Sunday, November 1, 2009

President Obama misguided in picking fight with Fox News

The struggle to manipulate and control information is a constant battle for most politicians. They want to control how their messages reach the public.

As the media's size has exploded over the last couple of decades, this has become much more difficult. The expanded presence of newspapers on the Internet, 24-hour cable news channels, and talk radio have all played major roles in causing headaches for politicians.

This is good news for the public. The public needs access to information from many different outlets in order to develop a well-rounded viewpoint on issues. However, the battle between politicians and the media remains a spirited one.

A recent example of this was when the Obama administration began a campaign of sorts to discredit the Fox News cable channel. Administration officials like White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have appeared on high profile shows to criticize Fox.

The main point being made by officials is that Fox really is not a news reporting organization. They claim it is really a televised form of talk radio, and because of this, the network should not be considered on the same level as organizations like the Cable News Network (CNN).

The timing of the administration's efforts is curious. Right now, President Obama is grappling with how to handle the war in Afghanistan and guide our economy out of its severe rut. Yet, despite all these problems, the president is apparently expending quite a bit of time to discredit a news network.

Officials representing his administration have been making the rounds for several weeks to press the criticism of Fox. These are not casual, off-the-cuff remarks. These officials are repeatedly criticizing the network.

The purpose of this column is not to defend or criticize Fox. As a reader, if you are taking time to read this blog, I trust that you are capable of coming to your own conclusions about what Fox does. The issue is how upfront the Obama administration is being in its dislike of the network.

However, cloaked in the administration's attacks, there are traces of hypocrisy. Though branding Fox as nothing more than an extension of the Republican Party oversimplifies the issue, this is what they are doing.

The hypocrisy enters this debate when the administration fails to criticize news outlets that are friendly to him who use the same general approach as Fox. For example, MSNBC is unrelentingly supportive of President Obama, and their prime time line up of shows takes the same approach as Fox except they have liberal commentators.

So, apparently, the president does not have a problem with a talk radio approach on television as long as it supports him. In fact, the president is apparently going out of his way to assist MSNBC.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that private briefings are being given to MSNBC commentators Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Olbermann and Maddow are both in MSNBC's prime time schedule and compete directly with Fox shows that are giving the administration the most heartburn.

Again, the hypocrisy here is pretty compelling. The next question is obvious. Why is the administration doing this?

If nothing else, President Obama did not receive a lot of strong criticism leading up to his election last year. Saturday Night Live lampooned this fact last year in a devastating sketch that illustrated how much tougher the press was on Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

Because of this, the president appears ill-prepared for some of the criticism he has been receiving.

He says he doesn't lose sleep over Fox. The reality appears otherwise.

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