In White House v. Fox News War, Who Wins?

In the White House vs. Fox News war, I consider two scenarios likely. In the first scenario, both sides win: the White House gets a popularity spike among independents and Fox News solidifies its right-wing audience. In the second, more likely scenario, the White House looks petty and pathetic taking on Glenn Beck, and Fox News comes out on top. The other two quadrants of the game theory box -- (1) Fox News loses, White House wins; and (2) mutually assured destruction -- seem less likely.

In short, Fox News has nothing to lose here.

And they know it:

Fox's senior vice president for programming, Bill Shine, says of the criticism from the White House, "Every time they do it, our ratings go up." Mr. Obama's first year is on track to be the Fox News Channel's highest rated.

I've been saying this for a while, but one more time couldn't hurt. Obama is not at his strongest when he plays this Fact Checker-in-Chief role. Americans aren't moved to support trillion dollar plans when their leader is scolding the opposition about data. It's unbecoming and ungrand. Farhad Manjoo made this point beautifully a few months ago: The fragmentation of the media means that "facts" don't find us anymore. We find our own "facts."

Because we can now get our news from sources that reflect our political views--and we can avoid sources that we find suspect--lies and misinformation tend to proliferate and linger. I examined several case studies--the Swift Boaters, the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, and claims that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election--and concluded that it's now easier than ever before for people to live in worlds built entirely of their own facts. We're becoming impervious to rational opposition. Once a substantial minority of the population believes a lie, it achieves the sheen of truth and becomes nearly impossible to debunk.

If the White House strategy is about turning Middle America's Glenn Beck-o-phobia into White House-o-philia, then it seems superfluous and pushy. If it's about correcting the White House "lies," then they're going to look like King Canute screaming at the waves. Why engage in a risky strategy that has all upside for your opposition?