Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fair 'n' disingenuous

For a place that employs so many critics (and goes so far as to run a "Critic's Notebook" at the top of the Sunday front), you'd think the Newspaper of Record would keep somebody around who can handle the basics of press criticism.

The public editor's job is different. Somebody has to take random accusations of professional skulduggery from  the News of the Screws seriously, I suppose. But what about the "Media Decoder" ("Behind the Screens, Between the Lines"), who put together this synopsis of Jann Wenner's latest exclusive for Rolling Stone appeared:

In his sharpest critique yet of the nation’s highest-rated cable news channel, President Obama said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that Fox News promoted a point of view that was “destructive” to the growth of the United States.

Asked about Mr. Obama’s comments, a Fox News representative said the network did not intend to respond. Time will tell whether its individual hosts decide to weigh in.
Uh, yeah.

Mr. Obama was asked by Rolling Stone whether Fox News is “a good institution for America and for democracy.” He began his answer with a look back at history noting that “we’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated,” invoking William Randolph Hearst’s use of his newspapers to promote his viewpoints.

As perspective goes, I like this other comment from the reply: "The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history." But no matter.

“I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world."

Good so far. But now the Newspaper of Record is going to try to put the president's comment into context for its sophisticated readership:
Hot topics on Fox lately have included illegal immigration and the potential expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Yoo hoo! Media Decoder! Do you ever keep up with what they actually do over there? This is what "hot topics" at Fox look like (a nonrandom sample from last month):

Abortion Clinic Prayers Get Man Arrested (8/3)
Ground Zero Mosque One Step Closer (8/3)
Mass. School District To Allow Pledge (8/4)
Judge's Ruling Sparks Fear Of Shariah In U.S. (8/5)
No Anthem Allowed at Lincoln Memorial (8/9)
U.S. Footing Bill for Ground Zero Imam Trip (8/10)
Clinton Approves of Imam's Trip to Mideast (8/11)
8 Percent of Babies in U.S. Born to Illegals (8/11)
Dems' Shocking Palin Death Wish (8/12)
Fox News Poll: Most Say Ground Zero Mosque Is Wrong (8/13)
Fiery Meeting over New Black Panthers Case (8/13)
New Battle Lines Drawn over Ground Zero Mosque Debate (8/15)
Obama's Mosque Comments Ignite Growing Political Firestorm (8/16)
9/11 Church Asks 'What About Us?' (8/17)
Should Schools Honor Muslim Holidays? (8/17)
1 in 5 Americans Thinks Obama Is Muslim (8/18)
Feds Bribing Families Into Eating Healthy? (8/19)
Mosque Debate Could Linger into November (8/20)
Clinton Invokes Climate Change to Explain Pakistan Floods (8/21)
Imam: U.S. Has Muslim Blood on Its Hands (8/25)
Obama Speech on Katrina Riles Catholics (8/26)
Ga. Man Wins Right to Keep Flying U.S. Flag (8/27)
Rev. Slams Those Who Call Obama Muslim (8/29)
Imam Thinks Mosque Opposition Tied To Nov. (8/30)
Scientist's Firing Fuels 'PC' Debate at UCLA (8/31)

See a picture emerging? Tax policy actually is an issue in the adult world. So is immigration (obscenely misreported as this aspect of it has been of late). Hot topics at Fox are -- oh, you can't pray, you can't fly the flag, you can't sing the National Anthem; the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are in the White House; the Mexicans and the Black Panthers want your white girls and the PC Police don't mind; and climate change is still a fraud, except for the Democrats, who want to steal your children.

Saying that Fox thinks immigration is a hot topic is sort of like saying Fox thinks vote suppression is a major national issue; it does, but only if you can use a picture of two scary black guys standing outside a polling station to illustrate it. We don't have time or space to go into the "hot topics" of the past year. Logogate and Crashergate were one thing, but Fox can also claim first U.S. rights to Climategate -- an astounding piece of fraudulent journalism that underscores the president's hyperbolic-looking point. If that's how you want the whole country to think about "science," then yes: "Destructive for ... long-term growth" isn't too far off the mark.

Media Decoder needs to get his head into the game. Obama's right on the historical point. Fox is part of a great American journalism tradition. But last time that tradition flourished, the competition made fun of it in public (partly because there was one). We still had an A.J. Liebling* around to pick it apart bone by bone. The Times claims to review fiction and nonfiction; film, theater, art and music; food, architecture and whatever fits into the Critic's Notebook. How come it's scared of the circus across town?

* If you think Liebling spared the Times, do some more reading.

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