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Obama and His Enemies

Instead, Obama accused Fox of being a regrettable, destructive case of opinion journalism, a departure from an unspecified and narrow time when journalism had its objective “golden age”:

The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It's a point of view that I disagree with. It's a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it's been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it's that Fox is very successful.

Never mind that Obama can’t say when this golden age was, and who its practitioners might have been. Never mind that he ignores the blatant liberal bias in an outlet such as MSNBC, which no doubt he thinks is constructive for America. And never mind that the prevailing opinion in public polls is that the media is biased in the liberal direction (see also this).

The quote about Fox is notable for another characteristic Obama attitude: his disdain for the profit motive and capitalism. No doubt Murdoch is concerned with Fox’s success. But is this some anomaly, some exception to the rule in broadcasting? Of course not. Has Obama never heard of ratings and the keen competition for them? Obama not only posits a golden age of journalistic objectivity, but an imaginary one of network self-sacrifice and lack of concern with its viewership or the profit motive.

It’s not at all unusual for presidents to have difficulties with the press. What is unusual is for a president to take on a single news outlet, accuse it of bias, and ignore the opposite bias in most of the other outlets, pretending that the news business itself has no generally capitalist aspect, and that the station that cares about its success is the mercenary exception rather than the rule.

This is part of Obama’s tendency to personalize the attack against those he sees as his media enemies, in the past criticizing Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity by name rather than ignoring them.

Richard Nixon had his enemies list, which included members of the liberal press. But he knew better than to publicize who was on it. Nixon left the media-bashing to his attack-dog vice president, Spiro Agnew. Even then, the public criticism was ordinarily kept both general and even somewhat humorous, such as calling the press “nattering nabobs of negativism” in a speech to the California Republican state convention in 1970, for example.

It is of special interest that Agnew’s speechwriter for the occasion, and the originator of the phrase, was none other than an opinion journalist himself, and one who wrote for the New York Times, no less: conservative columnist William Safire.

At this point, Obama would do well to hire a speechwriter with as light and deft a touch -- and to stick to the script.