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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Wake up, MSM commentators. “Obama vs. Fox” is not about you. The issue is whether a TV network that actively organizes anti-Obama street demonstrations deserves to be treated the same way as networks that uphold traditional journalistic standards.

Eric Burns, the president of Media Matters for America wrote an important commentary on Huffpo several days ago that analyzed the argument between the administration and the Fox quasi-News Network.

Fox News Channel is twisting American politics in an unprecedented way, and too many members of the press still aren’t getting it…The White House has exposed Fox News for what it is: not a news organization, but a partisan political entity…
… [however] many mainstream reporters and commentators, and even some progressive ones, have spent their time effectively circling the wagons around Fox by focusing their attention not on the network, but on the Administration’s comments about it. The entire matter has largely been treated as a political game — should the White House have so bluntly criticized the press, or will the tactic backfire? …
…All of this completely misses the point…By legitimizing Fox News as a news organization, reporters and commentators are enabling the network to continue conducting a massive conservative political campaign under the guise of journalism…

Burns then continues:

…the story goes well beyond the conservative bias Fox News has historically reflected. Like all major political entities, Fox News is now coordinating grassroots (or, more accurately, astroturf) political activities, lobbying for or against legislation, and fundraising for conservative causes. The network called April’s protests “Fox News Tea Parties.” It encouraged people to attend town halls last summer …[at the 9/12 protests] a video soon emerged of one of the station’s producers coaching marchers before a live “report” from the scene.

Let’s be clear, the issue is not Fox’s right to broadcast conservative, anti-administration opinion. There is no question that they can. The issue is whether a TV network that organizes street demonstrations against a President deserves to be viewed with the same respect and treated in exactly the same way as TV networks that uphold traditional standards of journalism.
Since virtually all the mainstream media commentators have – to their shame — studiously avoided directly confronting this basic question, perhaps the distinction between a news organization and a partisan political organization escapes them. For their benefit, let’s clarify the distinction.

1. Any TV program that displays the telephone numbers or website addresses of organizations organizing street demonstrations (whether for or against a presidential administration) or which displays or announces the gathering points for such demonstrations is not operating as a news or even as an opinion program. It is operating as a partisan political organization.
2. Any TV show that includes what communications specialists term a direct “call to action” i.e. “Join the demonstration”, “attend the rally”, “contribute money” is not operating as a news or even an opinion program. It is operating as a partisan political organization.
3. Any program that encourages and allows guests to state phone numbers, website addresses or meeting points for either pro or anti-administration street demonstrations is not operating as a news or even an opinion program. It is operating as a partisan political organization.

It is important to note that this has absolutely nothing to do with the distinction Fox has tried to make between its “news” and “opinion” shows — nor does it have anything at all to do with any spurious comparisons between Fox and MSNBC. The partisan political activities described above were frequently repeated during regular Fox News programs as well as during its opinion programs like Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly. In contrast, not one other television network – not ABC, NCB, CBS, CNN – not even MSNBC – has ever engaged in on-screen promotion and organizing of street demonstrations against a presidential administration.
Is this obvious distinction between the behavior of a normal TV network and a partisan political organization really too complicated for virtually every mainstream political commentator to understand? Don’t forget, these are commentators who pride themselves on their vast political sophistication and expertise. Is this distinction really so complex that not a single one was capable of recognizing the issue and discussing it in their commentaries on the subject?
The answer, sadly, is both more prosaic and more depressing. Mainstream media professionals – regardless of their personal political or ideological views – have a very strong parochial occupational identity as “professional” journalists or commentators. They all see themselves, metaphorically speaking, as seated together in a White House press conference locked in a semi-adversarial relationship with the administration they are covering. As a result, when they are confronted with a presidential challenge to the ethics and professionalism of a media organization – no matter how justified that challenge might be – they instinctively react with a defensive antagonism toward any criticism of their profession.
But for the American people, on the other hand, the issue is quite different. Major TV networks that act like partisan political parties are something new in American history and when unelected television network executives exploit their massive power to organize street demonstrations against an elected president, the codes of civic behavior that underlie America’s unique political stability are deeply undermined.
As a result, Democrats need to directly challenge the mainstream commentators as follows:

Wake up. This is not about you. It’s not about “the administration versus the press”. The issue the administration has raised is whether a TV network that is actively organizing street demonstrations against a President deserves to be viewed and treated in the same way as networks that uphold traditional journalistic standards.
To us, the answer is clear – they shouldn’t be. Do you really think they should?

Let’s see if there is even one mainstream political commentator in America who has the guts to honestly answer this simple question.

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