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When The President Wrestles Fox News, Who Wins? Pundits Weigh In


At the risk of playing the “first” card so reviled on the Internet, Mediaite called the showdown between Fox News and the Obama administration back in mid-August. Now that it’s officially here, heralded by an attack-dog performance by White House Communications Director Anita Dunn on Reliable Sources and unhindered by a secret coffee date between Roger Ailes and David Axelrod, what does it mean? And which side, if either, will ultimately come out on top? A roundup of pundit reactions from the blogosphere and beyond:

First, here’s what Dunn had to say to Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz:

“Let’s be realistic here, Howie, they’re widely viewed as a part of the Republican party: Take their talking points, put ‘em on the air. Take their opposition research, put ‘em on the air. And that’s fine, but let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is … I’m not talking about people like Major Garrett, I’m talking about the overall programming.”

This in addition to an official blog that has called Fox out on biases and reporting inaccuracies, a la Media Matters. It’s an unusual approach, but will it backfire and boost Fox at Obama’s expense?

  • David Gergen seems to think so. Speaking with Wolf Blitzer over the weekend, he said that he “would not advocate” the Obama administration’s fire-with-fire strategy: “If you are going to get very personal against the media, you’re going to find that the animosities are just going to deepen, and you’re going to find that you are almost going to draw viewers to people you are attacking. You build them up in some ways, you give them stature.”
  • Fox News also seems to think so. Brian Stelter reports that Fox executives are geared up for the fight, and think that it will help their ratings: “Don’t pick a fight with people who like to fight,” Roger Ailes is said to have remarked in internal discussions.
  • Gawker, no big fans of Fox News, thinks it’s more or less a wash. “There is a degree to which the entire ‘war’ is mutually beneficial, with both sides firing up the base. But we imagine the Obama White House has also been surprised by the depths of Fox’s irresponsibility (witch-hunting, actively organizing and promoting protests of the president’s legitimacy, everything Glenn Beck does and says),” writes Alex Pareene.
  • Jeff Bercovici also thinks it’s a bad idea on Obama’s part. He acknowledges that Obama’s in a tight spot, but says there’s not much to be done: “Obama can’t win this one, but he can avoid spending his ammunition in a hopeless fight. He should take heed of what I advised John McCain over a year ago: that running against the press is a loser’s strategy. It signals weakness.”
  • A roundtable on Sunday’s Morning Joe criticized Obama for adopting a confrontational style against Fox. MSNBC analyst Harold Ford Jr., a former Congressman, put it like this: “I was in politics for ten years in Congress, and I never shied away from a chance to go face-to-face or head-to-head with those I knew may have a different opinion than me. I think it’s unfair to say the President won’t find his way to that forum.” Morning Joe has been pretty evenhanded as the Obama-Fox spat has heated up; they derided Fox for skipping an Obama press conference in July.
  • Crooks and Liars’ John Amato takes the dissenting viewpoint: he says that Dunn’s Reliable Sources interview was refreshing because she was telling the truth, and that the bias of Fox’s reporting is so strong that it needs an official response. “Dunn held back no punches and stated fact. That’s nice to see.”

Conclusion: the conventional wisdom seems to be that a fight with Fox drags Obama down and brings Fox up, even if, as Amato says, the White House is right on all of their substantive charges. Attacking may fire up Obama’s base, but he doesn’t really need to fire up his base at this point; even with House and Senate majorities, he needs to build a broad consensus. Attacking a cable network not just on individual points but on the grounds of its existence is an oddly cablish move for a president to take, and even the non-Fox zombies of America are likely to take note.

(image via Say It Ain’t So Already)

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