Friday, October 23, 2009

Obama-Murdoch battle widens

A media battle royal between President Obama and mogul Rupert Murdoch is rapidly escalating.

The fracas took another turn when a media watchdog urged progessives to join an all-out campaign to delegitimize Fox News as a real news organization. This followed an effort by Republican partisans Karl Rove and Lamar Alexander to characterize Obama as a Nixon-like figure.

David Brock, who runs Media Matters, sent out a call to action to others on the left to counter "lethal" Fox, as Politico reports in its latest editions.

Brock at one time was a conservative journalist who indulged in many of the tactics used by Fox and most Murdoch media. He later wrote a book "Blinded by the Right," which marked his change of conviction.

It is very likely that Fox's Glenn Beck and others at Fox will jump on Brock's call to action as evidence that the left-wing is out to get Fox. However, it should be noted that other left-oriented groups have only touched on the controversy tepidly, if at all, and that the conservative Accuracy in the Media, while running some commentary on the brawl, has largely been unenthusiastic about backing Fox.

In another development, Newsweek published Slate chief Jacob Weisberg's piece upholding the White House view and urging reputable journalists to shun Fox, with a headline denouncing Fox -- and by implication Murdoch -- as "un-American." Considering Glenn Beck's attacks on White House aide Anita Dunn as a Mao-loving radical, Newsweek's head was no doubt thoughtfully chosen.

"Whether the White House engages with Fox is a tactical political question," wrote Weisberg. "Whether journalists continue to do so is an ethical one. By appearing on Fox, reporters validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations. Responsible journalists -- I'm talking to you, Mara Liasson -- should stop appearing on its programs."

A memorable dart tossed by Weisberg: "If you were watching Fox News Channel, you saw a familiar roster of platinum pundettes and anchor androids reciting the same soundbites: this was Obama's version of Nixon's enemies list."


Clearly, non-Fox journalists have been getting a kick out of covering this feud. At least that's the sense one gets when reading the latest wrap-up in the New York Times, where it was reported that Obama himself had vented his displeasure at Fox in a closed meeting, which included  the liberal opinion molders Rachel Madow, Keith Olberman, Frank Rich and Bob Herbert.

Reflecting Obama's pique, White House aide David Pfeiffer kept up the attack on Fox. "We simply decided to stop abiding by the fiction, which is aided and abetted by the mainstream press, that Fox is a traditional press organization," Pfeiffer said.

Latest salvoes: Dan Froomkin writes in the liberal Huffington Post about "why journalists shouldn't defend Fox" and Murdoch's Wall Street Journal has a right-spin piece by James Taranto suggesting that the White House is behaving like left-wing radicals when it criticizes Fox.
Some question the political wisdom of the White House drive to marginalize Fox as a serious news organization. However, one might recall that Hillary Clinton kicked off a counter-offensive in the Monica Lewinsky scandal with her famous "vast, right-wing conspiracy" theory. That counter-offensive did not save her husband from impeachment, but it very likely influenced the Senate's decision to let him off with a reprimand.

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