Sunday, October 25, 2009

Top 5: Reasons Obama Should Not Wage War with Fox News

1.  It diminishes Obama's efforts to rise above partisanship.

As a candidate, Obama spoke often about putting aside partisan differences to do what is right for the country. He was going to listen to all points of view. This approach heightened his appeal, and helped him win the election. When he criticizes Fox News for having a conservative bias, while hosting Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow in the White House, he is pushing partisanship, not rising above it. Olbermann and Maddow have shows on MSNBC with a style similar to Fox's prime time shows hosted by Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. The only difference is they present a liberal, rather than conservative, point of view. All four of these shows are sensationalistic and divisive. If Obama really wanted to show that he is a president that seeks to bring the country together, he could have criticized all four, rather than singling out O'Reilly and Beck while acting chummy with Olbermann and Maddow.

2.  Obama has more important things to do.

Obama wants to pass major reforms in health care, climate change, and immigration. Iran and North Korea could be developing nuclear weapons. Afghanistan and Pakistan have radical Muslims threatening to take over their countries. Many Americans must be wondering why Obama is bothering with Fox News when he has so much else on his plate. This battle with Fox News makes Obama appear to have lost his focus on what is really important.

3.  Obama needs Fox News viewer's help to accomplish his goals.

To pass a health care reform package, one of Obama's biggest obstacles are blue-dog, or conservative, Democrats in the Senate. Plus, Obama will need Republican support for some issues where he will meet resistance in his own party, such as Afghanistan and education reform.  These Congressmembers represent states and districts with a lot of conservative voters. Chances are, a lot of these voters watch Fox News. He should be doing more interviews with Fox News, in order to speak to these voters, rather than boycotting Fox News. Instead of getting a chance to hear Obama defend his positions, these voters are getting news about Obama boycotting Fox News on Fox News.  It is unlikely that they will hear this story presented in a way that is friendly to the White House's point of view. Indeed, even the liberal networks have been highly critical of the White House's moves (see reason 5).

4.  It is a battle Obama cannot win.

Presidents usually enter office with the belief that they can control press coverage, but after fruitless efforts, discover they cannot. As Lawrence R. Jacobs (2010) points out, this overconfidence is common with new presidents and results in two “surprises.”  First, they fail to recognize that battling the press will only increase coverage of critics and "the unattractive business of strategizing."  "Presidents who choose to become communications warriors invariably inflict political damage on themselves" (Jacobs 2010, 258).

Second, presidential overconfidence in their ability to control press coverage leads them to reach for policies that are out of the mainstream. “White House hubris in its ability to control information encourages the executive to embrace policy initiatives that reach well beyond what the public and legislators are willing to accept” (Jacobs 2010, 258). This may explain why Obama is having difficulties with health care reform.

Taking on Fox News has only served to stimulate news about taking on Fox News. Obama should want the other news organizations to be reporting on his policy initiatives, rather than a petty fight with a news organization. White House attacks will not discourage anyone from watching Fox News. If anything, his attacks will stimulate interest among those who want to see what all the fuss is about and increase viewership of Fox News.

5.  When Obama goes too far, the media will defend their own.

If Obama thought that the other news networks would defend, or even aid, his efforts to marginalize Fox News simply because they have a liberal bias, he was wrong. Reporters cherish their access to government and freedom to report the news more than their ideological bias. When the Treasury Department tried to exclude Fox News from being able to interview the White House “pay czar,” all the other networks refused to conduct an interview unless Fox News was included. It did not matter at that point that all the other networks have a liberal bias and Fox News has a conservative bias. What was most important to these networks was that if this White House could exclude Fox News, a future White House could exclude them. News organizations will show solidarity when their professional interests are under siege. An ABC News reporter even referred to Fox News as a “sister organization” after this incident. This was all bad news for Obama, because now he appears authoritarian and disrespectful of freedom of the press, and no one likes to see that in a president.

Work Cited:

Jacobs, Lawrence R. 2010. “The Presidency and the Press: The Paradox of the White House Communications War.” In Michael Nelson (Ed.), The Presidency and the Political System, 9th Ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

Nelson, Michael. 2010. The Presidency and the Political System, 9th Ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

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