I have always felt sorry for people who find themselves in the darkness of authoritarian societies where basic freedoms are denied. Imagine not being able to peaceably assemble, worship your God or speak your mind. Imagine if every news outlet merely parroted the line of the government rather than exposing corruption and oppression.
If we aren’t careful, we might not have to image such a world. We may actually experience it. From the moment Barack Obama appeared on the political scene through his presidency to date, too much of the American media have acted like a state-run media, failing to expose corruption and abuses of power.
In fact, if not for the few voices of dissent on talk radio, Fox News and a few other outlets, the Obama administration would have achieved by default an alarming, historic first: an American state-run media. And now, not content with having 90 percent of the media establishment supporting its agenda, the White House is committed to bullying Fox News.
Virtually every White House official has publicly bashed Fox News in recent weeks. Senior Obama advisor David Axelrod told George Stephanopoulos on ABC last weekend that the White House doesn’t consider Fox News to be a real news organization. Axelrod then advised that ABC and others “ought not to treat them” as if they are a news organization.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel echoed Axelrod on CNN, saying, “[Fox News is] not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. …And more importantly is to not have the CNNs and the others in the world basically be led and following Fox…”
Interim White House Communications Director Anita Dunn scolded Fox News to the New York Times, saying, “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”
Fox News commentary does lean to the right. But if complete objectivity were really the White House’s measure of legitimacy, the White House Briefing Room would be completely empty. Most of the rest of the media, from the Huffington Post to the network news, lean decidedly left.
To an administration unfamiliar with criticism, examination of the president’s policy proposals and dubious political appointments constitutes “war.” And that means, as Dunn said of Fox News “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent.”
Would that America’s real enemies were treated as harshly by the Obama administration as the conservative media is. Barack Obama seems more willing to engage Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than to sit down with Chris Wallace.
The Left has long tried to marginalize dissenting media. In 2007, the Democratic presidential candidates pulled out of a debate cosponsored by Fox News. At the beginning of his term, President Obama told Republican lawmakers to quit listening to Rush Limbaugh.
It is easy to know why. Fox News and talk radio are two of the only media outlets that refuse to dutifully push the Obama message.
As it is, the media still lean disproportionately to the Left. A year ago, a Pew study found that the media’s coverage of the presidential campaign was skewed three to one in favor of Barack Obama. (The study found that Fox News provided the most balanced coverage.) And according to another study, Obama enjoyed an 8 to 1 voting advantage over McCain among journalists. Chris Matthews said it was his job to make Obama’s presidency a success. Many journalists from the media establishment abandoned their careers to join the Obama administration.
It would be going too far to compare the state of American political journalism to the government-controlled media found in countries like Iran, China, Cuba and Venezuela. American journalists who speak up don’t risk imprisonment or fear for their lives. (Although they do risk a colder shoulder at Manhattan and Georgetown cocktail parties.)
But what does it say that some of the Obama administration’s top communications people see so much to admire in heavy-handed Marxist regimes? Dunn, who bragged recently that the Obama campaign was able to “control” the press during the presidential campaign, identified the Marxist mass murderer Mao Tse Tung as one of her “favorite political philosophers.”
And Mark Lloyd, Obama’s Federal Communications Committee “Chief Diversity Officer,” seems to admire the way Hugo Chavez deals with the media in Venezuela. Chavez, whom Lloyd called “incredible” and “dramatic,” has imprisoned numerous dissenting journalists and overseen a state takeover of all media.
It is understandable that the Obama administration wants to control the media. It has long recognized the importance of conveying the impression of moderation. And it realizes that even though Obama remains personally popular with many Americans, his political support will continue to wane if the radical nature of his policies is exposed.
A new CNN poll underscores the administration’s problem, showing that for the first time since he took office, President Obama is at odds with most Americans on the issues. According to the poll, 48 percent of respondents said they agree with Obama on the issues that matter most to them. But a majority — 51 percent — say they do not. In April, a majority — 57 percent — said they saw eye-to-eye with Obama on the issues.
From its healthcare reform proposals and cap-and-trade legislation to its strategy in Afghanistan and the crackpot views of the Obama czars, the administration is out of step with what most of the country wants. That fact necessitates, from the perspective of the White House, the marginalization of the few journalists willing to do their jobs and expose the administration’s radical agenda and personnel.
But the White House could learn something from the soaring ratings of Fox News and talk radio. There are millions of Americans hungry for an alternative view, and even if dissenting opinion could be silenced, it wouldn’t make the president’s policies any more popular. Obama’s real problem is not the conservative media, but the millions of Americans whose values that media brings to life.