ATLANTA — Has the Obama administration’s broadside against Fox News – claiming that it is not a news organization – chastened the network in the slightest?
The behavior of Fox News personalities would suggest not. Glenn Beck has likened the administration’s attacks to Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list.”
Yet critics of Fox News claim at least one victory. After teasing coverage of Oct. 17 Tea Party protests, Fox didn’t cover the events on TV, instead relegating coverage to its website. For a network that had expansive coverage of the Tea Party Express leading up to the 9/12 protests in Washington and had commentator Sean Hannity headline a Tea Party in Atlanta this summer, that “says something,” says Jess Levin, a spokeswoman for Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog group.
For many media experts, however, the question is: If Fox did blink, is that a good thing?
“Reacting to criticism is a very dangerous thing for any kind of publication to get involved in, especially when the criticism is ideological,” says Tom Edsall, author of “Building Red America” and political editor at The Huffington Post. “I do think that Fox has often been tilted to the right, but if they’re now inhibiting their coverage – if these Tea Parties [that they didn’t cover] were newsworthy – that’s not good.”
With its concerted campaign against Fox – including not sending administration members to talk to Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace – the White House has stepped up an unusual campaign on a major media organization.
The boycott came after Fox News broadcast an undercover investigation of ACORN, a liberal community organizing group, which led to its defunding by Congress. Fox News also highlighted reports that green jobs czar Van Jones signed a petition that questioned the official version of the 9/11 attacks, leading to his resignation.
The White House could be trying to marginalize its loudest opposition, including Fox, in an attempt to paint the GOP as a white, primarily Southern party, according to a Politico analysis.
But the White House’s tactic has befuddled many pundits and reporters. ABC News’ Jake Tapper asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs Tuesday whether the White House is “saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization … do not work for a ‘news organization”?
“That’s our opinion,” Mr. Gibbs replied.
That opinion is shared by Media Matters, which has catalogued a long list of Fox’s perceived breaches of journalistic ethics, including the repetition of GOP talking points in news programming, the use of Republican-funded research, cheerleading for the Tea Parties, and fundraising activities by some of its hosts. (For a complete list, look here.)
Christopher Yoo, a media law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, says there’s no evidence that Fox News is breaking Federal Election Commission law, which governs political speech on cable.
“Media members are allowed to be politically active” as long as all campaign contributions are property disclosed, Mr. Yoo says.
What’s more, to many viewers, Fox News simply respects conservative ideas – something they see as lacking in other mainstream media outlets, which are often criticized for leaning to the left.
Indeed, some free-speech experts say the administration’s tactics run counter to the First Amendment.
“The White House has basically said that they don’t believe in the marketplace of ideas, they’re not willing to engage in debate, and they are going to be associated with John Adams and the Sedition Act and Richard Nixon and his ‘enemies’ list – is that the company they want to be in?” says Mike Farrell, director of the First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky.