Weighing In On White House Vs. Fox News: An Apology

I made a boneheaded mistake yesterday, during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation, one that I'd like to correct right away.

It was part of a conversation regarding the White House's war with Fox News.

I happen to think that the administration made a mistake in deciding to take on Fox. Yes, you can make the case that Fox "started it," as the White House is saying, though that sounds a bit juvenile to me. Fox News has been baiting President Obama from Day One — and before. Yes, there are commentators on Fox (Glenn Beck comes to mind, but there are others) who trash the president on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Yes, there are some days where the work of good, legitimate Fox journalists — such as Major Garrett, for example — get overlooked because of all the attention directed at the rancor coming from its commentators.

But for Obama, who ran for president and who for the most part has governed as an above-the-fray "Mr. Cool," to wage war with the network is anything but cool. Or wise. To spend a Sunday and go on five networks to sell his health-care proposals — but conspicuously skipping Fox in the process — is childish.

And why skip Fox? Because it's like a "wing of the Republican Party," says White House adviser Anita Dunn. Because it "shouldn't be treated as a news organization," says David Axelrod, the president's chief message guru.

I'm not sure who that hurts more; if anything, Fox News has shown a surge in ratings since Obama became president. Having the White House as its declared enemy can only be sweet music to Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, whose viewership — and it dwarfs the cable competition — is considerably anti-Obama.

At the same time, I think that by crediting Beck and Fox News for the controversies over ACORN, and Van Jones, completely overlooks the mistakes that the aforementioned ACORN and Jones made on their own

Clearly, Fox was itching for a fight. In my view, the White House obliged. And I think it was a mistake. But here's where I went too far, embarrassingly so.

Yesterday, in expressing my belief that the White House should have known better, I actually said this on the air:

Well, it's not only aggressive, it's almost Nixonesque. I mean, you think of what Nixon and Agnew did with their enemies list and their attacks on the media; certainly Vice President Agnew's constant denunciation of the media. Of course, then it was a conservative president denouncing a liberal media, and of course, a lot of good liberals said, 'Oh, that's ridiculous. That's an infringement on the freedom of press.' And now you see a lot of liberals almost kind of applauding what the White House is doing to Fox News, which I think is distressing.

Where do I begin. I will tell you, that the Nixon "enemies list" is the first thing I thought of when the topic came up. And obviously, that's what was going through my mind during yesterday's conversation.

But comparing the tactics of the Nixon administration — which bugged and intimidated and harrassed journalists — to that of the Obama administration was foolish, facile, ridiculous and, ultimately, embarrassing to me. I should have known better and, in fact, I do know better. I was around during the Nixon years. I am fully cognizant of what they did and attempted to do.

I still think the Obama administration showed a childish, thin skin in its dealings with and reaction to Fox.

But childishness is a far cry from illegal and unconstitutional activities. And for that I apologize for a dumb comparison.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.