Why Liberal Journalists are Joining the Obama Administration's Attack on Fox News
While the Obama administration continues its war against its media critics, well-known liberal journalists -- instead of defending freedom of the press -- are joining the attack on a news network they despise as much as does the administration. Gone is any seeming concern for the right of commentators to voice their own opinion, because mainstream liberal editorial writers are sure their opponents are both extremists and wrong.
Take, as our first example, Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of The Slate Group. Writing in last week’s Newsweek, Weisberg explained at the start that anyone who watches Fox News knows immediately that Anita Dunn’s charge that Fox has a “right-wing bias” is correct, since Fox always confirms “it with its coverage.” Referring to Fox’s own reporting on the administration’s attacks on the network, he notes that Fox showed what he calls a “textbook example of a biased journalism.” If it is true, it is hardly surprising, since the very network under attack might be expected to come to its own defense.
Next, he refers to its commentators as “platinum pundettes and anchor androids.” He offers no names. Could he be referring to Chris Wallace, whose weekly Sunday broadcast is widely acclaimed as one of TV’s best weekend programs, and who publicly complained that never in his decades of broadcasting has he come across more of a bunch of “whiners” than he has seen in the Obama administration? Is he referring to Megan Kelly, who did a yeoman’s job questioning ACORN founder Wade Rathke in a long and exclusive interview? Wouldn’t he want a defender of ACORN to speak on the one network that reported on its scandals? Is he upset, perhaps, that Kelly came off better than Rathke did?
He thinks it is a silly comparison to their charge that the war on Fox is similar to Nixon’s enemies list. Of course, he gives no reason why the analogy is false -- perhaps because to most observers, it isn’t.
Next, he attributes the success of the many “tea parties” as due to Fox’s sponsorship of them -- ignoring the fact that it was an internet created phenomenon that Fox alone chose to cover when others ignored them. Evidently, Weisberg can’t distinguish between paying attention to events it finds newsworthy and sponsoring them. [I acknowledge that Glenn Beck anchored his show’s special coverage of the Washington DC tea party, which he supported.] Weisberg’s fear is that now “ideologically distorted news” drives ratings up, and that others will soon imitate them in order to gain more viewers.
Not one word by Weisberg about MSNBC’s equally tilted drift to the precincts of the far left. Chris “thrill up my leg” Matthews is an unabashed liberal whose brand of politics stands at the left end of the Democratic spectrum, and its mainstays in prime time, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, are as far Left as O’Reilly, Hannity and Beck are on the right end of the conservative spectrum. If Fox reports critically about ACORN, for example, one can count on Maddow and Olbermann to offer unabashed defenses of the group presented as accurate news analysis.
Weisberg’s problem is that he takes pride that the press had an “old tradition of independence,” one that serves the “public interest” and not “parties, persuasions, or pressure groups.” He claims to be standing firm with this model instead of the Murdoch “model of politicized media” that is slanted in one direction. Does he really act on this? Look at his own publication, Slate. Is there any reader of it who believes for a moment that it is anything but reflective of a certain kind of left/liberal mentality? Sure, it has one maverick -- Christopher Hitchens -- whose fame and persona as a media star allows them to run him, even though he alone continues to support a tough foreign policy against Islamic radicalism. Just look through their list of columnists on their home page, and I defy you to find one voice aside from Hitchens who is outside of the liberal consensus.
And while Weisberg does not support a boycott of Fox -- not that he or others could actually pull that off -- he asks liberal voices on the network to “stop appearing on its programs.” One would think that he would welcome voices that challenge the conservative hegemony of commentators like Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol. But no, he specially asks NPR’s Mara Liasson to leave. (Why, I wonder, does he leave out Juan Williams, who will often counter to official liberalism on the issues of race, but who vigorously defends liberal positions on most other issues?) Weisberg argues that by appearing on Fox, liberals -- of course he calls them “respectable journalists,” -- only “validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations.” You know, those legitimate news organizations that failed to reveal that Van Jones was an unreconstructed Communist radical or that the FCC “diversity” counsel Mark Lloyd is a fan of Hugo Chavez and his control of the Venezuelan media.
Indeed, Weisberg’s criticisms are not far removed from those of Eric Alterman, who regularly covers the media for the left-wing’s key organ of opinion, The Nation. Writing in their Nov.9th issue, Alterman praises the Obama administration for “doing more to maintain the honor of the [journalistic] profession than are many journalists.” He too agrees that Fox is not a “legitimate” news organization, and Alterman cannot distinguish between a news program like that of their 6 PM report hosted by Bret Baier or the 7 pm roundup hosted by Shepherd Smith. So attempting to destroy or close down an “opponent” is for Alterman a legitimate response to positions with which he disagrees. One wonders what he would think if a conservative administration sought to do to The Nation what the current one is seeking to do to Fox News.
No, Alterman finds the administration “right on the merits.” Fox is partisan, and its on air reporters are “diminishing the work of honest journalists who try to play fair.” (Looks to me like Alterman is applying for a position on MSNBC, where the honest journalists hang out.) After all, they are not a “propaganda outlet” like Fox News. Fox is a place where one can find “all the crazies in one place,” again not like MSNBC, since everyone knows that Maddow, Olbermann and Matthews are sane, responsible and objective newscasters. Alterman is delighted that the libertarian John Stossel has left ABC for his “natural home at Fox.” Why, is he afraid that Stossel’s unorthodox and refreshing features might have influenced people to think who watched him on ABC, and now that he is at Fox, Alterman and others can now write him off too as a crazy extremist?
What really bothers him is that when some in the mainstream saw that there was actually a problem with a group like ACORN, they too started to give it attention. He is especially upset that George Stephanopoulos dared to ask President Obama about his views of the group. He likes Obama’s answer, that it “is not the biggest issue facing the country.” But he omits mentioning that Obama also claimed not to even know that the group ever got federal funds -- although the evidence is overwhelming that as a candidate and before, Obama had a close relationship with them.
Finally, writing in The New Yorker in the Nov.2nd issue, the brilliant academic literary intellectual Louis Menand argues that Fox has cornered “the market on anti-Administration animus,” and he is concerned that the administration’s opposition “is not likely to put a dent in the ratings.” Indeed, as recent polls have showed, it has done just the opposite. CNN is losing its viewers at a rapid pace, MSNBC is way behind them, and Fox alone stands far ahead of all the other news outlets.
Menand argues that when Fox people charge that they have filled the administration “with Nazis, Maoists, anarchists and Marxist revolutionaries,” they are revealing that they are only “the voice of the fringe.” Look at Menand’s language. We all know that in fact, no one at Fox has made such an argument. When and where has anyone said that they are filling the administration with Nazis, for example? They reported that Anita Dunn told school children that she looked to Mao as an example. No one claimed that she was herself a Maoist. Can Menand name one person at Fox who has said that? Of course not. What he is trying to do with ridicule and made-up claims is to discredit Fox, since it successfully and accurately pointed to appointees who indeed do have a radical pedigree, and forced the most prominent of them, Van Jones, to resign.
Does Menand, I wonder, consider Marty Peretz, who took on Jones and his record at TNR’s website, to also be part of a “fringe” element? Peretz in his blog told readers about Jones’ background, and argued that his endorsement of Communism was indeed something for concern when held by an administration appointee. Is he too doing the job of Fox News? Peretz, I recall, was the man who once hired Menand to work as an editor and writer at TNR, before he became a distinguished professor and author. Since Peretz made essentially the same arguments as some on Fox did, does that mean Peretz is also wrong, or does it mean that those who made the case on Fox were correct? I would like Menand’s answer to that question.
Like Alterman, Menand too says that Fox “is a politically biased organization,” since it is run by Roger Ailes, an old Nixon aide who embodies partisan politics. I guess it is not like The New Yorker, whose objectivity is that of old fashioned left liberals like Hendrik Hertzberg, David Remnick and the other staple of conventional liberal editors at the magazine. They, of course, in his eyes are not “politically biased,” since bias is only the repository of conservative news organizations and journals. They are simply “objective,” as anyone who reads their continual paeans to Obama and their derogatory “Talk of the Town” comments on George W. Bush, neo-conservative villains and Republicans generally knows.
Menand, therefore, is tired of those who turn to places where they can get an “ideological fix.” He disdains “political spin.” Perhaps he should read Hertzberg’s report on J-Street, for example, in which he calls the group “the center-left alternative to AIPAC” and wishes it more power, or Hertzberg’s explanation that “everyone who studies the issue in good faith and believes that sick people who need medical care should have access to it without fear of impoverishment concludes that a single-payer system of some sort would be the way to go if our nutty eighteenth-century political system made that possible.” So if you don’t believe in a single-payer system, you are not acting or thinking in good faith. And this is just the truth, not “political spin.” Oh, and Hertzberg knows in advance what will happen if this took place. It would lead to a “Fox News-talk radio-led war against fascist communist socialist European redistributionism.” And that, of course, would really be political spin.
To his credit, Menand is upset that the administration seems to be singling out speakers “for the purpose of intimidating them,” instead of just rebutting their claims, as is its right. “At the end of the day,” he writes, “you do not want your opponents to be able to say that they could not be heard.” So far, of course, Fox News is being heard---now more than ever. But many of us are upset that it appears that the administration does, in fact, wish that it could be shut down, and its commentators quieted. Menand knows that the First Amendment is inviolable and must be protected. Why I am not so certain that were Fox News in fact quieted or suppressed, Jacob Weisberg and Eric Alterman would not be upset?