Obama, Fox News, and You - Macleans.ca
 

Obama, Fox News, and You


 

Just some quick points about the Obama Administration’s strategy of bashing Fox News:

1. The easy rejoinder to the claim that Fox News is a “wing of the Republican party” (for which Anita Dunn, who made the statement, is Fox News’s target for tonight) is that, well, the rest of the media is liberal. Except it isn’t. Even MSNBC, which is often considered the liberal Fox News, is only considered liberal because it has the only openly partisan liberal hosts on cable news, along with conservatives like Joe Scarborough, and Chris Matthews, who is just a crazy person prone to man-crushes. (He has a man-crush on Obama, but he also had one on Bush.) The conservative argument about liberal media bias is that it’s unconscious, that because media personalities skew liberal/Democratic, they have certain unexamined liberal assumptions that they incorporate into their work as if they’re “objective.” Liberals actually agree with conservatives that TV media personalities incorporate unconscious biases into their work, but liberals see these as the biases of elites, which are not necessarily liberal at all (particularly on issues like the Iraq war). But whichever way you look at it, it’s different from what Fox News does. Fox News is a combination of partisan outlet and entertainment, and its genius is the way it has made partisanship into entertainment — for example, bringing on the most pathetic, beaten-down liberals imaginable so that the audience can enjoy watching them lose the argument. (That was the whole point of teaming freakish-looking Colmes with handsome, all-American Hannity.) Other networks, terrified of being called liberal and constantly bending over backward to prove they aren’t liberal (MSNBC famously canceled Phil Donahue’s show, despite decent ratings by their standards at the time, to prove they weren’t liberal), simply aren’t in the same league either as partisanship or as entertainment.

2. Jacob Weisberg’s article on why Fox News is “Un-American” is pretty hellaciously silly. Which is too bad, because he’s raising a point that probably should be discussed seriously: given that Fox News is slanting the news to favour a particular political party, should journalists treat it as if it’s the same exact thing as a non-partisan outlet? But the idea that news has “a century-old tradition of independence” that is being destroyed by that nasty foreigner Rupert Murdoch is, as many people have noted, kind of weird. Even if you assume that openly partisan news ended after the collapse of the Hearst empire, that would still would be less than a century ago, and of course the tradition of partisan news persisted for much longer than that, particularly at the level of local newspapers. Apart from that, his assumption that the American approach to news is better than anybody else’s is, really, pure jingoism, on the level of saying that the U.S. has the “best health care system in the world.” It’s telling that his biggest worry is the presence of “a variety of populist and ideological takes on the news,” i.e. shows with opinions in them. This is silly. Fox’s opinion shows are just talk radio on TV. The more problematic thing about the network is that its “objective” news reporting, which it defends to the death, tends to be increasingly indistinguishable from the opinion shows in terms of what issues it considers important. If Fox News dropped the U.S.-style pretense of objectivity, it would be a lot less problematic, and might help pave the way for a genuine liberal alternative. Bashing Fox for pretending it isn’t conservative makes sense; bashing Fox for being conservative doesn’t.

3. As to why the Obama administration is picking this fight, I think Fox News pundits are correct in comparing this to Nixon and Agnew’s media strategy. It’s partly about playing to the base (since liberals hate the media even more than conservatives nowadays). But mostly, it’s about pushing the media in a certain direction. Nixon picked up the “liberal media” strategy, at a time when these complaints were closer to the truth than they are now, as a way of guilt-tripping the media into examining their assumptions. There were many editorials and articles written asking whether the media was out of touch with what would now be called “Real America,” the silent majority that elected Nixon. Reporters and pundits began trying to make sure they didn’t descend into knee-jerk liberalism. Today, the Obama team is trying something similar. His aides are telling CNN and other networks that they shouldn’t be like Fox News. This won’t and shouldn’t hurt Fox’s popularity any, but it could help jolt CNN et al into wondering if they’re out of touch with the majority that elected Obama, and re-check for conservative assumptions (anti-tax protests are the most important things ever) in their work. Call it the Nixon strategy in reverse, which makes sense after 40 years of the U.S. media being spooked out by the original Nixon strategy.


 
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Obama, Fox News, and You

  1. I don't recall where I read it now but last week there was a terrific article about liberal American msm. The author made an interesting distinction that I had not thought of before: social and economic liberals. Most reporters are, broadly speaking, both social and economic liberals and what happens is conservatives/libertarians focus on social liberal slant of msm while hard left focus on their economic liberalism.

    In the english-speaking world, UK/England has the best approach to news. News sources slant left/centre/right and they don't try to hide it – most views are catered to and there is strong competition between outlets which makes them that much better.

  2. Approval ratings aren't the same thing as likely voter identification.

  3. Approval ratings aren't the same thing as likely voter identification, and the next time his name's on the ballot, it will be tied to a number of unpopular policies.

  4. This kind of critique from people in the media is really becoming repetitive. It's easy, dead easy, to criticize FoxNews on the basis of journalistic malpractice alone (which other networks are guilty of as well, just not to that extent).

    The documentary OutFoxed is a good place to start and it's *that* kind of analysis that we need, not this tired argument involving liberal and conservative bias.

  5. given that Fox News is slanting the news to favour a particular political party, should journalists treat it as if it's the same exact thing as a non-partisan outlet?

    Only if they and their employers can prove their non-partisan objectivity to the satisfaction of Fox News; otherwise, stand on self-righteous fairy tales all you like, but it's still rank hypocrisy.

    it could help jolt CNN et al into wondering if they're out of touch with the majority that elected Obama

    They're out of touch with the majority that wouldn't likely, at this point in time, re-elect him, certainly. Or is electoral victory now a solid basis for shouting down opposition on the basis that it's an unquestioned divine mandate until next election?

  6. given that Fox News is slanting the news to favour a particular political party, should journalists treat it as if it's the same exact thing as a non-partisan outlet?

    By all means, they should feel free to treat it differently if they and their employers can prove their own non-partisan objectivity to the satisfaction of Fox News; otherwise, stand on self-righteous fairy tales all you like, but it's still rank hypocrisy.

    Today, the Obama team is trying something similar. His aides are telling CNN and other networks that they shouldn't be like Fox News.

    If CNN gave it a try, maybe their ratings would improve. At some point, being second (or worse) to Fox is going to gall so much that they might set aside personal elation with the president, and be, y'know, objective journalists. (Or even only mildly biased journalists. Ones that don't "fact check" Saturday Night Live jokes, for instance, out of pique at the idea that someone might find Dear Leader's promises worthy of satire.)

    it could help jolt CNN et al into wondering if they're out of touch with the majority that elected Obama

    They're out of touch with the majority that wouldn't likely, at this point in time, re-elect him, certainly. Or is electoral victory now a solid basis for shouting down opposition on the basis that it's an unquestioned divine mandate until next election? I don't recall the results of the 2004 election having such a "But what of the majority who didn't vote for our guy?" effect on CNN et al.

    • According Gallup, Obama's approval rating hasn't fallen below 50%. That says to me that the majority would likely re-elect him if an election were held to day.

      • Approval ratings aren't the same thing as likely voter identification, and the next time his name's on the ballot, it will be tied to a number of unpopular policies, which ongoing generic approval ratings don't necessarily capture.

        (All of which is irrelevant to the question, "Should the news media take the results of elections as instructions to give unfailingly positive coverage to the winner out of deference to majoritarianism?")

    • Angry Angry Hippo.

    • I love the underlying assumptions that this post exposes:

      1) CNN would be more popular if they hired somebody as crazy as Beck, say, Michael Savage, and try to draw away Fox's audience. As opposed to an attempt to build credibility by NOT aligning to any party.

      2) Non-partisan objectivity must be proven "to the satisfaction of Fox News", which is kind of like proving a clean election to the satisfaction of Hamid Karzi.

      3) There's a silent majority who would elect someone other than Obama right now. Never mind Obama's >50% approval rating, never mind the question about the shortcoming of the contender (Huckabee? Giuliani? The Reanimated Corpse of Reagan?). If ONLY the election were held right now, the Right would totally win. On another note, my 8-year-old said to me this weekend, "If only the game ended RIGHT NOW, we would win!"

      4) The results of the 2000 or 2004 elections led to a respectful policy in which the (bare) winner respected the near (or actual) majority who didn't vote for the winner. To quote Dick Cheney "We won the midterms. This is our Due." Or if you don't like that, "Elections have consequences."

      5) That there's no difference between ordinary human bias and the gross, deliberate, strategic bias exhibited by Fox News. Like my decision to go to work with a cold is *exactly* the same as a terrorist mailing anthrax to a Senator. It's just a matter of degree, so who am I to complain about terrorism?

      Honestly, when Rush Limbaugh expresses relief a the election of an all-Democratic administration, saying he was ""no longer going to have to carry the water for people who I don't think deserve having their water carried", is there any question that there's a segment on the right, with a large audience, carrying water for the Republican party? Will you deny what you see with your own eyes?

      • Well done.

  7. "CNN et al into wondering if they're out of touch with the majority that elected Obama, and re-check for conservative assumptions (anti-tax protests are the most important things ever) in their work."

    Was it their "conservative assumptions" that lead to CNN hosts referring to the protesters as "teabaggers"? I really don't think CNN was on the conservative side here.

  8. The liberal mainstream elite, including most of the media, view the absence of liberal views as "right wing" extremism.

    Matthews airs some of the most vile stuff around, and yet is somehow mainstream. Ditto with Olberman. Anderson Cooper (an "Anchor" btw not a commenatator) slimes American citizens concerned with higher taxes and big government as those who engage in homosexual sex acts – "teabagging". I could never, ever imagine Chris Wallace doing that.

    New media, including Fox News, is shattering the myth of the liberal establishment – that is, everyone is like them.

    With the WSJ growing, and the NYT dying, with Fox News' ratings equal to all the rest of cable news combined, with Air America's demise, and Rush Limbaugh's epic rise,

    the provervbial proof is in the pudding.

    One parting question: Do you honestly think Americans will suddenly turn off Fox news because Obama doesn't like the scrutiny? My left leaning friends, that is precisely why Fox's ratings are going through the roof.

    • You can put your balls on a girls face, too. It's not just a gay thing.