UPDATE (6:30 pm): As if to illustrate this post's argument that Obama objects not to Fox's opinionated style, but rather to the content of its opinions, WH spokesman Bill Burton heaped praised on MSNBC libtalkers today. Details below the fold.
President Barack Obama has gone on the attack against the Fox News Channel again, this time labeling it "destructive" to the health of the nation.
Obama pined for the days of the "golden age of an objective press," then singled out Fox for having a "point of view." But the president's objections seem to have less to do with Fox pushing political opinion than it pushing the wrong political opinion.
The President knows that liberalism is what the country needs. To his mind, Fox impedes that vision. Therefore Fox is "destructive."
Of course the mere presence of center-right views in the news media is a relatively new phenomenon. So when Obama reminisced about bygone days of media objectivity, he was really longing for a day when the media was not destructive - i.e. when it did not challenge liberal dogma.
In an interview with Rolling Stone - during which he faced tough, hard-hitting questions like "When did you realize that the Republicans had abandoned any real effort to work with you and create bipartisan policy?" - Obama stated:
Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We've got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition - it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It's a point of view that I disagree with. It's a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it's been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it's that Fox is very successful.
Ah yes, the Golden Age of an Objective Press, when so much liberal dogma went unchallenged by the few reporters privileged enough to have access to any significant segment of the American public. Or, as Drew M. at Ace HQ writes, "when the mainstream media consisted of the 3 networks regurgitating what they read in the liberal NY Times earlier in the day."
The President thinks that his policies are beneficial for "the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world" and therefore that opposition to his policies obstruct those ends. That's understandable. Every president surely believes that his chosen policies are best, and it inevitably follows that he will consider opposition to those policies detrimental to the country's best interests.
But most presidents also understand that the press's role in a functional democracy such as ours is not to root for preferred policies, but rather to check the authority of those in power. Obama seems to think that because his policies are so awesome, any criticism of those polices is "destructive."
He apparently fails to comprehend the consequences for democracy in declaring press criticism illegitimate when directed at policies the president insists really are necessary for the health of the nation. By that measure no press criticism is warranted. It's all destructive, unless of course the president approves.
Obama is not complaining simply about the fact that Fox supposedly has a "point of view." If that were his objection, he'd be crusading against FNC's cable competition as well. No, his gripe is that that Fox has a point of view that's different from his. It's not that Fox has opinions, it's that it has the wrong opinions. If the channel were hyping liberalism daily, there would be no problem.
But neither is the problem only that Fox criticizes the president's policies. No, the real trouble is that it criticizes those policies...,and people listen! Plenty of news outlets consistently criticize Obama - certainly a number of News Corp.'s other holdings, among many others. The problems is that Fox is just too darn popular, and therefore that its criticism actually has an impact on national politics.
So Obama's objection is really that there is a news outlet that offers a meaningful check on his power - that plays the precise role that the First Amendment aims to foster. Since I'm right, goes the president's logic, any force that prevents me from governing as I please is destructive and imperils the nation.
Obama's statement therefore boils down to this: liberalism is right and, consequently, impeding the wholesale implementation of a liberal agenda is wrong. Therefore, a media outlet cannot legitimately criticize a liberal president.
Hence, Obama longs for an era when meaningful conservative political objections were a rarity among the media elite. The press was much more responsible, Obama seems to think, when it recognized that liberalism is the only reasonable political philosophy, and reported the news accordingly.
Apparently determined to make NewsBusters look good, the White House today went about proving my point as best it could.
In an astounding show of press sycophancy, one reporter asked WH deputy press secretary Bill Burton today whether the the president felt that "too many Americans don't appreciate or recognize these things that you guys have accomplished."
Though the question was itself astounding, Burton's answer revealed far more about the White House's attitude towards opinion media. Yahoo News's Michael Calderone reports:
Like I said, Obama is more than happy to deal with opinion media, so long as they hold the correct opinions. If they're doing everything they can to further Obama's agenda by propagating "progressivism," they're "provid[ing] an invaluable service." But if their opinions run contrary to the president's agenda, they are "destructive" to the health of the nation. Got it?
"No, I don't think that that's his point," Burton said. "The President doesn't travel the country thinking about whether or not people are appreciating what he's doing."
However, Burton added that Obama does want to make sure that people on the left and right know that the administration's "done a lot" and that "we've got a lot more to do." He then lauded the efforts of MSNBC's top liberal hosts.
"And if you're on the left, if you're somebody like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or one of the folks who helps to keep our government honest and pushes and prods to make sure that folks are true to progressive values," Burton continued, "then he thinks that those folks provide an invaluable service. But at the same time, we need to focus our energy and our efforts on the choice that Americans have this fall."