Back in September, the Inky questioned whether Fox 29 news had begun crossing the line from reporting into editorializing, citing a story in which a reporter called Governor Rendell “an apologist” for Housing Authority boss Carl Greene. Fox 29 news director Kingsley Smith defended what he called an increase in reporterly pushback at the station. But given Fox 29’s right-leaning parent company, some — including Mayor Nutter’s then-press secretary, Doug Oliver — wondered if it was just old-fashioned bias.
Oliver — who’s since taken another post — says he first noticed a critical tone from once-objective journalists in the coverage of the DROP issue this summer. But it wasn’t until Fox reported in August a viewer poll in which Mayor Nutter received a six percent approval rating that he spoke up.
“How many people voted?” Oliver says. “When? Who conducted the poll? They didn’t say.” He arranged a meeting with the station manager and Smith — who says he, too, wanted to meet, to explain the new, tougher approach. “They said the poll should have never aired, and apologized,” Oliver recalls.
Smith remembers differently. “It was non-scientific, a fast poll through texts from our viewers,” he says. “We didn’t apologize for it. There might have been an apology for, you know, upsetting them.” And regarding any assertion of a wider conservative agenda: “There is no direction coming from the parent company,” he insists. “I think it’s real easy, if you’re asking tough questions in a market where pretty much one party has been in power, to look like you’re on the other side.”
Oliver says that in the end, whether it’s conservative bias or not doesn’t matter. “The point is that sometimes with Fox 29, there’s going to be some opinion in their reporting, like columnists. I felt the administration needed to be aware of that, going forward.”