Sunday, October 25, 2009

President Obama vs. Fox News

Back in September, President Obama took the unprecedented step of appearing on 5 Sunday talk shows to try and sell his health plan.

Mr. Obama is going to appear on This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC. And Meet the Press on NBC. And Face the Nation on CBS. In between, he is going to sit down for interviews on CNN and Univision. (Fox News didn’t make the cut).

I personally found the choice not to include Fox News to be puzzling. Of course the viewers of Fox are strongly Republican but getting bipartisan support for his plan also requires him to try and convince his critics in addition to just his supporters.
More recently, the Obama administration spelled out its opposition to Fox News based on the belief that Fox is a political arm of the Republican Party and Is Not Really News.

It's really not news. It's pushing a point of view. And the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we're not going to treat them that way. We're going to appear on their shows. We're going to participate but understanding that they represent a point of view."

Many in the liberal media have weighed in on whether this critcism of Fox is valid. For example in Newsweek, Jacob Weisberg writes on Why Fox News Is Un-American.

There is no need to get bogged down in this phony debate, which itself constitutes an abuse of the fair-mindedness of the rest of the media. One glance at Fox's Web site or five minutes' random viewing of the channel at any hour of the day demonstrates its all-pervasive slant. The lefty documentary Outfoxed spent a lot of time mustering evidence that Fox managers order reporters to take the Republican side. But after 13 years under Roger Ailes, Fox employees skew news right as instinctively as fish swim.

Rather than in any way maturing, Fox has in recent months become more boisterous and demagogic. Fox sponsored as much as it covered the anti-Obama "tea parties" this summer. Its "fact checking" about the president's health-care proposal is provided by Karl Rove. And weepy Glenn Beck has begun to exhibit a Strangelovean concern about government invading our bloodstream by vaccinating people for swine flu. With this misinformation campaign, Fox stands to become the first network to actively try to kill its viewers.

This sponsoring of organized protests against the Obama administration is the cornerstone of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s argument on Why Fox News Isn't News.

So in essence, we have two questions. Are the criticisms of Fox true? and What should the Obama administration do about Fox?

The argument that Fox discredits itself as a serious news organization by itself organizing protest groups is a creditable one. And the Obama administration thus far is fighting back by boycotting and asking others to ignore Fox News.

But some of this strategy is backfiring. Recently, the White House made Executive Compensation Czar Kenneth Feinberg available for interviewing by all of the networks except Fox. The other networks then came to the defense of Fox by saying that they would not agree to interview Feinberg if Fox was excluded. The Obama administration gave in and allowed Fox in. So in effect, Fox News was made into a sympathetic figure by these tactics.

Whether some like it or not, the large audience that Fox has compared to the other cable news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC is simply too large to ignore or hope it goes away
And criticizing Fox for being conservatively biased overlooks liberally biased media outlets such as MSNBC making it appear that the Obama administration only dislikes bias when coming from the other side. Instead of complaining about bias which is a no-win strategy, it would be much more effective to stick to calling out Fox on any factual inaccuracies they spread which may well work to keep them more honest.

So instead of trying to ignore Fox, I would like to advocate a contrarian strategy. Perhaps it would do President Obama more good if he actually made an occasional appearance on a Fox interview show. Sure they are the “enemy” but Obama advocates that we need to talk to our foreign enemies — so why not Fox? Instead of conservative pundits with no liberal voices to provide any counterbalance, Obama himself can appear (along with other top officials) and defend his policies in the faces of the naysayers themselves and truly allow the audience to decide issues based on a more balanced presentation once in a while. Granted, the more hard-line Republican conservatives would likely never be convinced. But surely there are others watching Fox who might. It may well be worth a try if Obama wants any hope of getting bipartisan support of his policies.

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