Fox News and I share a very complicated relationship.
Often, there’s little love lost between us. Although I’ve never had the pleasure of being shot, I suspect it feels a lot like when I accidently catch a moment of Hannity’s America while flipping between any two much, much better shows. Similarly, while O’Reilly seems like he’d be a good man to have in a bar fight, his show focuses about as much on the issues as does your average Sunday night football show. Ditto for Glen Beck, although frankly he wouldn’t even be much help in a bar fight.
Sometimes, however, Fox News is worth watching. There come moments when — even from a liberal perspective — viewing one of Beck’s tearful, primetime appeals is a whole lot more educational than the very best of left-wing pundits like MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.
I may not take Fox very seriously as an objective news source, but I know a lot of people who do. Accordingly, if I want to understand where the other side is coming from — and be prepared to engage them on their own issues — I watch Fox. This is a valuable lesson, and one which many Democratic politicians, particularly the Obama White House could do to learn.
But rarely has an administration been fiercer in targeting and condemning a particular news network. According to White House senior advisor David Axelrod in a recent interview, Fox is “not really a news station” and many of its shows are “not really news.” Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel adds that “[Fox] is not a news organization so much as it has a perspective.” Comments like these, along with the conspicuous exclusion of Fox from recent press events, have constituted an administration-wide salvo against America’s “Fair and Balanced” news network.
Does Fox News have a conservative bias? Absolutely. Does this fact justify the wholesale marginalization of a huge and immensely popular news network? Absolutely not.
Currently, Fox is the uncontested king of cable. The network enjoys a primetime viewership three times those of MSNBC and CNN, and boasts the top 13 most-watched programs in all of cable news. Since Obama’s inauguration, Fox has seen large and consistent gains in market share, effectively becoming (in the words of White House Communications Director Anita Dunn) the research and communications arm of the Republican Party.
Such a tight concentration of political opposition should be viewed as an opportunity to reach out to reach out to an alienated population — not a chance to marginalize them further. According to Democratic pundit and Fox News contributor Bob Beckel, “I talk to more persuadable voters in a month than anybody on MSNBC or CNN talks to in a year.”
Unfortunately, the Obama administration continues to move in the opposite direction. Even as the right-leaning Fox is summarily ostracized by White House officials, the left-leaning MSNBC has enjoyed a stream of exclusive interviews and renewed administrative attention. These actions have only further contributed to the party polarization of Americans news media and do nothing for meaningful political engagement.
I spent this past summer working on the contentious healthcare debate, where I fielded calls from mostly conservative voters. At first, I found it hard to respond to the passion and anger behind their arguments. This changed after I started watching Fox News. Suddenly, I recognized the talking points (sometimes verbatim) of Hannity and Beck in the voices of callers the next day. I was able to challenge healthcare reform opponents on their own turf, and (sometimes!) change their minds.
Appreciating an opponent’s source of arguments and information is important, even if the Beck/Hannity/O’Reilly triple-punch has a tendency to give you a headache. The Obama White House has done a lot of things right in its first ten months, but persecuting a major news network has not been one of them.
Agreeing to disagree has long been a tenant of American politics. It’s about time the Democrats remembered that.
Emerson Brooking is a College junior from Turnerville, Ga. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a member of the UA.Comments powered by Disqus
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