THE BLOG

White House Smart to Out Fox

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

However biased Fox "News" has been to the Obama administration, there's a near left-right unanimity that it was foolish for them to attack the network, in part because it elevated Fox's ratings and, stretching the metaphor, you don't fight with folks who "buy ink by the barrel."

The CW is wrong. It was smart to explain that Fox is more an arm of the Republican party than a news organization.

First, criticism that it was Nixonian is absurd. No one will be burglarized or audited. One doubts we'll ever hear a recording of Obama later saying, "Remember, the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy."

Second, it's facile and false symmetry to argue that MSNBC has been as anti-Bush as Fox is anti-Obama. When has MSNBC's news reports been as biased as Fox's ad nauseam coverage of the Birthers, tea baggers and crazed town meeting protestors? And when has any other broadcast or cable network actually organized rallies against a sitting president, as Fox unashamedly did with the tea bag protests? As Rachel Maddow alone editorialized, why should Gibbs, Dunne, Emanuel, Axelrod et. al. cooperate with what has been an arm of the opposition party? Did Bush go on Olbermann?

As president of Air America Media, I obviously have no problem with opinion radio or TV. But we and The Nation magazine don't pretend to be "fair and balanced," only interesting and accurate. When Roger Ailes tried to spin me at a Christmas party last year that "We really have both sides on our news," I sort of admired his audacity. But I was also thinking that a gutsy Federal Trade Commission could charge Fox with false and misleading advertising. It's one thing to be almost impressed at his message discipline, but what fool could possibly swallow his talking points whole?

Still, should the White House have made a point of calling out Fox? Yes, because the only way to deter or slow bullies is to stand up to them. Chiding Fox won't convert them into MoveOn members but one doubts they'll organize the next tea bag rally. And others will now more likely flinch before flinging falsehoods realizing that the administration may actually respond to phony attacks. At the least, they won't be able to assume that Obama will invariably turn the other cheek with his post-partisan temperament. Indeed, any politician is in a weak position -- whether in a public debate or a legislative negotiation -- if he has just one register, whether it's always nasty (Giuliani) or always nice (Obama).

By telling the truth about Fox, Cheney et. al., Obama has thrown his more virulent critics off-stride. When a batter knows that the pitcher can throw brush-back pitches, it's harder to dig in and swing away. The squeals we hear from the Far Fright is the sound of those who have to think twice the next time they're tempted to call a President a racist or socialist or fascist or whatever to goose ratings.

A president who took the oath of office on the bible of another lanky Illinoisian could do worse than imitating Lincoln's approach, who was said to have had "an iron fist in a velvet glove."