Monday, October 26, 2009

Obama outfoxes Fox

From the outpouring of criticism in the media over the Obama White House’s decision to treat Fox News as what it is – the propaganda arm of the Republican Party – instead of as a legitimate news source, it appears that the presidents has hit a nerve.

It may be that we in the legitimate media are sensitive because the president has had the courage to do what we should have done a decade ago, calls things what they are and out Fox.

The news media are not in the habit of turning their guns on other media outlets.

And because of that, we’ve allowed the Fox masquerade to go on for years, poisoning our political culture and debasing journalism.

And let’s be clear about this, what Fox does isn’t what we in America call journalism. Rupert Murdoch, the Australian, who owns Fox News, has brought the partisan approach to news that’s found in the rest of the world to America. Given that Fox News has the highest rating of any of the cable news networks, apparently there was a ready market in the U.S. for news that only reinforces people’s prejudice and ignorance.
And, I’m not just talking about Fox’s “opinion programming,” the defense the network has mounted to the president’s charges. All of Fox’s programming is “opinion programming.”

“Fair and Balanced?” Hell, a lot of it isn’t even true, which is the absolute lowest standard we ought to set for journalism.

A repeated example from Fox’s “news programming.” When former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina – all Republicans – were caught up in sex scandals, each was identified on Fox News with a “D” for Democrat behind their names. As in “Gov. Mark Sanford D-South Carolina.” One time might have been an accident. Two times could have been a coincidence. Three times? That’s a policy.

In addition to such outright lies, Fox “news” programming has given a forum to the most outrageous claims of the dingbat right, from the birthers who are convinced, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen, to the deathers, who believe that the health care reform bill includes panels that will sentence Granny to death. On Fox, these “issues” are treated as legitimate, despite the fact that they have been debunked by every reputable news source.

Another example would be Fox’s reporting, with a straight face, Washington Tea Party crowds at over a million people, some saying the crowd equaled the throng for Obama’s nomination. That’s ten times the crowd estimates form any reliable authority.

In some cases the issues have come to light, or at least been heavily promoted by Fox’s own “opinion” programming.

Both Glen Beck and Sean Hannity have been tireless cheerleaders for the whole Tea Party movement, largely an Astroturf movement, drummed up by Republican lobbying firms and Fox. The events were then reported by Fox as “news” and as evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with the administration. Actually, reputable public opinion polls show both that Obama has a positive approval rating and that the public supports the concept of a public option for health insurance reform. You wouldn’t know either of those things if you were a Fox viewer.

If you are a Fox viewer and if you have an intellectual honesty, you’ll have to admit that the network has a severe lack of dissenting voices. Yes, MSNBC has Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow. But it also has Pat Buchanan, who is easily as conservative as anybody on Fox. Similarly, CNN has Lou Dobbs. Who is Fox’s liberal voice? Alan Colmes, Hannity’s long-time punching bag?

Fox News is of course, run by Roger Ailes, whose previous career was as a Republican partisan attack dog. One could argue that he hasn’t really made a career change at all.

So, why should Obama and his administration take questions from Fox News? Why not just invite Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to come to press conferences and ask questions and cut out the middleman?

The Obama administration has shown a knack for identifying underlying issues and re-thinking the standard approach. That’s why we’re rethinking our policy in Afghanistan and why we’re now negotiating with instead of just threatening Iran.

Unlike the Taliban and the mullahs of Iran, there’s probably no negotiating with Fox News.

But Obama has put them on the defensive, which may have been the point.

Busy discussing “The War on Fox News,” during which people, all of whom are paid by Fox News, lined up to say how unfair the administration was – hmmm, that didn’t seem to “fair and balanced” – the network had less air time to devote to spreading lies about the health insurance reform bill as it came up for crucial votes in Congress.

The more Fox can be forced to talk about itself, the less its claims of objectivity ring true and the less time it has to cause damage in other areas.

Perhaps Fox didn’t know who it was messing with when it got in fight with the president and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. They’re now taking it to Fox “Chicago style.” Who said Democrats won’t fight back?

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