Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Fox in the hen house

I haven't felt much like weighing in on the whole "White House Wages War Against Fox News" because a) between baseball and work, I've been busy and my attention has been elsewhere, and b) it's stupid; everyone knows Fox News -- run by "former" RNC operative Roger Ailes (and no, not the good one), comprises the communications and oppo intel arms of the Republican party. With the possible exception of Shepard Smith, it now exists solely to undermine the legitimacy of the Obama administration and to obstruct democratic legislation in Congress.

But Paul Waldman gets to the real issue raised by this amusing contretemps.

What's really been revealed in this little dustup is the way television journalists think that they should get to follow a set of rules different from the set their colleagues whose work appears in other media follow.


At times like this, you see what a thin understanding many people have of the First Amendment. Fox has the right to say anything it likes and report in whatever manner it chooses. That's a right it exercises every day. But freedom of speech and the press also means that other people are allowed to criticize you for the manner in which you exercise your rights. People can suggest that your reporting is slanted or say that your adherence to the facts is inadequate or even call you a bunch of jerks, and they haven't infringed on your right to speak and report.

What has the administration actually done to Fox? It hasn't tried to censor the network. It hasn't forbidden Fox reporters from entering the White House -- those reporters are still there, doing their jobs. Obama staffers have -- brace yourself -- criticized them. Egad!

The White House has also decided, as Axelrod said, to stop pretending that Fox is a legitimate news organization. So when Obama did a round of interviews on the Sunday shows a few weeks ago, he neglected to add Fox News Sunday to the list. Is that a choice the White House doesn't have the right to make? No one would argue that Obama has some sort of duty to give interviews to Rush Limbaugh or National Review, just as no one expected George W. Bush to sit down for a chat with Keith Olbermann or The Nation. Yet for some reason, the fact that Fox is a television network is supposed to confer upon the president an obligation to treat it with deference. No such obligation exists.

Yes, Fox broadcasts pictures as well as words. Reporters for television networks may be better paid, dressed, and coiffed than their ink-stained counterparts from the print media, but the fact that their faces appear on television doesn't mean they should be subject to a set of rules different from the one other journalists follow.

The fact that representatives of the other TV networks are defending Fox and screaming "censorship (the First Amendment, as Waldman notes, gives Fox News idiots the right to say -- or bawl -- what they think, not the right to a presidential interview)," shows just how corrupt their view of themselves and their role in the political discourse really is.

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