If there really is a war between the White House and Fox News, Fox has fired the most recent shot. By booking Rush Limbaugh on his Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace has unveiled his undisguised enmity of the Obama administration. After a week of grueling debate on critical issues like health care and Afghanistan, Limbaugh’s appearance had no newsworthy justification. He had only his well worn opinions to offer, and nothing of substance regarding the week’s developments. The only purpose in booking Limbaugh is one that reveals Wallace’s biases and cynical desperation: He needs the ratings for his last place clunker of a news show.
The interview did have some sparks of entertainment. Wallace leads off with a comically prejudiced question:
“This week it will be one year since Barack Obama was elected president. In that time, what has he done for and to the country?”
Wallace asking Limbaugh what Obama has done “to” the country is a milestone in the history of softball questions. It superbly set Limbaugh up to make the startling announcement that he is “really, really worried;” that he has “never seen this kind of radical leadership;” that he believes that “the economy is under siege, is being destroyed;” and that it is “a denial of liberty, an attack on freedom” that “may be on purpose.” Limbaugh went on to describe Obama as immature and inexperienced. And in an unparalleled demonstration of a total lack of self-awareness, he said…
“I think he’s got an out-of-this-world ego. He’s very narcissistic.”
As the country’s collective laughter subsided, Limbaugh continued bashing the President, saying that he doesn’t care about Afghanistan and national security in general, or about soldiers and their families in particular, but that he has seen George W. Bush cry. He accused Obama of plotting “to regulate every aspect of human behavior” via his health care proposal. And when Wallace asked a question sent in by a viewer, the exchange went like this:
Viewer: If President Obama would agree to an interview, what would be your first question?
Limbaugh: Why are you doing this? Why? What in … what … What do you not like about this country that makes you want to inflict this kind of damage on it?
Now there’s a question that will surely stump Obama. That Rush sure is a brilliant inquisitor. It is that sort of superiority that drives Limbaugh’s success. When Wallace asked him about Glenn Beck, Limbaugh agreed that Beck has tapped into a vein of fear and anger. Ya think? But then he sought to take credit for it by asserting that before he came on the scene there was nothing that could be compared to him. He assumed responsibility for…
“…all of this conservative media, conservative talk radio, television, Fox News, the conservative blogosphere.”
It is interesting that Wallace just sat there as Limbaugh declared that he had created Fox News. [Note: Roger Ailes, who actually did create Fox News, had previously produced Limbaugh's failed attempt to syndicate a TV show] And Wallace also didn’t seem to be bothered by Limbaugh lumping Fox into the vast garbage heap of conservative media.
Which brings us back to the Fox/White House war. If Fox were not deliberately adversarial, then why wouldn’t Wallace object to Limbaugh’s characterization? Why would Wallace have booked Limbaugh in the first place? This can only be viewed as a hostile act aimed at the President and crafted for Fox’s audience of rightist disciples. Who else even wants to hear what Limbaugh has to say? In the interview, Limbaugh delusionally confesses to Wallace that…
“It was a tough thing, Chris, to learn to take as a measure of success being hated, you know, by 20 or 30 percent of the country.”
If he thinks that’s tough, the real numbers should really depress him. In fact, they are the reverse of his rosy citation. Contrary to his unfavorables being between 20 and 30 percent, Gallup has his favorable rating at 28%, Democracy Corps has 21%, and CBS puts him at 19%. If this is war, Limbaugh and Fox are woefully short of ammunition.
Ever since Anita Dunn had spoken up honestly about the war Fox News had started against President Obama, even before his inauguration, there has been a great gnashing of teeth on the part of conventional punditry. Most, though not all, took the pedestrian and self-serving view that the President ought not to take aim at a media outlet. However, it would be folly to permit an enterprise with less credibility than the National Enquirer to persist in outlandish attacks without noting their journalistic deficiencies. The result has been that a public discussion has begun, and it can only be regarded as positive that much of the media has had to confront the question of whether Fox is actually a news organization. And nothing can be more delightful than hearing Fox anchors and reporters raising the issue of their own legitimacy on their own air. Even as they defend themselves, they replant the question in the minds of viewers.
With obviously partisan programs like Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday handing over large chunks of scarce airtime to committed conservative bulldogs like Limbaugh, the question as to the fairness and balance of Fox News becomes ever more evident.