Friday, October 23, 2009

The War on Fox

If you use Firefox, you should definitely get this Halloween theme. It is beautifully well-done, and gets me in the spirit for a holiday that I don't even particularly care much about. I look forward to this time of the year just so I can use this theme for a few weeks. There is also an excellent Christmas theme available.

I should probably be more upset by the White House's attempt to discredit Fox as a news agency, but in fact I find myself just shaking my head. No presidency has attempted to take on an entire news station, and I doubt if any attempted to take on a particular newspaper, either. And for good reason. First, in a country devoted to free speech, it is dangerous for a government institution to try to decide who is and who isn't authorized to deliver the news. Second, it seems unlikely to work, and may very well backfire. Third, it is pointless. News agencies are not sworn to neutrality. We went through a period of history when journalists claimed to deliver just the facts, and in fact they may have tried to do so for some of that time. In times past, however, newspapers were blatantly partisan and were often simply party organs, and the democracy survived. The increasingly wide divide between journalistic opinion and that of the majority of Americans has made the pretense of neutrality into a sham and then a farce. I'm not going to turn this into a debate on whether the "MSM" (mainstream media) are biased, but I will say this: whenever I have seen liberals confronted with objective evidence of media bias, their response is invariably, "Well, of course, that's because the American electorate is skewed so far to the right." You may or may not like the way Americans vote, but when one speaks of journalistic neutrality, one would expect the journalists to be neutral relative to the country that they are covering. American media may be middle-of-the-road by the standards of French or German politics, but that doesn't carry much significance when discussing their role in America.

The thing is, there is nothing wrong with having a point of view. My objection to network news is not that it is biased, but that it pretends to be neutral; my objection to Keith Olbermann and his ilk is that name-calling degrades political discourse. Polite but overtly partisan journals, such as The Nation and National Review, are considered seriously by people in the public sphere, and I presume they get treated with the same respect as Newsweek or other supposedly neutral magazines. They don't get the same privileges, because their audience is much smaller, but they still get treated like journalists.

Obama's attack on Fox (and Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck, and others) is surprising because it seems like such a fruitless venture. If George Bush had attacked MSNBC for its partisan politics, he would have had much more right to do so, but he would have been roundly criticized for it -- and rightly so. Even to try such a thing suggests to me the inexperience of Obama and his staff. Obama was treated with kid gloves during his election campaign, and now he apparently can't tolerate the thought that some people disagree with him. It is a sign of intellectual bankruptcy for a politician to declare war on the news. It might be more sensible to pick on a single agency as Obama is doing, rather than criticizing the media in general à la Richard Nixon, but it is also more ominous. If he succeeds in driving Fox out of news, it will be a sad day for our democracy; if he doesn't, it will be a severe blow to his presidency.

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