By Donnie MacIntyre, Opinions Contributor
President Barack Obama and his administration have named their enemy and declared war; but the enemy may not be whom you expect. No, it isn’t Taliban forces fighting to regain control in Afghanistan, or al-Qaida insurgents hiding in the mountainous region of Pakistan. It isn’t even those rich Wall Street bankers who brought on the global recession with their greed and mismanagement. No, in this era of economic crisis, chaos in the Middle East, and national debate over health care reform, Obama and his team decided now is the time to go after that constant pain in the butt of Democrats across America: FOX News Channel.
That, I say, is a mistake.
Several weeks ago FOX network (not FOX News Channel (FNC), but instead its cable counterpart) was the only network that decided not to air the President’s address on health care reform. As a result, FOX News Sunday was the only Sunday morning current events program left off the list of Obama’s whirlwind interview blitz with every other network that morning.
When host Chris Wallace referred to the administration as “a bunch of crybabies”, a White House official responded by saying, “Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again, not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.”
Naturally, this ignited a firestorm for FNC’s conservative talk show hosts, particularly Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, who had a field day painting Obama as a thin-skinned president who surely can’t deal with the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he can’t even handle a few political pundits.
To seal the deal, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn told CNN during an interview that FNC is “opinion journalism masquerading as news (and) often operates as either the research arm or communications arm of the Republican Party.”
There have been shots fired back and forth ever since.
Now, regardless of your opinion of FOX News, and it seems that everyone who has ever watched the channel has one, this is one tactic that will surely backfire on the White House.
First of all, as just alluded to, Obama is leaving himself wide open to charges that he is weak. “He’s going to sit down and talk to the president of Iran? He’s weak on relations with rogue nations! He’s going to end the war in Iraq? He’s weak on terror!”
Add to the mix the fact that he won’t face a loud mouth pundit with a camera and the fodder for this line of attack seems endless. If Obama truly believes FNC acts as an extension of the Republican Party, couldn’t his refusal to face them head on be construed as a sign that he is afraid to take on the Republicans themselves?
If you’d prefer to interpret this as a sign that he is simply unwilling to waste his time talking to a Republican outfit, then doesn’t that fly in the face of his mantra of crossing the aisle and working together with the Grand Old Party? Another popular conservative talking point since the President took office is that he has not followed through on his promise to unite both parties. See? These are two weapons Obama is handing directly to his enemies.
“But so what?” you might be thinking. “The conservative hosts on FOX and talk radio are going to be using these attacks on the Obama Administration anyway.”
Yes, that is true. But now they have an opportunity to make White House officials look foolish while they are at it.
Just take a look at Glenn Beck’s latest stunt as a prime example. He set up a red phone like the one that linked the White House to the Kremlin during the Cold War. Painting the administration as a bunch of Communists is a favourite past time of Beck’s. He had the phone number sent to Anita Dunn herself. Beck is encouraging Dunn or any other White House official to give him a call at any time to correct him if he is mistaken with any of his constant attacks on Obama and his associates.
The implication, which Beck is constantly reminding us of, is that if what he is saying is not true, that phone would surely ring and someone on the other end would present the facts. But since what he says is true, the White House cannot respond and thus the phone remains silent.
On the Oct. 28 edition of his show, Beck plainly stated, “They never called. They aren’t going to call. We have to stop expecting answers from these people. Their silence is their answer.”
Now, how can the Obama Administration show they are unafraid to confront their foes and directly respond to that while they are determined to not talk to FOX?
It’s likely that Dunn and all the rest are simply ignoring Beck’s taunts knowing very well that should they actually call and confront him they would not only be playing right into his hands, they would also be giving him a ratings boost at the same time.
This refusal to give Beck a boost leads directly to this next monkey wrench in the White House’s operation. If Obama is trying to cause FNC to lose credibility, and thusly viewers, it is not working – the news channel’s ratings have actually increased during this whole brou-ha-ha. According to official Nielson ratings data for October 2009, the month in which the majority of this battle took place, FNC easily dominated its competition.
Glenn Beck, who joined the network in January and is possibly the single biggest participant in this battle from FOX’s side, has increased his timeslot’s ratings by 64 per cent in total viewers and 188 per cent in the demo from this same month last year. I hate to say it, but if the administration was actually unaware that a controversy of this proportion would draw even more viewers to FNC, a network that feeds off controversy and used it to climb to the top of the ratings pile years ago and remain there ever since, they truly must be foolish.
It is true that many FOX News viewers are die-hard conservatives, but approximately 20 per cent of FNC viewers label themselves as Independent. It’s the Independents that Obama wants to reach out to. He already has the support of most Democrats, but the Independents are almost always the ones who can make or break an election or vote.
Especially now, with Obama trying to garner support anywhere he can for his health care reform plan, one would think he would make every effort he possibly can to get his message out to Independents. Why would Obama choose to let FOX control the message that all these voters are taking in, without trying to get out there and set the record straight?
Presidents often make major gaffes while in office, and this whole anti-FOX campaign just may be a huge one. Obama needs to realize he is not campaigning any longer; he is the president. It is time to put away the gloves and stop participating in fights with needless enemies. Use FOX News Channel to your advantage, Obama; don’t let them use you to theirs.