Moderator and a Panelist Ousted at 'Fox News Watch'
"Fox News Watch," one of two weekly television shows that assess the conduct of the national news media, has fired its longtime moderator and let go one of its more liberal panelists.
The changes, according to a Fox News Channel spokeswoman, are meant to take the show in a different direction. "The show will now focus more on the evolving new media, and we didn't feel the current talent would be capable of handling the new direction," Dana Klinghoffer, a Fox spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message.
Last week, the show's moderator, Eric Burns, was told he would be terminated within the next two months. In an interview, he said he was startled by his sudden and unexplained dismissal, although last year his employment status was reduced from staff to contributor.
In another shift, Neal Gabler, a media writer and historian who was a weekly panelist on "Fox News Watch" until last November, said that Fox had offered to renew his agreement but had never given him a new contract, leaving him in limbo. Ms. Klinghoffer disputed Mr. Gabler's account and said the two parties could not come to terms.
For five years, Mr. Gabler was considered by some to be the most critical voice of Fox News, once telling his fellow panelists that "it's undeniable that this is a Republican-oriented network, and designed for Republicans who watch it."
In an interview last week, Mr. Gabler said, "While in fairness, one has to say that Fox could always point to me and say, 'Here is someone who we give air time to, to criticize our own network, and to criticize it vigorously,' I was fairly marginalized." He added that he was just "one voice on one program."
"Fox News Watch" is usually shown on Saturday evenings. According to Nielsen Media Research, the half-hour program drew an average of more than one million viewers on Feb. 2, handily beating its competition on cable news. The program also regularly outdraws the other dedicated weekly media-criticism show, "Reliable Sources," which appears Sunday mornings on CNN.
For 10 years, Mr. Burns has been the closest person Fox had to an ombudsman, acting as the ringmaster for a relatively even-handed roundtable discussion about the media. He joined the channel at its introduction in 1996 and started moderating "Fox News Watch" in 1998.
Several current and former panelists on the program credited Fox for not restricting their comments about the network. One regular panelist, the political analyst Jim Pinkerton, chose to leave last month to join the campaign of Mike Huckabee.
Although Mr. Burns said he was surprised by his termination, he acknowledged that he had seen changes coming. Fox's executives had recently decided that the network's weekend ratings were not high enough, especially in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic.
Perhaps in an effort to draw younger viewers, Mr. Burns said he expected the modified show to cover Internet trends in more detail.
"But I don't know because I don't think anybody at Fox knows, except in general terms, that somehow they must catch up with new information sources," he said.
Mr. Burns said Fox News had never actively promoted the show, despite pledges that it would be advertised in print.
"If that's not evidence that they don't want this show to be seen, I don't know what it is," he said.
Ms. Klinghoffer of Fox said that Mr. Burns's assertions about advertising were "not true," adding that "not having a contributor agreement renewed is something that's very difficult to accept."