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Obama wants to keep ‘the Fox out of the White House’

COMMENTARY
By | November 1st 2009

"They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way". Those are the words of a character named Jim Malone in the movie The Untouchables. President Barack Obama likes to say, "I am skinny but I’m tough. I’m from Chicago".

Obama is known for winning; he beat odds and won the presidency and beat even bigger odds to win the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. Now he’s opened various war fronts – waging real wars in Iraqi and Afghanistan and, of late, with an antagonistic TV network. The president is famed for his ability to maintain his cool when everything is crumbling around him. For this, he has earned names like "Mr Cool" and "No Drama Obama".

However, he looks terribly flustered and has drawn his Chicago sword over the conservative American cable news TV – Fox News. Other previous administrations, when faced with hostile media networks, have tried something called ‘outreach’ – which is basically trying to have some form of compromise between the White House and the hostile media network to ensure more balanced reporting.

The Obama White House is lashing at Fox News in the manner they do to a political opponent (they’ve said they don’t consider it a legitimate news organisation). Critics have accused the Obama administration of a calculated campaign to rough up Fox News. The joke is that "The White House has gone Fox hunting!" and that Obama wants to keep "the Fox out of the White House".

 Fox News, which has been looking for a fight with Obama for a long time, was so glad he finally obliged. The gloves are off and the cable news network has ratcheted up the game of playing hard ball. It’s always a joy for any media house — no matter how opinionated — to have the honour of taking on a president head-on and seeing him sweat.

 A president has an oiled political machine and a fanatical following, whereas a TV network has inquisitive reporters, tough anchors and a megaphone – it’s a battle royale. Having the White House as its declared public enemy number one is good news to conservative Fox News commentators and hosts like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. They know that any time there is a confrontation between the executive and a section of the free press; the executive will finally back down. We can bet the White House will be first to blink, in this case.

The war of words with Fox News escalated when White House Communications Director, Anita Dunn, went ballistic against Fox News on one of the Sunday talk shows, calling it "a wing of the Republican Party" and "not a news organisation in the sense that CNN is a news organisation." Fox News is a highly popular conservative cable news network with very high ratings which have gone up since Obama became president.

The war with the president must have helped Fox News ratings to soar to the sky. Of course the Obama White House has a point as Bill Press, an American journalist concedes that Fox News is "not a news operation, it’s a pure, 24/7, right-wing propaganda network. Its political shows – Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – all plan their broadcasts based on that day’s Republican Party talking points. And even its so-called ‘news’ shows are stacked with stories with a clear anti-Obama slant. But Obama also has to accept reality. That’s what Fox is. It’s been the conservative news network from day one. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes designed it that way. Its slogan should be: ‘We distort, you decide.’ It amounts to little more than right-wing talk radio, with pictures added. And, here’s the important part: they’re not going to change".

However, no matter how justified Obama is, taking on a news organisation may backfire on a president who is considered as one with the most tolerant personality – and most liberal.

Of course most American liberals and even some liberal journalists are happy that Obama has decided to go for the neck of Fox News. However, it is a bad precedent to isolate a news organisation for being constantly antagonistic (recently Obama appeared on five networks on a Sunday but skipped an appearance on Fox News probably to punish it for its lopsided coverage). The principles of a free press demand that everyone’s opinions be heard – including the foolish, petty and even bigoted.

What makes it dangerous for Obama is that, at any time of the day, there are more people watching Fox News than any other cable news channel. Shouldn’t Obama, as a shrewd politician, be taking his agenda into ‘enemy’ territory with Fox News viewers than always preach to the choir of liberals happy to hear him? This time around, I think he has got it dead wrong.

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