White House Repeats Message: Fox News Is ‘Propaganda Masquerading as News’
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the serious threat a well-funded and popular propaganda organization — masquerading as a ‘news’ channel — posed to our country’s democracy. Well, it appears the White House is now on the same page:
Last week White House Communications Director Anita Dunn told Time Magazine:
“[Fox News] is opinion journalism masquerading as news,” Dunn says. “They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.”
A few days later, she revisited her Time Magazine comments with CNN’s Howard Kurtz, telling him:
“If we went back a year ago to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that was a time this country was in two wars, that we had a financial collapse probably more significant than any financial collapse since the Great Depression. If you were a Fox News viewer in the fall election what you would have seen were that the biggest stories and the biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and something called ACORN.”
“The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. And it is not ideological … what I think is fair to say about Fox, and the way we view it, is that it is more of a wing of the Republican Party.”
“Obviously [the President] will go on Fox because he engages with ideological opponents. He has done that before and he will do it again… when he goes on Fox he understands he is not going on it really as a news network at this point. He is going on it to debate the opposition. Which is fine, he never minds doing that.”
“It’s not just their opinion shows … Let’s be realistic here, Howie. [Fox is] widely viewed as a part of the Republican Party: take their talking points and put them on the air, take their opposition research and put it on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.”
“When the statements are untrue, when they mischaracterize, when they are using opposition research that is inaccurate, when people are just not being honest, absolutely we are going to go out there and we’re going to correct those facts. We learned over the summer that the main stream media often will start covering these total inaccuracies as a controversy and that’s the way it gets into the press room and onto the front page of the New York Times.”
Dunn’s candor created a flurry of contrived criticism from main stream media pundits, who — after their own derelictions of duty in holding the neo-cons to account, not to mention their complicity in misleading Americans in the run up to the Iraq war — would prefer the spotlight never cast its beam back at the press. Fox News pundits predictably erupted with outrage as their legitimacy as a news organization swept headlines everywhere. They spent much of the week playing the victim — accusing the White House of enacting revenge on those who won’t tow the Administration’s line.
But the White House would not be deterred — in fact, they’ve been aggressively pushing the message forward. Sunday morning’s political shows featured two high-ranking Administration officials — both on message — who continued to upbraid Fox News as more propagandist than ‘news organization’.
The President’s Senior Adviser David Axelrod told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
They’re not really a news station if you watch. It’s not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming. I mean, it’s really not news, it’s pushing a point of view. And the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way. We’re not going to treat them that way. We’re going to appear on their shows. We’re going to participate, but understanding that they represent a point of view.
Over at CNN, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told John King:
It’s not so much a conflict with Fox News … It’s not a news organization, so much as it has a perspective. And that’s a different take. And more importantly is to not have the CNNs and the others in the world basically be lead into following Fox, as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization …
As I noted the last time I raised this topic, it’s perfectly acceptable for news pundits to share their points of view with their viewers, as long as their underlying reporting remains fact-based. It would be a bit naive to believe that any news journalist could remain completely neutral from formulating an opinion on the news they report. For this reason, the viewer is actually entitled to know where the journalist stands, if only for the sake of allowing the viewer to consider the messenger’s potential bias within his reporting.
Fox News’ credibility is what is being targeted here by the White House — not their opinions. We all just witnessed a Summer of lies and distortions, as generated by Fox News and right-winged talk radio. Their intentional misinformation campaign (death panels, etc.) nearly succeeded in torpedoing all efforts to reform our nation’s broken health care system. It was within this context that the White House began to channel their energies towards dispelling some of the widely-held lies. And to put a lid on it, they’ve begun to target the originating sources — the propagandists, masquerading as journalists — who championed the misinformation and helped to spread it like wildfire: namely, Fox News.
Those on the right will claim the White House efforts are a mere political ploy, but it is much bigger than that. Lies, left unchallenged by the main stream media and perpetuated by Fox News over the last eight years, resulted in serious damage to our country on so many levels the effects will be felt for generations to come. Finally, a spotlight has been shone directly onto the propagandists, during prime time, in front of millions; a feat few outside the White House could achieve. Now that they’ve been exposed, we should take it a step further, and consider what safeguards might be implemented so that they can never again threaten our democracy.
The Truth About Democracy: It’s Only as Reliable as Our News Programming
Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.
The first decade of this new century will be remembered by many as a time when a significant segment of our society became incapable of differentiating news from propaganda. This phenomenon has endangered the very fabric of our democracy. The founding fathers of our country worried incessantly about a misinformed electorate, which led many—most notably, Thomas Jefferson—to advocate for a public education system. He hoped this would serve as a form of insurance policy for our fledgling democracy, whereby the masses could be counted on to formulate rational, well-informed opinions, which would propagate into the public square, and ultimately shape our national legislative agenda.
If only they could see us now—here, in the 21st Century—where a significant percentage of citizens rely on the likes of the Fox News Channel for their news information. I suspect Jefferson would like a chance to revisit and remedy the incongruencies which exist between unrestrained freedom of speech and a viable, sustainable Democracy.
It’s perfectly acceptable for news commentators to lean right or left, and to even articulate and promote their own personal opinions to the masses. Spirited political discourse is essential to the democratic process, because it fosters competition between opposing ideologies in our so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’. When this competition is waged in an honest manner—meaning their opinions are supported by facts—then the different ideologies can be fairly contrasted, and a majority of the public will likely draw rational conclusions.
But what happens when a self-proclaimed ‘news network’ consistently lies to its viewers as a means of promoting its own rigid political ideology? These viewers—whose numbers have proven decisive in elections past—are not exposed to a marketplace of ideas, but propaganda. Lies—being reported as facts—are indeed perilous to our democracy, because they often prohibit the best ideas from becoming policy. A mislead citizen cannot be counted on to participate rationally in the democratic process. Over the last decade, this phenomenon has jeopardized both the national security and the fiscal health of the United States.
University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy (PIPA) conducted a study on public misperceptions, from January 2003 through September of 2003, leading up to and beyond the invasion of Iraq. The study revealed that those who identified Fox News as their primary news source were significantly more likely to have misperceptions (80%), while those who signified NPR or PBS were least likely (23%). 55% of both CNN and NBC viewers held misperceptions, as did 47% of those who relied primarily on print sources.
Shockingly, nearly half of all Fox News viewers incorrectly believed that evidence existed which linked Iraq to Al Qaeda. This helps to explain the grand illusion held by many at the time that Iraq was complicit in the 9-11 attacks. And as one might predict, the study showed a direct correlation between misperceptions and support for the Iraq war. Only 23% of those who held no misperceptions supported the invasion of Iraq, whereas 53% of those who held one misperception supported it, 78% of those with two misperceptions supported it, and 86% of those with three misperceptions supported it. Thus, the most misinformed citizens largely supported the invasion of Iraq, while the best informed citizens opposed it. This misinformation campaign used to sell the war has cost us dearly: thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, nearly a trillion dollars in U.S. national debt, thereby surpassing the entire expense of Vietnam.
We now find our nation engaged in another major policy debate: how to reform our broken health care system. Fox News commentators have, for months now, been fueling some of the most outlandish lies in an effort to sabotage the President’s plan. The most egregious one being the allegation that the President was proposing ‘death panels’ to kill off our elderly in an effort to reduce health care costs. And, once again, their viewers appeared to swallow these new lies—hook, line, and sinker. The question we must all confront is this: How can our democracy work in an environment where lies—espoused by those entrusted to report news—continue to sway our nation’s course of action on issues as important as these?
I propose we grant the Federal Communications Commission new oversight responsibilities—ones which empower it to investigate the validity of ‘facts’ being reported by news broadcasters. They already police broadcasters for programming obscenities. Give them the authority to review dubious statements made by news personalities—as flagged by viewers and listeners—to render judgment about the truthfulness of these statements, and to force the offending news broadcasters to correct their misinformation during their next broadcast. Could there be a better deterrent against propaganda masquerading as journalism?
Commentators’ opinions—no matter how extreme—should remain immune from oversight. This isn’t about silencing dissenting opinions. But news information being reported as ‘facts’, should in fact be, … well, facts! Our country needs a public, non-partisan news fact-checker more than ever.
Our goal, as a nation, should be to create a healthier and more sustainable democracy. Only when presented with truthful information, can the U.S. electorate be relied upon to make rational choices which serve our nation’s best interests. Considering the dishonest discourse which now dominates our airwaves, is it any wonder our country has lost its way?