Fox News Channel
is twisting American politics in an unprecedented way, and too many members of
the press still aren't getting it.
The White House
has exposed Fox News for what it is: not a news organization, but a partisan
political entity that is waging a war aimed at destroying the Obama
administration and its progressive agenda. Fox's Glenn Beck said so
himself last Friday, predicting that he would soon "take the
unambiguous proclamations and the truths about Fox that they reveal, many
mainstream reporters and commentators, and even some progressive ones, have
spent their time effectively circling the wagons around Fox by focusing their
attention not on the network, but on the Administration's comments about it. The
entire matter has largely been treated as a political game -- should the White House have so bluntly
criticized the press, or will the tactic backfire?
administration’s war on Fox News is dumb on multiple levels," wrote Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post. "The Obama
administration really needs to get over itself," added John Nichols of The
Nation. "[T]he motivations of the White House are clear," wrote
Politico's Josh Gerstein and Mike
Allen. "Fire up a liberal base disillusioned with Obama by attacking the
hated Fox. Try to keep a critical news outlet off-balance." That same
article quoted Project for Excellence
in Journalism director
Tom Rosenstiel: “You should beware of politicians playing press critic."
All of this
completely misses the point. The issue is not whether it was a good idea
politically for the White House to say that the emperor has no clothes. The
issue is that the emperor actually has no
clothes. In other words,
comments about Fox News aren't
the story. Fox News is the story.
And yet, during a
recent press conference, ABC's Jake Tapper asked Robert Gibbs how Fox News -- "one of our
sister organizations," as he put it -- is different from any other network. His question
indicates the pervasive unwillingness among members of the media to officially
kick Fox News to the
curb of the press club. By legitimizing Fox News as a news organization, reporters and
commentators are enabling the network to continue conducting a massive
conservative political campaign under the guise of journalism. In the process,
they are permitting Fox News
to dominate the national discussion by spreading smears and lies -- smears and lies that become conventional
wisdom. They are also defending an organization that has nothing but contempt
for journalistic standards --
hence undermining their own profession and the public interest at the same
Criticizing Fox News has nothing to do with
criticizing the press. Fox News is
not a news organization. It is the de
facto leader of the GOP, and it is long past time that it was
treated as such by our nation's media.
supporting such a reality is overwhelming. To begin with, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has described his station's confrontation with the Obama
administration as "the Alamo." Fox News senior vice
president Bill Shine said Fox was "the voice of opposition." In other
words, the entire operation has
an explicit political agenda, not
just a few hosts. There is no separation between Fox News’
"opinion" programming and its "news" programs. Bret Baier's
Special Report, the closest show
Fox News has to a
straight newscast, portrays Obama in a negative light 77 percent of the time, according to a recent
study by the Center
for Media and Public Affairs.
But the story goes
well beyond the conservative bias Fox News
has historically reflected. Like all major political entities,
Fox News is now
coordinating grassroots (or,
more accurately, astroturf) political activities, lobbying for or against
legislation, and fundraising for conservative causes. The network called
April's protests "Fox News Tea Parties." It encouraged
people to attend town halls last summer and then broadcast
only the statements of
those who opposed Democratic health care proposals. The 9/12 rally in Washington was the
work of Beck, who claimed that 1.7 million people showed up (it was actually closer to 70,000). A video soon
emerged of one of the station's producers coaching marchers before a live
"report" from the scene.
Fox news routinely
implores its audience to call Congress and oppose progressive legislation.
Morris and Mike Huckabee have both used Fox News airtime to encourage donations to
conservative political action committees.
Again, these are
unambiguous campaign activities, not the work of a news organization. It is no
wonder that Fox's new website, FoxNation.com, has repeatedly cheered
legislative developments it favors as a "Fox Nation Victory!"
Fox News relishes its newfound
activism. "The conservative media is winning now," Bill O'Reilly said on
September 17. "They're damaging the president of the United States." But the damage
Fox News causes isn't
just political. Every day, it undermines serious journalism, misleads millions
of Americans, and distorts our national discussion on crucial issues. Fox News represents an attack on
Much of the channel’s
"reporting" takes the form of obsessive and factually inaccurate
efforts to smear progressive organizations and discredit Obama administration officials.
To give you a sense of priorities: over a
shows hosted by Sean Hannity and Beck mentioned ACORN 1,502 times, saying it
was a corruption scandal. By contrast, their programs mentioned Halliburton,
KBR, Blackwater, Jack Abramoff, and Bob Ney 109 times combined.
Fox is currently
conducting a witch hunt against administration members. After Van Jones
resigned, Hannity told
a crowd, "We got rid of one, and my job starting tomorrow night is to get
rid of every other one."
conduct is one thing. Inventing it is another. Fox News breathlessly reported
claims that an ACORN employee had murdered her husband without confirming the
story. It wasn't true. Similarly, Hannity reported
that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings had concealed the
"statutory rape" of a high school student. It was soon revealed that
the student was
16 at the time (the
age of consent), and by his own account had not engaged
in sexual activity with his fictitious assailant. Hannity never apologized.
Fake stories like
these are what Fox News is
built on. Health care reform will create death panels? False.
Cass Sunstein believes in mandating that people become organ donors? False.
John Holdren advocates for "compulsory abortion and sterilization,"
as Hannity put it? False.
Fox reported them all as fact --
and the list goes on.
Never in American history
has a media organization this powerful been so willing to misrepresent reality
in order to achieve a political goal. The right-wing press ran a similar
campaign targeting Bill Clinton in the 1990s, but for most of that time period,
it lacked the national, real-time reach and impact Fox now possessed.
The impact of Fox News’ long campaign of misinformation should
concern any citizen. Fox has repeatedly misinformed its viewers on everything
from the non-existent connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda
to the contents of health care reform legislation.
Such misinformation can have serious consequences, and Fox News should be
called out for propagating it.
There is nothing
wrong with the White House standing up to its most powerful, unprincipled, and
self-declared political opponent, one that clearly started this fight. And
beyond politics, there certainly isn't anything wrong with exposing an organization
that unapologetically harms our democracy by poisoning our national discourse
with falsehoods on an hourly basis.
The channel knows what it's up
against. "If they repeat this long enough," said Fox News’ Bernie Goldberg on
Monday, "and often enough --
that Fox News is not a real news organization, it's an arm of the national
Republican Party, it's not to be taken seriously -- if they say that long enough, it might become
part of bloodstream of the American culture."
Fox News' own
media analyst got the story right, while so many others in the media are still getting it wrong. For once, the
channel was actually breaking news,
even if it is merely the simple truth.
Follow Eric E. Burns on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mmfa