The White House vs. Fox News -- Who Wins? Who Loses?

Today's cuppa: Irish breakfast tea and decongestant (yep, got a cold)

fn-header.jpgIf you're a news watcher, it's impossible not to notice that the White House has declared war on Fox News Channel (FNC's logo and slogan are to the left), not just disagreeing with what the network says on its opinion programs but asking whether or not it's a legitimate news organization at all.

It's common that FNC's cable competition -- and some of the broadcast competitors -- huff and puff about whether or not the cable newser is "fair and balanced," as it claims. It seems to me that some competitors, in particular MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, have made a name for themselves at least in part by complaining about FNC.

Now the White House has piled on, trying to get FNC's competitors to stop considering it one of their own.

To me, this doesn't sound like a good idea.

First of all, if any administration chooses not to place its spokespeople on FNC, fine.That's its prerogative. Of course, that does limit its opportunity to speak to all of FNC's viewers, but if the administration decides that's not worth its time or effort, that's its call.

But the administration deciding who is or isn't a news organization seems pretty high-handed, and since a good chunk of FNC's viewers are also voters, possibly counterproductive.

FNC is the most popular of the cable newsers by far, and I doubt it's going anywhere. Ratings-wise, the White House complaints haven't left a dent. This attack strategy is unlikely to gain new support for the administration and very likely to further alienate the several million voters who watch FNC.

Again, that's all fine and dandy, but it is interesting to look at just what the White House is complaining about.

The White House claims that FNC's newsgathering efforts are unfair and slanted, but when pressed by ABC News reporter Jake Tapper, press secretary Robert Gibbs named timeslots that contain opinion shows -- "Glenn Beck" and "Hannity."

Here's the exchange from Tapper's blog from Oct. 20:

Tapper: It's escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations "not a news organization" and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it's appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one -

(Crosstalk)

Gibbs: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.

Tapper: But that's a pretty sweeping declaration that they are "not a news organization." How are they any different from, say -

Gibbs: ABC -

Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?

Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o'clock tonight. Or 5 o'clock this afternoon.

Tapper: I'm not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I'm talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a "news organization" -- why is that appropriate for the White House to say?

Gibbs: That's our opinion.

-jpt

Last I looked, all the cable newsers have opinion shows -- from "Lou Dobbs" on CNN to "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" on MSNBC -- but the White House seems to only have issues with FNC's opinion shows.

One wonders what might happen in the future if any of these other opinion shows express opinions that don't agree with the White House's opinion on what an opinion show should be. It's my opinion that they might find themselves coming under fire as well.

Other cable newsers may indeed have issues with FNC's style, content or accuracy, but if they attack a more successful rival, it's going to look self-serving, but, of course, they're free to do so if they feel it's necessary. Newsweek did, but one assumes this is part of the news magazine's opinion section, not to be considered a news report.

That's my opinion anyway -- I could be wrong.

Others have other opinions, from the Huffington Post to the New York Times' David Carr to Fox News' own Tucker Carlson, to the Los Angeles Times and US News and World Report.

The POTUS has also weighed in on the subject.

Opinions and perspectives are subjective. If any news organization -- TV, print or online -- makes factual errors, the subject of the reporting or even other news organizations should absolutely call it on the mistake, and if a mistake was made, corrections and/or retractions should be issued. But one subjective opinion is as good as another.

I don't see a big fundamental difference between Maddow and Hannity, or Olbermann and O'Reilly, or Dobbs and Beck -- except that the White House has decided it doesn't like the FNC commentators' opinions.

Well, as Gibbs said, that's its opinion. You, or I, may agree or disagree, but in the rough-and-tumble world of American free speech and free press, that's the way it should be.

As far as I know, print, broadcast or online news entities don't need the White House's blessing to come into being, and they shouldn't need its blessing -- or that of their competitors -- to continue doing what they do. That's up to the readers and viewers.

Let's hope it stays that way.

UPDATE: When the White House pushed harder today, the collective news media pushed back. Good for them, and good for my fellow TV critic, the Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik, who's interviewed in the clip and has been writing about this situation.