Monday, October 19, 2009

Shooting The Messenger

The White House must end its fight with Fox News now. Enough already. David Gergen, White House advisor to three former presidents, said it is "risky strategy." I agree and add it's stupid and unproductive. While Fox commentators may have succeeded in tweaking President Obama's massive ego, retaliation from the Oval Office violates a very simple rule:

You can't win a fight when cable news television is on the air 24/7, radio talk show commentators three hours a day five days a week and newspapers buy their ink by the barrel. Especially when media baron Rupert Murdock of News Corp. owns outlets in all three sectors.

Fox owes the White House gratitude because every time they are criticized their ratings go up. Not that they need it. Fox buries its competitors by a 2-1 margin at worst. This past April:

Fox News beat CNN and MSNBC combined in every hour from 6amET to MidnightET in both Total Viewers and the A(ge) 25-54 demo. FNC had the top 11 cable news programs in Total Viewers and 12 of the top 15 in the demo. FNC is the #2 network in Total Viewers on all of cable. From 9amET on, every program grew by more than 60% in the demo. The 5pmET hour, now occupied by Glenn Beck, is up 212% in the demo and up 128% in Total Viewers. Your World with Neil Cavuto is up 102% in the demo and up 60% in Total Viewers. On the Record with Greta Van Susteren is up 75% in demo and up 55% in Total Viewers. Also in demo: FOX Report is up 75%, Special Report 70%, The O'Reilly Factor 74% and Hannity 64%. Fox & Friends has now been #1 for 90 consecutive months, Studio B with Shepard Smith for 80 consecutive months.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is the latest Obama administration official criticizing Fox News. Asked on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday about White House Communications Director Anita Dunn's criticisms of the cable news network, Emanuel said:

“It’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective, and that’s a different take. And more importantly, it’s important not to have the CNN’s and the others of the world being led and following Fox, as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization,” Emanuel said.

Dunn opened a new front on the Democratic war with Fox News last week by calling it a "wing of the Republican Party." She jabbed the network by insisting they weren't even conservative.

My suspicion is that the White House fears Fox News has usurped its mantel of controlling the news and frames the national agenda with all the other media following Big Daddy Murdock.

I'm not about to reiterate every punch and counter punch thrown in the ring of public opinion. However, I think it fair to reprint portions of Brent Hume's defense of Fox. Hume, now a senior political analyst for Fox News and regarded as a veteran figure at the news organization, took the White House head on. In his "Brit Hume Commentary" segment on Fox News Channel's Oct. 12 "Special Report with Bret Baier," Hume, pointed out this "feud" the Obama administration has decided to elevate is a bad idea. According to Jeff Poor writing for NewsBusters:

"Every president ends up disgusted with the news media in general and with certain individuals or outlets in particular, but there is an old adage often attributed to Mark Twain that advises against picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel," Hume said. "He is speaking of the big media of his day, which were newspapers."

Hume noted that generally presidents have remained above the fray when it comes to these disagreements with the media. "Most presidents though refrain from directly attacking media outlets, perhaps with that adage in mind or perhaps mindful of another saying that it is bad idea to get into a public fight with someone smaller than you are because it diminishing you and elevates your opponent," Hume continued.

And Hume also pointed out there's not a clear definition of what a victory for the Obama administration would be. News outlets are protected by the Constitution and that makes it difficult for politician to gain an upper hand when they want to go one-on-one with a particular media outlet.

"Fox News may be the biggest news channel by far but it is not as big as the presidency," he said. "There is an additional problem in fighting with the press. The protections by the First Amendment make the media largely invulnerable to attacks from politicians. For all these reasons, the kind of salvos recently fired at Fox News by the Obama White House represents, as you heard [CNN political analyst] David Gergen say, a risky strategy."

But Hume did explain how the Anita Dunn described Fox News as a "research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party" instead of a "conservative outlet in her Oct. 11 CNN "Reliable Sources" interview.

"The White House has though chosen its words with some care," Hume continued. "Note the characterization of Fox not as conservative but as Republican. A lot more Americans identify themselves as ‘conservative' than as Republican. What is more, though, if Fox News really were a GOP mouthpiece, the White House would not be attacking it. It would feel no need to."

Now it's my turn.

I'm one of those viewers who turn on Fox simply to hear what the opposition is saying. Sometimes it is informative and provocative. Most of the time it is aggravating and an insult to one's intelligence. I find little humor when Sean Hannity refers to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as "Minister of Propaganda."

Glenn Beck is a self-confessed clown appealing to the base level of human Pavlovian responses. Neil Cavuto has prostituted himself to role of flack for News Corp.'s talking points. I never turn on the TV until mid-afternoon so I know only the stupid snippets from the Fox And Friends Morning show replayed by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. Shepard Smith is good and even O'Reilly is watchable until he gets lost in his own ego and steers into sexual adventurism content which is more often than I care.

Those are the commentators. They're the gravy train for Fox News Cable. They must be doing something right or no one would be watching. I will give them credit for that. They milk a formula that has crushed its opposition.

In no way am I implying CNN or MSNBC is better. I feel more comfortable watching them probably because they are closer to my personal views on politics and the world around us. It's not that I need to be reassured. It might be because I detect as much or more spin as Fox but less errors in factual presentations. By the end of the day, I don't mind being entertained.

We must keep a healthy perspective. It wasn't that long ago MSNBC was attacking the Bush administration as fiercely as Fox is now bashing President Obama.

Bush basically ignored them. Perhaps a subtle dig, such as "I don't watch the news." Yeah, Dubya was a funny guy.

But attacking the messenger is childish.

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