Last month I received a fundraising email from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. The Center collects, preserves, and exhibits posters relating to historical and contemporary movements for social change and has a library of more than 75,000 items. The solicitation noted the importance of individual donations due to the difficulty of obtaining funding from the government agencies that administer grants to the arts and archival organizations.
One particular part of the email was jarring for what it revealed about the decision making process of this administration. In an inquiry regarding their grant application, the Center’s director, Carol Wells, sought to gauge their chances of being successful and had this exchange with an agency representative:
Just before our most recent Federal submission we again asked about the political content and were told, “as you are writing the proposal, ask yourself this question:
“What if Fox News found out that U.S. tax dollars were being used to support your project. How would it look, how would it fly?”
The notion that Fox News’ mindset should serve as the benchmark for whether prospective arts endeavors are deserving of our tax dollars is insane, and more than a little frightening. And if it is difficult to accept that there is someone presently working for a government agency who is employing that criteria, then how much more frightening would it be to learn that this malignant perspective has spread through much of the body of our government? To be sure, all administrations are sensitive to reactions from the media, the public, and political peers, but for this administration to defer to Fox News, given their history, is mind boggling.
Barack Obama has been under attack by Fox News since before he was even elected. He was the subject of delusional allegations that questioned his patriotism, his citizenship, and his faith. The absurdities Fox promoted ranged from trivial associations with a former preacher to noxious accusations of “Palling Around with Terrorists.” It was a non-stop barrage that continued throughout the campaign and into his presidency where, if you can believe it, it escalated further.
On inauguration day Fox News anchors posited that Obama was not actually president because Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed the oath of office. It went downhill from there. As president, Obama was called a “racist with a deep seated hatred of white people.” He has been castigated as a communist, a fascist, an atheist, and perhaps worst of all, an elitist. The vitriol exceeded all bounds of civility. It was the soil from which the Tea Party sprouted along with the portrayal of Obama as an enemy of the state who is seeking to deliberately destroy the country.
Early on the administration recognized the toxic environment that was being created. There was a short-lived embargo of administration officials appearing on Fox. Anita Dunn, the former White House director of communications, told Howard Kurtz on CNN that Fox News is “a wing of the Republican Party.” Both Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod correctly observed that Fox “is not a news organization.” But the courage demonstrated by these positions quickly dissipated as the White House shifted tactics from confrontation to capitulation.
In one of the first examples of the Obama team folding under pressure from Fox News, Van Jones, a White House advisor to the Council on Environmental Quality, resigned subsequent to a relentless smear campaign by Glenn Beck and others at Fox. Jones was followed out the door by Yosi Sergant, Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Arts, who was similarly hounded by Fox.
Perhaps the most egregious moral buckling was exhibited in the administration’s disengagement from Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod. In a video originally disseminated by the terminally choleric Andrew Breitbart, Sherrod was falsely portrayed as discriminating racially against a white farmer who had sought assistance from the department. It was later revealed that the video was deceptively edited to give an impression that was diametrically opposed to reality. After being featured in various segments on Fox News and elsewhere, Sherrod was asked to resign. Sherrod told the press that there was an urgency to the request due to the fear that the controversy was “going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.”
For his part, Glenn Beck theorized that the whole affair was a premeditated plot by the White House to “destroy the credibility of Fox News?” As if that hadn’t already been accomplished by Fox News itself (and particularly Beck) without any need for help from the White House. Nevertheless, leave it to Beck to concoct a theory that borders on psychosis.
This knee-jerk Foxophobia is evident in policy as well as personnel. Fox’s harping on issues ranging from the closure of Guantanamo Bay to the inclusion of so-called “death panels” in the the health care bill, resulted in those initiatives being abandoned. Obama was often seen in retreat after Fox newsers complained about the handling of the Census, the arrest of a Harvard professor, or the non-mosque that was not at Ground Zero. At times it appeared as if Fox had a greater impact on Obama’s agenda than his cabinet – or public opinion.
By acquiescing to a de facto Fox litmus test you produce scenarios wherein Fox objects to an art exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute, followed by Congress drafting legislation to defend the Smithsonian. Or NPR terminates a correspondent for making offensive statements at his other job on Fox, and Congress moves to defund NPR. Do we really want a network that specializes in conservative tabloid sensationalism conducting political payback like this?
Now, after all of the dishonest, hyperbolic, caterwauling from Fox, Obama is rewarding that network with an exclusive interview preceding the Superbowl. And more disturbing than just the fact that Obama would sit down with this phony news network, the Fox anchor pegged to conduct the interview is not one of their supposed journalists like Bret Baier or Wendell Goler. It is Bill O’Reilly, someone even Fox doesn’t regard as a newsman. In fact, O’Reilly’s boss, Roger Ailes, said that “it’s a mistake to look at Fox News Channel’s primetime opinion shows and say they represent the channel’s journalism.” What would Fox think if Obama gave the interview to Rachel Maddow? How would that fly?
Moreover, the real mistake is for any Democrat or progressive to agree to appear on Fox News. They will only be abused while they lend their credibility to a network that hasn’t earned any of their own. Nevertheless, President Obama still sees fit to sit still for a non-journalist on a network that portrays him as an alien socialist bent on collapsing the nation’s economy and the nation itself.
This administration needs to take more seriously the threat presented by a massive, international media conglomerate that has made no secret of its disdain for the President and his agenda. And it is in its own best interest to cease kowtowing to Fox and being so concerned about what they think of his people and policies. Criticisms from Fox should be heralded by administration spokespeople. They should be embraced and repeated (and mocked) at every opportunity. They should be regarded as affirmation that you’re on the right track.
Conversely, bureaucratic flunkies like the one who quoted above, who worry about whether something will fly with Fox News, need to be rooted out and reeducated. If there is a test for whether the administration should proceed with an appointment or a policy initiative it should be based on the merits, not on what will happen when Fox News finds out.