The supposed "war" between the Obama administration and FoxNews has been one of the stranger interludes in America's increasingly odd and volatile political scene.
As soon as White House Communications Director Anita Dunn stated the obvious, noting that FoxNews "often operates as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party," the always-excitable network predictably dove off the deep end.
It's "an abuse of power by the White House," and "clear censorship," they moaned, never mind that Fox cheered whenever Bush/Cheney lambasted NBC or The New York Times; or, more importantly, that no one in the White House has ever said anything about censoring Fox, much less taken action to do so.
As you'd expect, that simple fact didn't keep the network from throwing a pity party. One of FoxNews' favorite guests, far-right pundit Cal Thomas, went so far as to compare Dunn's statement to repressive Soviet media policies during the Cold War. Not to be outdone, the Unbalanced One, aka Glenn Beck, compared the plight of poor, administration-hounded FoxNews to Jews during the Holocaust.
Fox's senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, led the countercharge, claiming that Obama & Co. are confusing Fox's news shows (9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) with its opinion programs. The obvious problem here is that -- contrary to those who have come forward to claim that yes, the emperor is too wearing clothes -- FoxNews' "real news" shows veer into sheer opinion all the time, and always have.
Examples of FoxNews' biased news coverage are so numerous, all I can do in this space is scratch the surface. If Fox announcers' snotty tone doesn't get to you, maybe their snarling asides will. Nothing, however, lays out FoxNews' "approach" to the news, and how they grossly distort it through their own biases, as clearly as their coverage of this year's two largest Washington, D.C., political marches, the "tea party" protests and the recent gay rights march.
FoxNews' "fair and balanced" news shows hyped the tea parties, which they described as a response to Obama's fiscal policies, nearly nonstop. They encouraged viewers to "get involved" in the protests; interviewed one tea party organizer after another; and posted on-screen organizing information. And in case you couldn't attend a tea party in person, they directed viewers to take part in a "virtual tea party" at Fox News' supposedly fair and balanced Web site, Fox Nation. One FoxNews producer was even seen urging a tea party crowd to cheer harder in order to give the network "better shots." The big September tea party in Washington, which drew from 60,000 to 80,000 participants, drew all-day coverage and was hailed by Fox as "historic," while the network gave wildly exaggerated attendance estimates, claiming up to a million participants.
In October, on the other hand, the National Equality March for gay rights drew around 75,000 people to Washington, but FoxNews was nowhere to be found. Literally. The fair and balanced network didn't even send a camera crew, and devoted a grand total of four minutes to the gay rights event. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about FoxNews' impartiality.
If that's not enough, consider the network's common practice of reporting Republican National Committee press releases as factual stories. Or their news anchors -- not their commentators, but their anchors -- calling Sonia Sotomayor a "reverse racist," or reporting a vote to approve the Hate Crimes Prevention Act as "House Dems vote to protect pedophiles," or stating as a fact the myth that, under the hate crimes law, religious groups "may be prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin," which is sheer nonsense.
Senior VP Clemente's effort to distinguish between Fox's news and opinion shows isn't surprising, since it's the same, transparently phony conceit the network has pushed since it began. But if Clemente was more candid and clever, he'd find a way to publicly congratulate his network on how successfully it has blurred the line between news and opinion. They're the undisputed masters, frankly, as seen in the way Fox's "real news" side routinely turns small incidents -- such as school kids celebrating Black History Month (seven months before Fox reported it) by singing a song that included praise for Obama -- into quasi-Stalinist "outrages," which are then picked up by Hannity, Beck and crew, whose commentary on the "outrage" is then turned back over to the news side, which can now say that more and more people are ticked off. This is FoxNews' modus operandi, and has been for years.
As Frank Rich noted in The New York Times, it's now accepted in Washington that the White House's dust-up with FoxNews does little more than draw more viewers to the network. Rich thinks that may be a good thing, though, and I agree with him. As he explains, if enough moderate, independent viewers check out FoxNews because of the White House brouhaha, and see for themselves how cheesy the network's news shows are, or how insipid and dull-witted Sean Hannity is, or, God help them, see Glenn Beck in full unhinged mode, the experience could send them running back home, never to return to FoxNews' paranoid fantasy land.
Deliver Us From Weasels, a collection of 50 of John Grooms' best columns and articles, will be published in November by Main Street Rag Press. For more info, visit www.mainstreetrag.com/store/ComingSoon.php.