Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hounding the Fox

For days, I have refrained from commenting on the surreal spectacle of top Obama Administration officials taking to the airwaves and slamming the Fox News channel. I simply could not believe my eyes and ears, and was waiting for some kind of clarity to emerge, some less malign set of motivations to come into focus than those which sprang most readily to mind. After all, the Democratic Party now controls the White House, and both houses of Congress. Essentially all of the major media outlets to varying degrees are supportive of the Left-leaning (or, in the case of MSNBC, the hard Left) currents in American society. This is about as advantageous a position as any Administration has enjoyed in this Nation's history. Why would such an Administration debase itself and call its motives into question by attacking a lone dissenting voice?

In a much-ballyhooed clip from O'Reilly's show, Chris Wallace commented that the Obama White House is "the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington." "With these guys, everything is personal," he noted. He is correct. In more ways than one this Administration is shaping up as the bizarro version of the Bush Administration, which arguably did far too little to address the barrage of negative coverage it received from the major news outlets, and so allowed the opposition to shape the narrative to a devastatingly detrimental degree (including -- hilariously -- the notion that dissent was somehow being stifled). By sharp contrast, the Obama Administration seems never to have left campaign mode, and aggressively sweats every negative note, however trivial. Not only is it unseemly and un-presidential, it lends unnecessary credence to the polemics of those who are less than balanced (let alone fair) who opine on the insidious goal of constructing a "State-Run Media."

I don't watch too much TV news, since the sheer volume of information which I feel it necessary to absorb in order to get a reasonably comprehensive picture of what is happening on any given day does not lend itself to the linear crawl of  spoken words. It's a bandwidth issue with me. Mostly, I do watch Fox, though I do tune into CNN regularly. I watched hours of MSNBC, before finally feeling confident that I could justifiably discontinue the practice. My conclusions? Fox's news desk is canted discernibly to the right. CNN's news desk is canted discernibly to the left. MSNBC seems to recognize no clear distinction between the two (that is, News and Op-Ed), lurching dizzyingly to the Left, all the time.

What's interesting to me in the context of this discussion is that I find the news/reporting departments of CNN and Fox to lean approximately equidistantly in their respective directions. Indeed, were one to alternate between the two (as I periodically do), one would get (dare I say it) a pretty fair and balanced perspective on things (though TV news, regardless of editorial bias, is universally biased toward the most lurid and attention-grabbing slant on things. Another reason to use it as a supplement at most). I would be more than pleased to be disabused of this idea, but I have the uncomfortably strong sense that many of FNC's most ardent critics have never seen more of the channel's programming than has appeared in clips on "The Daily Show." I get this feeling from my own attitude during my Liberal days, which could be summed up as "I don't have time to pollute my consciousness with exposure to that vile propaganda outlet's blatherings." It's like I was expecting to find Leni Riefenstahl newsreels or something.

Now, of course, when it comes to commentators and editorializers, the picture gets more murky. I make no secret that I find Hannity to be a shrill chihuahua of a polemicist, and tend to avoid him in large doses, just as I do Michelle Malkin's blog on the Web. He grates on me even when I agree with him. But put him up against Rick Sanchez, Soledad O'Brien, Wolf "Let's fact-check a skit on Saturday Night Live which dared to criticize Obama's Presidency" Blitzer, or Anderson "Tea-Bagger" Cooper on CNN, and the distinction is all-but erased. The latter bunch are so embarrassingly in the tank for Obama I keep waiting for them to get tossed a fish for their troubles. Indeed, last night on "Special Report" (a superb newscast, which even not-entirely-ideologically-hamstrung Liberals would find tolerable...up until the panel discussions in the second half of the hour, anyway), Britt Hume reflected on the Obama/Fox imbroglio and wondered how "our colleagues at CNN and elsewhere like being patted on the head and given the seal of approval by the White House." Indeed, that is the other side of this: to exactly the degree that the White House sees fit to attack and discredit one news outlet, it is implicitly designating others as "Friendly." Were I to consider myself a journalist in at least the stated tradition of the profession, I would (hopefully!) bristle at the notion that I stood to be considered a sanctioned advocate. So much for "speaking truth to power!"

This piece at Politico offers the most plausible (and chilling) account for the White House's otherwise incomprehensible attack on FNC:
A White House attempt to delegitimize Fox News – which in past times would have drawn howls of censorship from the press corps – has instead been greeted by a collective shrug.

That’s true even though the motivations of the White House are clear: Fire up a liberal base disillusioned with Obama by attacking the hated Fox. Try to keep a critical news outlet off-balance. Raise doubts about future Fox stories.

But most of all, get other journalists to think twice before following the network’s stories in their own coverage.

"We're doing what we think is important to make sure news is covered as fairly as possible," a White House official told POLITICO, noting how the recent ACORN scandal story started because Fox covered it “breathlessly for weeks on end.” (emphasis added)

 Let's pause a moment on that last bit. The point that this "White House Official" appears to be making here is that the only reason the ACORN story was allowed to become Big News (you know, the one in which an organization which was the recipient of truckloads of taxpayer cash --with much more to come-- and which was responsible for a large number of votes for Obama --many of them even corresponding to real people-- was found to be riddled with individuals who were willing to help a pimp set up a brothel with underaged Salvadorean illegal immigrant girls, and avoid both law enforcement and the tax code)  was because Fox got "breathless" and the rest of the news media felt compelled to follow them...after a little over a week of dead silence on the matter. Just wanted to make that clear.

Anyway, the point here appears to be a concerted effort to cast Fox as a poison pill, to discredit it with the viewers/voters, and to give other news outlets pause before picking up on any stories which Fox might break. It is, as Britt Hume nailed it, an attempt to "Quarantine Fox," to isolate and drain it of its ability to introduce memes into the noosphere, where they might proliferate, flourish, and interfere with the Obama Administration's narrative and plans. As such, it is both futile and despicable.

Jake Tapper, a rare and admirable straight-shooter of a journalist over at ABC, called Obama's Press Secretary on the highly irregular policy of the Executive Branch arrogating to itself the right to designate a vast media outlet "not a news organization." Tapper essentially asks Gibson where the White House gets off making that call, and..ah, hell: just read the exchange. It's short, but cracklingly on point. It is not  appropriate for a branch of the Government to "work the refs"  in this manner (H/T to Chris Wallace again). It undermines the whole point of a free press in a democratic society, which is to inform the electorate and keep their representatives (their employees!) honest...or as close to it as can be managed, anyway. Just ask your average Venezuelan newscaster what it's like to live in a society in which the media are expected to speak with one voice. I'm not saying that this is the Obama Administration's conscious intent (relax!). But conscious or not, that is eerily akin to the net effect which would come to pass in the (thankfully unlikely) event that FNC ultimately were to be brought down (...though watch out for that "Fairness Doctrine").

This has to stop.

EDITED 10/21 for grammar and flow.

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