It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Obama Administration does not like Fox News. Why would it? Fox has aired more anti-Obama commentary and negative news reporting — and probably exponentially so — than every other network combined. Two of the three biggest stars and loudest voices on Fox – Hannity and Beck – have both been relentless in their attacks on Obama; one calling him a “socialist” and the other even calling him a “racist” at one point. Even its news anchors have a reputation of asking questions laced with conservative criticisms, especially in comparison to questions that would be asked by, say, a NY Times reporter. So, I cannot be too critical of Obama for not wanting to be friendly with them. No president, Republican or Democrat, would eagerly embrace any organization that appears so openly hostile to his or her agenda.
I am critical, however, of some of the recent declarations against Fox that it is not, because of its bias, “a legitimate news source”, and therefore unworthy of being treated as such. Granting, for the sake of argument, that Fox does, indeed, have a right-wing bias, and is not “fair and balanced” as it proclaims itself to be, such a bias should not dismiss it as a legitimate news source. Fox may make errors, as does every other news organization, and may downplay or omit certain stories that do not support its philosophy, as does every other news organization, but no one could rightfully argue that Fox fictionalizes its news a lá the Weekly World News. If it did, it would be easily dismissible and not subject to the level of consternation it has received from those who oppose it.
What news organization does not have some sort of bias in its reporting? CNN? Newsweek? MSNBC, maybe? The New York Times is regarded as a legitimate news organization, yet it has by its own admission, quashed coverage of the corrupt, and possibly illegal, connection between ACORN and the Obama campaign. The standard for being a legitimate news organization should be whether it reports news honestly, and accurately, regardless of what bias it displays. A news outlet does not have to fill its airwaves with reporters who feel a thrill run up their legs, or openly weep with joy at the election of President Obama, to meet that standard. Fox’s critics should be hesitant to throw such stones, due to the glass houses in which they, themselves, live.
It is then false for the Obama Administration to declare Fox as illegitimate. It is also suicidal for the American people to allow them to do so. Recent observations of governments declaring what is, and what is not, “legitimate” all point to the potential dangers to free speech that follow. In Russia, for example, the press, according to the Washington Post, “is a handpicked group of reporters, most of whom work for the state and the rest selected for their fidelity to the Kremlin’s rules of the game. Helpful questions are often planted. Unwelcome questions are not allowed. And anyone who gets out of line can get out of the pool.” Similarly, during a recent pool interview with Pay Czar Feinberg, the White House attempted to declare that all but Fox could have the right to ask questions of him. And this administration seems to make far more frequent use of the ‘planted helpful question’ than most administrations in the past. Is this what we want for our country? Kremlin-style journalism? Or take Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez recently began closing radio stations for failing to be in compliance with that country’s version of the Fairness Doctrine. If we allow government to attack private news organizations in such a way, how long before news organizations generally uncritical, but perhaps not uncritical enough of Obama, or news organizations who are critical of Obama from the Left instead of from the Right, such as those who oppose his position on Afghanistan or gay marriage, become subject to the same treatment?
Yet there are some outside of the Obama White House who are so sympathetic to the White House that they support Obama’s attack on a news organization simply because that news organization does not share in their support of the White House, regardless of the potential consequences of such an attack. One, Jacob Weisberg, writing in Newsweek, even declared Fox News “un-American,” not for trading with the terror-sponsoring Iran, like MSNBC’s parent company GE, but for its anti-Obama bias. Such a charge is stunning in its ignorance of both American history, and the relationship American presidents have always had with the press. It is almost as if Mr. Weisberg thinks attacking the president in the press is a new thing. Look at the criticism our two greatest presidents have had to endure during their administration, which, by the way, make the criticism thrown at President Obama seem relatively mild.
As the blog Mr. Snitch once wrote, “Lincoln was called just about every name imaginable in the press of his day, including: A ‘grotesque baboon’, a ‘third-rate country lawyer who once split rails and now splits the Union’, a ‘coarse, vulgar joker’, a dictator, an ape, and a buffoon. The Illinois State Register [published in his adopted home state] labeled him “the craftiest and most dishonest politician that ever disgraced an [American political] office.” Highly regarded 18th century journalist Benjamin Franklin Bache wrote, as reported in infoplease.com, that George Washington was “treacherous,” “mischievous,” “inefficient;” and complained that his “farce of disinterestedness,” his “stately journeyings through the American continent in search of personal incense,” his “ostentatious professions of piety,” his “pusillanimous neglect,” his “little passions,” his “ingratitude,” his “want of merit,” his “insignificance,” and his “spurious fame.”
Clearly then, criticism of presidents by journalists have been a part of American history since our country’s inception. Although journalists have been punished, here and there, for their attacks, history has also shown us that the general consensus is that attacks on the President are endurable by the nation, and by the president. Further, that the consequence of attempting the alternative of suppressing the voice of the press is far worse. A journalist attacking the president is not “un-American.” A president attempting to suppress the journalist’s right to do so, clearly, is.
So, then, why is Obama doing it? At first blush, the attacks on Fox seem to be Chicago-style retribution on a critic. However, a further look reveals that there is much more to it than that. It is not Fox News’ right-wing commentary, or slant on the news that bothers Obama so much. It is Fox’s actual news reporting that has made it such an enemy to the White House.
Obama,, in my opinion could not care less about a Beck or Hannity screaming in front of the camera about what an awful president he is. He surely knows that this comes with the territory. He will have supporters, and he will have detractors, the same as any president. However, along with their commentary, Beck and Hannity have an annoying habit of supporting their arguments with actual facts and news reporting. It is Fox News’ reporting – not its commentary – that revealed that Van Jones is a communist, that Anita Dunn is a Maoist, that Kevin Jennings is a NAMBLA-sympathizer, that Mark Lloyd is an Hugo Chavez admirer, and so on. It is Fox News’ reporting – with the help of that infamous pimp video shown repeatedly – that revealed that ACORN is a criminal enterprise. It is not how their commentators feel about the Obama Administration; it is how Fox News’ reporting is affecting how the American public is feeling about the Obama Administration.
The tipping point for the Obama Administration came in a September 26, 2009 column by New York Times ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, called “Tuning In Too Late” in which he wrote, “Jill Abramson, the Managing Editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the Executive Editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies.” The Obama White House’s heart must have stopped when these words were read, because it meant the controversies surrounding them would no longer be confined to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, conservative blogs, or books written by Michelle Malkin. Soon, stories such as the Van Jones story, would no longer be marginalized but rather become part of the mainstream press. It is one thing for Beck to speak about Obama’s ties to ACORN, the SEIU, Soros, and other left-wing organizations. It is quite another for these stories to be on the cover of Time magazine. Heck, even Newsweek mentioned acorn once. True, they were talking about the kind that fell from trees, but still…close enough!
It is this fear of mainstream exposure that compelled David Axelrod to go on television and say to ABC that Fox News is “not really news … [and]… other news organizations, like yours, ought not to treat them that way”. After all, Axelrod must have been thinking, who wants Fox, with its impressive history of revealing too many things that the Obama White House does not want to be revealed, getting treated like a the legitimate news organization that it is?