MEDIA
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

White House Feud With Fox Has Nothing To Do With "News"

When people say that the White House has "declared war" on Fox News, what do they really mean? Is the White House objecting to the criticisms put forth by Fox's opinion-mongers, like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity? Or are they locked in battle with the actual reporting arm of the media organization. It's not a distinction that the White House has been especially good at making. When ABC News' Jake Tapper pressed Robert Gibbs on this, Gibbs suggested, "You and I should watch sometime around 9 o'clock tonight. Or 5 o'clock this afternoon" -- citing the two aforementioned loose cannons of canonical Foxist opinion.

But look, it doesn't really matter, because there's very little daylight between the promulgators of opinion and the relaters of fact at Fox.

Earlier today, Rachel Weiner documented ten particularly egregious instances of Fox making actual news distortions. Following on that, we have a mash-up video from Media Matters, that further closes the gap between these two sides of the network.

[WATCH]

One of the things that's rather ably documented here is that when a Fox reporter wants to "raise questions" about what "some say" about something, it's their own opinion-meisters who are providing the grist for that mill. And the particular brilliance of Fox's support for the Tea Party movement is that it puts their own talking points out there in the world, and specifically in the throats of supporters, which allows the network to credibly document, "Hey! This stuff is really happening!" And that's how you manufacture consent with news content, the same way you make a painting from watercolors.

Another way Fox has simply left the fold of legitimate news organizations is by placing a nonsensical amount of emphasis on bizarre issues. Rationally speaking, White House communications director Anita Dunn and the Mao quotes she cites in lectures are simply not going to have a measurable impact on America. But skyrocketing unemployment certainly is. Similarly, the war in Afghanistan is a gripping issue in which all Americans have a huge stake -- in some cases, a life-or-death one. But the White House "Pay Czar" is only going to have an impact upon a certain population of Wall Street executives, who could end up being merely super-super-wealthy instead of super-super-super wealthy. Yet Fox would rather concern itself with the latter issue, at the expense of the former. As Dave Weigel pointed out a few days ago, when Fox places their emphasis on covering Anita Dunn instead of, say, skyrocketing unemployment, you get "news" that is "obscure and...disconnected."

Given that, it's hard to argue that Fox is doing their viewers anything other than a disservice. Or they would, anyway, if the product that they were producing was, in fact, "news." But the truth of the matter is, Fox has only a minimal stake in the production of news content. They've actually rather brilliantly solved the problem of how to sell an unpredictable commodity by abandoning that business altogether. What Fox sells now, essentially, is self-esteem. Having successfully defined themselves as the go-to source for the conservative base, Fox feeds those eyeballs with pure Soma, allowing their viewers to bliss out, have their worldview validated, and feel good about themselves. (What's really genius about this is that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes gives liberals exactly what they want, too: a source for consistent outrage that reinforces their worldview as well. No matter who you are, it's impossible to watch Fox News and not feel like your point of view is the right one!)

Round about now, folks will start attempting to build equivalencies between Fox and MSNBC, which has opened up big chunks of prime-time territory to decidedly leftist voices. But there are huge, dynamic differences between the two. MSNBC, for example, gives former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough a massive chunk of its newshole. Keith Olbermann is the only prime-time host who tends to engage in a debateless format, favoring polemical "conversations with myself" in blank verse. Rachel Maddow, who is beloved by progressives, doesn't shy away from critiquing the Obama administration, and argues her issues in a brittle, intellectual fashion. MSNBC's most doctrinal liberal voice is Ed Schultz, who will openly advocate for such things as EFCA and the public option. But even Schultz doesn't engage in the opium-selling of Fox's opinioneers. The underlying metanarrative of The Ed Show is that he isn't convinced that the Obama administration has the balls to deliver on his promises to the people who voted for him. That doesn't exactly do wonders for liberal self-esteem!

Glynnis MacNicol, in Mediaite today, wants to know why the White House press corps and the mainstream media aren't more outraged at the White House's treatment of Fox. But why would they be? I have to imagine it's because they know specifically what business they are in, and correctly recognize that Fox is just not plying the same trade.

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