In an interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama was asked a question about the impact and role of Fox News. He responded as follows:
“Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. 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. 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. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.”
Personally, I think that statement is A.) quite accurate; and B.) a natural, inevitable part of the give and take of politics. When media outlets run stories that are critical of a politician, the politician responds, sometimes with criticism of his or her own. Here in Georgia, politicians have campaigned against “those lying Atlanta newspapers” for generations, and they continue to do so to this very day. It comes with the territory.
And yeah, Obama’s the president, which means that his words carry a lot of weight. But Rupert Murdoch and Fox News are big boys too — somehow I think they can handle it. If you can’t withstand a little pushback from politicians, you better go find another line of work, because you’re too much of a wimp for this one.
However, some of my media colleagues disagree with me. For example, David Zurawik, a TV critic for the Baltimore Sun, claims to see Obama’s running feud with Fox as some sort of threat to “a press independent from the reaches and power of any of the branches of government” and further suggests that the president doesn’t respect the role of a free press.
I wonder what Zurawik and others would make of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote eloquently and often about the importance of a free press, calling it our single most important bulwark in defense of liberty. But in 1805, in his second Inaugural Address, Jefferson also complained bitterly that in order to destroy his administration, “the artillery of the press has been leveled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare.” Again, that was in his inaugural address, not in some interview with Rolling Stone. And it was just one of many examples of Jefferson complaining about press abuses, which “have been carried to a length never before known or borne by any civilized nation.”
In his Rolling Stone comments, Obama mentioned another prime example in William Randolph Hearst, who in the first half of the 20th century owned a powerful chain of newspapers and used them to conduct a bitter assault on Franklin Roosevelt. For example, in one 1936 editorial that he wrote himself and published on the front page of every newspaper he owned, Hearst charged that FDR was doing the handiwork of the Communists in Moscow and had “adopted the platform of the Karl Marx Socialists in almost every word and letter.”
The FDR White House responded to what it called “a certain notorious newspaper owner,” releasing a statement that in some ways sounds eerily modern.
“Such articles are conceived in malice and born of political spite,” the statement read. “The American people will not permit their attention to be diverted from real issues to fake issues which no patriotic, honorable decent citizen would purposely inject into American affairs.”
Roosevelt himself, in an appearance at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, took playful note of the press campaign against him. Some character by the name of Franklin Roosevelt, a true villain, kept showing up in all his newspapers, FDR said. This guy Roosevelt, he said, “combined the worst features of Ivan the Terrible, Machiavelli, Judas Iscariot, Henry VIII … and Jesse James. He was engaged in a plot to wreck the American Constitution, to poison the Supreme Court, to demolish capitalism, to wreck old-age security…. in short, to blot from the face of the Earth the United States as we have known it.”
That too sounds familiar.
Obama, in other words, is doing somewhat gently what Jefferson, FDR and others had done aggressively, and in fact what politicians everywhere do. He has every right to point out that Fox has “a very clear, undeniable point of view,” because it’s the truth and everyone knows it. That point of view shows up in myriad ways, some large, some small. And the small ways are often the most telling.
In that same Rolling Stone interview, for example, Obama was asked about his musical tastes these days. He responded:
“My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There’s still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.
A lot of classical music. I’m not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.
Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I’ve got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.”
Personally, the bit about Maria Callas gets me worried. But that’s not what caught the attention of those good folks at FoxNation.com. Here’s how they pitched it on their website:
Hearst would be so proud.