WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?…. Time‘s Joe Klein is the latest of many high-profile media figures to criticize the White House for daring to consider Fox News a partisan news outlet. Like many of his colleagues, Klein doesn’t question the accuracy of the White House’s assessment — no reasonable observer could defend Fox News’ ridiculous brand of “journalism” — but he nevertheless thinks it’s a mistake for the president’s team to criticize the cable network.
Maybe now would be a good time to look at this debate from a different angle. What would Klein or Ruth Marcus or Ken Rudin encourage the White House to do about its Fox News problem?
To be sure, it is a problem. Fox News, as of Jan. 20, effectively launched a war against President Obama, his administration, and his party. There hasn’t even been a pretense of seeking the truth and reporting the news — it’s a full-on, network-wide offensive intended to help the network’s Republican allies and undermine the president and his party. It’s a campaign that has included supporting right-wing rallies, presenting Republican Party talking points as network research, and 24-7 propaganda.
Nonsense that starts on Fox News invariably spreads to the rest of the discourse, so the White House frequently finds itself on the defensive, for no real reason, because a cable network functions as a communications arm of a political party. With that in mind, simply ignoring Fox News’ work isn’t really an option.
So, in all seriousness, what’s a White House to do? The pushback from journalists at legitimate outlets this week suggests the White House is just supposed to take it. No matter how many nonsensical controversies Fox News creates, no matter how often it lies, no matter how much the network poisons the body politic, the argument goes, the White House is supposed to maintain the pretense that Fox News is a legitimate, non-partisan news network — even though grown-ups everywhere know this is plainly false.
In other words, Fox News can throw punches, but if the White House punches back, it’s an outrageous, Nixon-like abuse.
All week, there’s been talk that the White House has launched a “war” against the Republican network. The claim itself misstates the case — Fox News launched a crusade against Obama and Democrats, and the White House has felt compelled to respond. How? By acknowledging reality and encouraging others to do the same.
There’s no boycott, no punishment, no vendetta — this is just a situation in which the White House is calling Fox News what it obviously is. That’s all. That’s the whole controversy.
Joe Klein and others think that’s a mistake. Fine. But what’s the alternative?