Friday, October 23, 2009

Bad Obama: why the administration is wrong to go after Fox News

The Obama administration has come under attack quite a bit from its perennial foes. Some of those attacks have been fair and others unfair. Unlike the administration's constant critics, I think the administration should be praised when they do something praiseworthy. And unlike its blind cheerleaders, the administration should be criticized when there is something to criticize. As a strong supporter of the Obama administration, I am more apt to praise than blame. But where blame is called for, well . . . blame I shall. In that spirit, I will always praise and blame. First, the blame.

I don't often agree with Charles Krauthammer. In fact, I can't recall the last time I agreed with much of what he had to say. But I agree almost completely with this column in the Washington Post criticizing the administration for unfairly targeting Fox News. The administration has explicitly tried to freeze out Fox News because of a lot of the drivel that goes on in the rest of the network. The administration's position, which in my view is not tenable, is that Fox News is not a legitimate news network. It reached this conclusion, on the basis of its own reasoning, because of the likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. On the basis of that justification, the administration might as well freeze out NBC News. Does anyone really believe that Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow are serious news people? They're certainly smart and serious commentators, but newspeople, they're not. Is Keith Olberman's worst person in the world segment anything but partisan hackery? Yes, is true that Beck is not a serious analyst and it is also true that Fox as a whole (I would argue including the news division) pitches everything from the right. But if we're going to judge a news organization by its opinion section and we're going to freeze out all news entities with a bias, the rest of mainstream media is on notice that the White House is coming after them.

Of course the White House is not coming after them and Krauthammer's column makes clear why. The White House is clearly peeved that Fox has been a persistent (and effective) critic. The White House does not want Fox to set the baseline and have everyone follow. This is a very smart and devious. But it is also wrong.

The state should not try to punish private news organizations because the state does not like what they are saying. One might establish exceptions to this principle at the margins but the case would have to be extremely compelling. In this case, the White House is trying to punish Fox News because it does not like the fact that it is being covered negatively by the network as a whole. In my view, this is not something that can be defended and I'm surprised that liberals like Glenn Greenwald, with whom I almost always agree, are bending over backwards to defend the White House here. As an aside, suppose that the President signed an executive order keeping Fox News out of all White House briefings and press conferences, would we be so ready to defend the White House?

Greenwald argues that Bush's actions with respect to the media were much worse and the right's complaint about Obama is hypocrisy. But that's beside the point. It does not matter whether Bush was worse and I hope that does not become our baseline. The point is whether the Obama administration is right to try to punish (and delegitimize) a news organization because the administration does not like the way it is being covered by the network. I think what the Obama administration is trying to do with Fox is wrong and liberals, who often believe that they stand for principle, should say so.

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