OBAMA PUTS FOX NEWS IN A HISTORICAL CONTEXT…. As part of a lengthy interview, Rolling Stone asked President Obama what he thinks of Fox News. “Do you think,” the magazine asked, “it’s a good institution for America and for democracy?” After reportedly laughing, the president replied:

“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.”

Reporting on these remarks, CNN said Obama’s comments “constitute the president’s most direct attack yet” on Fox News. I think that badly misses the point.

Obama’s response wasn’t a “direct attack,” so much as it was an effort to put Fox News in a historical context. It’s only an “attack” if you buy into the transparently ridiculous notion that the Republican news network is a fair-and-balanced outlet for objective news.

I actually found this to be a rather forgiving explanation for a news organization that does so much damage to our public discourse, and causes so much confusion among its unwitting viewers. The practice of politically-neutral, dispassionate, objective outlets is, as Obama noted, a fairly new development in American history — newspapers traditionally made no effort to hide partisan allegiances. Fox News stands out now, at least by 21st century standards, for its awful journalism, dishonesty, and lack of professional standards, but it’s not breaking new ground; it’s just returning to a media practice of a bygone era.

Sure, the president called out Fox News for pushing a point of view that’s “ultimately destructive,” but that’s the only criticism that makes sense. As Ed Kilgore noted, “As the President implied, telling Fox viewers the network isn’t exactly ‘fair and balanced’ is largely a waste of time; ideologues view reality through an ideological prism in any event. Explaining that Fox’s point of view is wrong and destructive is a more fruitful approach than imagining there is some model of objectivity to which all news sources should conform.”

Later in the Rolling Stone interview, the magazine asked about the kind of music Obama’s been listening to. The president noted he tends to stick to the stuff he enjoyed when he was younger — he iPod has “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” — but an aide has also exposed him to some more rap, so there’s “a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne” on his playlist, too.

Fox News responded with this headline: “President of the United States Loves Gangsta Rap.”

And in the process, Fox illustrated the president’s point nicely.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.