We live in a surreal time. The Presidency we are experiencing does not merely bend the rules of civility, it alters the outlines of reality. The danger posed by someone filling the vessels of our national institutions with bad content is limited. The next custodian of the vessels can refill them more healthily. The greatest danger occurs when the vessels are smashed or vitiated by misuse. There is no guarantee that a successor will be able to effectuate repair.
I want to say that I am shocked by the President's latest utterance about FOX News, but I fear that we have moved past shock into numbness. Mister Obama, in a chatty colloquy with the publisher of Rolling Stone, while being treated with deference befitting a royal, thought it sporting to hound FOX. That network is destructive to America, he said, hawking a clearly discernible viewpoint like the Hearst papers of yore. It has been a successful strategy in fiscal terms, he noted: "wildly successful as an economic enterprise." Good for Rupert Murdoch, bad for America. (Well, shiver me timbers, our fearless President has managed to unmask yet another profiteer!)
The idea that the journalism at FOX is unique by species is specious. The news is presented fairly and a rightward tilt often peeks through, no more prominently than the leftward tilt at CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN et al. Yet even if it were somehow more egregiously skewed, how is this destructive when so many viewing options are available? Remember, this fox came to the table last, long after the wolves had been seated. Who can reasonably argue that having one strident right-wing voice amid a gaggle of left-wing voices, or even amid neutral voices, is to inject a moral havoc into the culture?
Furthermore, everyone is aware that 89-91 percent of journalists covering Washington admit to voting Democrat. This is not seen to pose any threat to balance. Why would anyone accuse them of coloring the news to suit their views? (Not to get sidetracked here by citing the recent Journolist scandal, where many of the nation's top reporters admitted -- to each other, at any rate -- that they were fighting for liberal objectives under the pose of objectivity.)
Interesting, also, that Obama detects no incongruity in saying that this model for news delivery is wildly successful while being so destructive. What is the secret of this success? Why are large quantities of people drawn to this approach? The implication here is that there is some pandering to the demons within people, that Murdoch is an urbane upscale pornographer. He is giving his audience permission to be selfish, greedy, grasping, bigoted, xenophobic, as Rosalynn Carter once said of Reagan. They are coming to Murdoch to buy indulgences, as Martin Luther once said of the Catholic hierarchy.
So upon examination, the vehicle is not intrinsically destructive. Because if you had a Hearst-style liberal network (of which Obama can locate none), and if it were to attract a lot of viewers, that would not be pandering. That would be edifying. The people who signed up as viewers would not be patting themselves on the back. No, they would be volunteering to hear of new responsibilities and duties they might otherwise have shirked. They would be bettering themselves and the world.
Obama should admit that he does not really find the Hearst style destructive. He just does not like the particular viewpoint that FOX advances. And now -- hold on to your hats -- he does admit that! In the very same interview, he turns around and says that it is promoting a destructive viewpoint. Get it? He could not keep up the façade of being outraged by one-sided reporting either way. He can live with one-sided when it is his side.
Back to our larger point. To use the Presidential bully pulpit as a blunt instrument against a news organization, to label its approach destructive, to label its content destructive, that is -- to coin a phrase -- destructive. Think back to our first clue that Hugo Chavez was an autocrat, bent on subverting those national institutions which did not refract his glory. It was when he came out against various newspapers and television stations, saying much the same things as our own El Presidente.
This President has again set a bad precedent. When I meet him next, in the polling booth in 2012, I hope it will not be too late to tell him what I think: "Hugo!"
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