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The White House v. Fox News


White House communications director Anita Dunn recently claimed that Fox News was “more a wing of the Republican Party.” “They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that’s fine,” Dunn continued. “But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.” Fox News president and G.O.P. heavyweight Roger Ailes must have sensed an opening. Fox instantly proceeded to pick a food fight over the remarks, and network news broadcasters rushed to Fox’s defense. Now a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll suggests that the public may well see things the way Dunn does:

The Fox News Channel is viewed by Americans in more ideological terms than other television news networks. And while the public is evenly divided in its view of hosts of cable news programs having strong political opinions, more Fox News viewers see this as a good thing than as a bad thing. Nearly half of Americans (47%) say they think of Fox News as “mostly conservative,” 14% say it is “mostly liberal,” and 24% say it is “neither in particular.”

Last night on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart and his team offered an effective montage of Fox clips make the same point:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
For Fox Sake!

But this leaves the question of whether it was smart politics for the White House to open up a broadside against Fox. Doesn’t this just let Fox frame the conflict in terms that will help its ratings? John Batchelor argues that Fox is outsmarting the White House:

If Fox News is a Republican research and communication “arm,” as remarked by Dunn, then the results for the last four years are shocking—with a deeply Democratic majority Congress, a Democratic president… What is also wrong-headed in the Axelrod and Emanuel anxiety is that Fox News is joyously good at what it means to be—a popular platform for its advertisers. Ailes knows how to make the confusion of the news into a nervous and strangely comforting comic opera. Most of the Fox News day’s production is a reading of helter-skelter bulletins into a coherent narrative consistent with themes of super-patriotism, progress, profit, and paranoia. In the evening, Fox News becomes a variety show of cattiness, gossip, chants, and whoppers. Recently Fox News has added the theme of “Survivalism for Dummies,” though this subplot could soon slip into an extended version of the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

Batchelor sums up, with sure accuracy:

Fox News is not in the news business; it’s in show business. The Republican Party, like its blood kin the Democratic Party, is in the campaign business. The White House is in the government business, though, from the evidence so far, it doesn’t know how to break out of the campaign business.

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