It has been two weeks since White House Communications Dir. Anita Dunn openly criticized Fox News, and inexplicably, the controversy persists. Of course, the loudest and most frequent complaints about the Obama administration’s concerns over Fox’s objectivity come from the accused. However, many other media outlets have come to the “victim’s” defense. In doing so, they may be contributing to their own demise.
Those defending Fox — other than Fox — are going about it in a couple of different ways. There are those, such as Tim Rutten of the LA Times, who suggests the White House was quite right in their assessment of Fox News, but they were wrong to say it.
Similarly, Clarence Page, someone whom I respect and admire, took issue with the White House in his Oct. 25 Chicago Tribune column:
Surely President Barack Obama and his advisers don’t really think that their feud with Fox News will do anything but enhance the cable network’s viewership. A deeper problem is what the flap reveals about Team Obama, which seems to be more comfortable with campaigning than governing.
Since when did making a handful of statements about an unabashedly biased “news” organization constitute a “feud?” Please correct me if I’m wrong, but has the administration taken any action against Fox News other than their statements that they’ll view the network as an adversary?
Before you mention the story Fox ran with all weekend — that their pool reporter was intentionally excluded from an interview with “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg before the other networks came to Fox’s rescue — you should know that Fox’s version of events are highly skewed.
Even more bizarre than Page’s assessment are those who have taken to viewing the administration’s critique of Fox through Fox’s lens. As Steve Bennen pointed out in his Oct. 22 Washington Monthly post, even National Public Radio’s Ken Rudin has taken to repeating the Fox meme: That Obama is treating the media like Nixon did, compiling a notorious “enemies list.”
I noted in my Oct 12 post that the Obama – Nixon comparison is ludicrous, but Bennen does a much better job:
Has the Obama White House ordered the Justice Department to spy on Fox News employees? Has the administration ordered the IRS to start digging through Fox News’ books, hunting for irregularities and auditing on-air personalities? Has the president directed thugs to break into Glenn Beck’s psychiatrist’s office?
Of course not, that would be insane. And so is this comparison.
Nixon used the power of the presidency to harass, intimidate, and investigate those who questioned him. It was as scandalous an abuse as the nation has ever seen — the White House used the levers of government to attack independent news outlets.
And what as the Obama team done? They’ve dared to point out a simple reality: an obviously-partisan propaganda outlet in not a legitimate news organization. That’s it…
Interestingly, and quite ironic, is the fact that you need not go back any further than the Bush administration for a proper example of “Nixonian” media treatment. Glenn Greenwald illustrates the comparison this link-packed paragraph from his Oct. 23 Salon post:
All that hand-wringing rhetoric: why? Because the Obama administration threatened to criminally prosecute Fox? Or because the adminstration surveilled its reporters’ telephone calls? Or illegally obtained their telephone records? Or shot missiles at hotels in which they were staying? Or dropped bombs on their offices? Or imprisoned them for years without charges? Or barred Fox reporters from riding on administration planes? Or conspired to “weed out” any critical voices from being heard on network and cable news programs? No, those are all things that the Bush administration did to reporters (see the links) — all well above and beyond the numerous, constant rhetorical attacks from the Bush White House on media organizations they perceived to be hostile.
And how did Fox News handle Bush’s media offenses? Greg Sargent recalled Oct. 26 on his blog, The Plum Line, that when the GOP was calling for the Justice Department to investigate The New York Times during Bush’s tenure, “Fox News repeatedly provided an uncritical forum” for the administration’s complaints.
I understand that journalists hear the White House calling out Fox News by name and perceive it as the small end of the wedge, separating truth seekers from policy makers. Many are predisposed to be sensitive to government criticism resultant from the previous administration. But, as Jack M. Balkin illustrated in his Oct. 23 post, journalists weary of the White House’s Fox News criticism are worried about the wrong party in the dispute.
Balkin’s approach is historical in nature, assessing Fox News as “the return of a twenty-first century version of the party presses of the late 18th and 19th centuries.” The author explains that this new version of the “party press” signals a paradigm shift in American journalism, by which the Fox News model seeks to displace traditional, objective, journalists.
Regarding media outlets defending Fox News, Balkin wrote:
…several traditional news organizations, interpreting the Obama Administration’s response to Fox News as an attack on journalism generally, including mid-twentieth century models, have come to the defense of Fox. This is especially ironic given that Fox represents a new partisan model that is attempting to displace and destroy their cherished model of “objective” journalism. Because traditional journalistic organizations have understood the Administration’s push back against Fox an attack on journalism generally, and not as an attack on the newly emerging partisan press, these organizations, by rising to the defense of Fox News are helping to dig their own graves.
In other words, the White House is not the small end of the wedge; rather, Fox news is the wedge, actively seeking to displace the mid twenty-first century journalism while clinging to the notion that they’re a part of it.
I’m inclined to agree with Balkin’s conclusion that the Obama administration is ahead of the curve in their criticism. Calling out Fox as they have is a sign of forward thinking on the part of the White House, anticipating what may well be the future of news media. Further, if the administration’s are anticipatory of the future of the medium, that completely sets it apart from the reactionary tendencies of the Nixon administration. Those defending Fox would be wise to follow the White House”s lead, lest they become obsolete in a new journalistic paradigm in which objectivity is optional.
Finally, in case you have any doubt about the biased nature of Fox News, I invite you to view the below clip from MediaMatters.org… That is, if you can stomach it.
Image from Flickr.com user, silas216 - by way of CreativeCommons.org