reporting Senator John Edwards as the Democratic V.P. pick. NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell had broken the story first, but Mr. Cameron came in second-first on cable.

How did Mr. Cameron feel about that ad?

“That is something that we’re proud of,” said Mr. Cameron. “I would not want to be third-or, as the case may have been, fourth.”

But Mr. Cameron said his journalistic guiding light at Fox was Brit Hume, the channel’s managing editor, one of Mr. Hart’s main targets, considering his Sunday-morning right-wing opinions on Fox. Mr. Cameron called him “relentlessly fair.”

“Brit is my boss, my mentor and my dearest friend,” he said. “He is a ruthless taskmaster. He comes at my scripts right, left and center. His political coverage and his contribution is incredibly valuable.”

Mr. Cameron said he actively worked to make sure his reports were presented fairly. And, he said, the editorial directives shown in Outfoxed -internal memos from news president John Moody appeared to order news recast rightward-were simply helpful advice.

“If somebody said that’s a directive to put that into your package, I’d have to say, ‘What planet are you on?’” he said. “I’ve never, ever once been second-guessed by anybody at Fox that what I’ve heard or seen with my own eyes should somehow be altered for any purpose.”

“If the world concludes today, tomorrow, whatever, that the media has shifted and one organization is deserving of a reputation or not, I will still go back to look at my stories,” Mr. Cameron said. “What you’ll see there is a true reflection of what happened on the campaign trail and the political ramifications from it. If they decide Fox is cannibalistic, pick your adjective, I still stand by everything I’ve done today and, thankfully, people on both sides of the fence have agreed that, yeah, what you’re saying, Carl, is true.”

As a matter of fact, more than anything else, Mr. Cameron just seemed proud of his organization. No one would focus on Mr. Cameron’s skills if he were slogging away at, say, ABC News. “On the floor of the convention, you’ve got Major Garrett and Carl Cameron,” he said, referring to his Fox News colleague and himself. “I would stack up myself and Major Garrett as a one-two punch against any one-two punch that’s been on the air in years.”

But then the tone of the age kicked in. Mr. Cameron suddenly felt he wanted to clarify: “And, of course, I don’t mean ‘punch’ in a derogatory way,” he said. “Some people are going to think that’s a pejorative.”

Didn’t Mr. Cameron have any contenders on TV-not even one?

“I don’t think there are any, that’s just it,” he said. “Not right now.”

Then he thought of one. “Well, there are these wonderful old archival shots of CBS anchors tossing to Dan Rather on the floor of the 1968 convention and things like that,” he said.

“I thoroughly expect that we’ll be tormenting Democrats right and left,” he said. Then Carl Cameron caught himself once more; this was not an easy age: “In a good-spirited political way!” he said.