Who Won the White House-Fox News War?

The best cases for the White House, for Fox News, and for neither

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The White House's controversial war against Fox News as "a wing of the Republican Party" is probably not over, but for now the two seemed to have settled into their entrenched positions. Even the journalists who took sides with the White House or with Fox News have moved on. Looking back over the charred battlefield, who emerged victorious? We've selected the best case for a White House win, for a Fox News win, and a draw.

  • The White House Won  Television consultant and blogger John Scalzi thinks the White House wants to drive Fox News even further to the right. "The point is not to moderate Fox News by accusing it of being biased/not a real news organization/running or being the propoganda [sic] arm of the GOP; if anything, the point is to make it more extreme in the views it airs," he writes. Scalzi cites Fox News's 2.25 million prime time viewers, "roughly the same audience as your average Dollhouse episode." He explains:
The White House says Fox News is not a real news organization and is the propaganda arm of the GOP, Fox News throws a very public shit fit about it, which gives it higher ratings and an impetus to skew even more to the right in its presentation, and go out of its way to criticize Obama even further. Meanwhile the noise is all covered by multiple other news outlets, which in aggregate reach a much larger audience, which show Fox News anchors and personalities in the middle of ideological conniptions, confirming to the general population the proposition that, indeed, Fox News is more interested in politics than news, and reinforcing the impression that Fox News and the GOP are reading off the same page. Which makes the GOP look unreasonable in an era in which its popularity isn’t, shall we say, spectacular to begin with. To what end? Well, you might have heard there’s a health care debate going on.
  • Fox News Won  Washington Post conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer applauds the greater media standing up on behalf of Fox. "Factions should compete, but they should also recognize the legitimacy of other factions and, indeed, their necessity for a vigorous self-regulating democracy," he writes.
This was an important defeat because there's a principle at stake here. While government can and should debate and criticize opposition voices, the current White House goes beyond that. It wants to delegitimize any significant dissent. The objective is no secret. White House aides openly told Politico that they're engaged in a deliberate campaign to marginalize and ostracize recalcitrants, from Fox to health insurers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • Neither, Free Speech Lost  The New Yorker's Louis Menand dismisses the White House-launched war as a misguided failure with unintended casualties. "The dubious efficacy of a war on Fox News is not the only reason to feel qualms. It’s hard to kill the press, but it is not hard to chill it, and this appears to be the White House’s goal in the case of Fox," he writes. "The state may, and should, rebut opinions that it finds obnoxious, but it should not single out speakers for the purpose of intimidating them. At the end of the day, you do not want your opponents to be able to say that they could not be heard." Menand, no Fox News fan, writes:
In a climate in which bias is increasingly taken for granted, cable channels have every incentive to enhance their appeal to their core constituencies. Among cable-news channels, Fox News is rated favorably by seventy-two per cent of Republicans against forty-three per cent of Democrats, and MSNBC is rated favorably by sixty per cent of Democrats against thirty-four per cent of Republicans. Many viewers treat Comedy Central as a news channel. Cable news, in short, is a sandbox. People throw things at one another, not just for fun but for profit. It is not a distinguished venue for statesmen or their surrogates to spend their time in.
  • Neither, They're All Wimps  Slate's press critic Jack Shafer scoffs at the "war" as child's play compared to the media war under President Franklin Roosevelt. "Where I come from, these observations would barely count as basketball-court trash talk, let alone words of war," he writes of the current battle. "To get a genuine picture of what a war on the press looks like [...] You've got to go back to the 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt raged against the press like noisy clockwork." Shafer touts a long and very public war between Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes and newspaper baron Frank Gannet, who both lied and conspiracy mongered far beyond anything today:

So until Rahm Emanuel and Rupert Murdoch—or even Fox News boss Roger Ailes—face off to trade insults in a live debate like the Ickes-Gannett one, please spare me any more stories about the war on Fox. This ain't war. This ain't even a decent war game.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.