Does Fox News appear on White House “enemy list”?

News organizations were never intended to be the focus of “the news” per se, but that's what is happening in the US as the White House seems to have lost its patience with a popular news channel.

A debate is raging just below America’s thin political skin as to what extent a news organization (in this case, Fox News), can pass severe judgment on the White House (in this case, the administration of Barack Obama) before it begins to resemble an exercise of unbalanced reporting in favor of a particular political agenda (in this case, a pro-Republican agenda).

First, it must be said that nobody would ever mistake Fox News as anything but a pro-Republican news organization. Although the news reporting itself tends to be fair and balanced, the political commentary programs oftentimes resemble scripts pulled from the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal, or segments of the Rush “I hope Obama fails” Limbaugh radio program.

“The reality is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party,” White House communications director Anita Dunn told CNN last week in a comment that blew the lid off the boiling subject. “And it’s not ideological, but what I think it is fair to say about Fox, and certainly the way we view it, is that it’s really more a wing of the Republican Party.”

To add some necessary background to the above statement, Fox News was the only US news channel not to air Barack Obama’s much-anticipated healthcare reform speech to Congress in September. So one month later, guess who was snubbed when Obama made a healthcare pitch on all of the major news channels? Yes, not surprisingly, Fox was left out in the cold.

This was a dose of cold water splashed on a news affiliate that was ordained with special privileges during George W. Bush’s two-term presidency. Fox reporters enjoyed easy, no-frills access to the White House and comfortable seats aboard Air Force One. Those days are long gone, and Fox reporters certainly feels the humiliation of chasing a Democratic president around the world while cramped in coach.

"Fox News Sunday" host and veteran news reporter punched back by calling the Obama administration, "the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington."

The White House, however, refused to let Fox have the last word.

Dunn continued with her no-holds-barred appraisal of Fox when she told Time magazine that she thinks the news agency dishes out “opinion journalism masquerading as news.”

On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel continued the colorful verbal assault, saying the channel was “not a news organization so much as it has a perspective.”

About the same time, Senior White House aide David Axelrod appeared on ABC’s “This Week” program and asked George Stephanopoulos and his fellow journalists to ostracize Fox News.

“News organization, like yours,” Axelrod said, “ought not to treat them that way, and we’re not going to treat them that way.”

In many ways, the above observations about the Rupert Murdoch-founded news organization seem to be pretty accurate. Indeed, much of the political commentary that Fox delivers comes across as little more than warmed-up talk radio with a face, and not the prettiest face at that.

Exhibit A: Glenn Beck, whose byline boldly announces that he represents “the infusion of entertainment and enlightenment.” Well, the “entertainment” part is certainly accurate, but many would debate the “enlightenment” content.

Beck seems to have achieved his almost cult status by working on the palpable fears of America’s perennially paranoid far-right, who entertain many dark nightmares about Barack Obama, including his desire to take away everybody’s assault weapons in the middle of the night, euthanize the elderly in order to more easily subsidize his healthcare reform plan, and introduce a Soviet-style 5-year economic plan sometime before the end of his term.

Beck once called Barack Obama – whose mother was a lily-white girl from Kansas, by the way – a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” Now that's the last thing that particular rural areas of the United States – especially in these touchy times of financial crisis and racial meltdown – really needs to hear.

And here is Fox News’ poster boy for “fair and balanced” commentary expressing his deep thoughts about his Commander-in-Chief on Thursday: “It’s amazing to me how he says one thing,” barked Beck. “He’s like, I’m going to shoot you in the head, but what I want to make very clear here is I’ve never said that we would shoot people in the head. I mean, it’s amazing how they can say one thing while actually doing the other.”

Beck didn’t miss a beat this week when he suggested that Obama’s “spanking” of Fox News was just the first stage of “their” calculated effort to silence the media. Beck even threw in a generous dash of a Holocaust analogy for good measure.

“The old, ‘first they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t Jewish’” just won’t cut it these days, warned Beck.

“When they’re done with Fox and talk radio,” he continued, “do you really think they’re going to leave you alone if you want to ask a tough question? Do you really think that a man who has never had to stand against tough questions, and has as much power as he does, do you really believe after he takes out the number one news network, do you really think then that this man is not going to turn on you…?"

“If you believe that, you should open up a history book, because you’ve missed the point of many brutal dictators,” he said. “You missed the point on how they always start.”

All this gibberish would probably be casually brushed aside by Washington if not for one stubborn fact: people are listening to this stuff in America, and in rather large numbers.

"Fox has drawn a record number of viewers this year, averaging 1.2 million viewers, up from 1 million viewers last year,” TV Guide reported. “Its previous high came in 2003, the year the Iraq war started, when it had nearly 1.1 million viewers.”

Obama bites back

So little surprise that Barack Obama broke his silence on Wednesday about his administration’s portrayal of Fox News as the mouthpiece of the Republican Party, while admitting he’s not “losing sleep” over the issue.

In an interview with NBC, Obama attempted to deflect the question about Fox News, saying “the America people are a lot more interested in what we’re doing to create jobs or how we’re handling the situation in Afghanistan.”

But the interviewer pressed on, noting that members of the Obama administration had openly criticized the channel.

“I think that what our advisers simply said is, is that we are going to take media as it comes,” the U.S. president said. “And if media is operating, basically, as a talk show format, then that’s one thing. And if it’s operating as a news outlet then that’s another. But it’s not something I’m losing a lot of sleep over.”

Michael Clemente, senior vice president of Fox News, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the “vengeful war” being pursued by the Obama administration.

“Hundreds of journalists come to work each day at Fox News all deeply committed to their craft,” the statement read. “It’s disappointing that the White House would be so dismissive of their fine work and continue their vengeful war against a news organization.”

The White House response allowed Fox News to gratuitously place itself as the top news story of Fox News for the week, thus helping to obliterate the true purpose of any news channel, which is, of course, to report relevant news stories, as opposed to hawking self-important, self-promotional hash.

Sean Hannity, who hosts an eponymous political program on Fox, opened Tuesday’s show with the snarky tagline, “Now White House-Approved,” before laying into the White House for “fighting a war against Fox News.”

“They don’t want anyone questioning where the President’s new policy for Afghanistan is,” Hannity bawled. “While all the President’s men are preoccupied fighting a war against the Fox News channel, they don’t seem to be in any hurry to fight that war against the nation’s real enemies.”

“It has been 52 days since General McChrystal delivered his recommendations to the Pentagon for a troop increase,” Hannity continued. Yet during that time “the President has flown to Copenhagen just to get embarrassed by the International Olympic Committee, he’s dispatched his henchman in an attempt to silence his critics, and even found time for dance parties at the White House.”

Hannity’s hyperbolic conclusion: “It seems the White House is developing an enemies list.”

Now there are ominous musings in Congressional quarters that such an “enemy list” is sitting on Obama's desk in the Oval Office.

Fox News reported on Thursday that Senator Lamar Alexander appeared on the Senate floor with the stern warning to the President: "Don’t make an enemies list."

Senator Alexander then explained his motive for going on the record against the White House railing against news organizations.

“This classifying people who disagree with you as enemies,” Alexander told Fox. “I mean, a boycott of Fox News, threatening to take away the anti-trust exemption from insurance companies… The President himself said he was going to keep a list of bondholders who didn’t agree to GM or Chrysler.”

Senator Alexander then said that he didn’t believe that an enemy list against certain individuals or organizations exists, but he made reference to the Nixon White House and said he did not want the Obama administration to go down that “road.”

“I don’t think that’s an enemies list today,” he said, “but I saw the road that it took the Nixon White House down. I don’t want to see the Obama administration go that way.”

So now American political commentators are wondering what the ongoing controversy means for independent media in America.

Does the Fox News uproar simply point to the new direction that media – together with all of the technologies now available to it – is heading, or has the American political scene simply burst its seams in its attempt to smash all of the pending issues – war, financial crisis, bailouts, healthcare, unemployment, etc., etc. – into the already stuffed handbasket of a two-party system?

“One of the many changes in the business of news and information is the blurring of the divide between the news side of the story,” observed Canada’s National Post. “And the universe of new information outlets that make up the rules as they go, from blogs to Twitter feeds to late-night pseudo news programs that mask social commentary behind a façade of humour.”

Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure: if Barack Obama ever agrees to appear on Fox News in the future (assuming that such an invitation will be extended, which I believe will be), it will probably rank as the most-watched news event of the year. And this event could help promote the image of both the Obama administration in the eyes of certain rebellious Republicans, and Fox News in the eyes of Washington.

If not, it is at least comforting to know that American television sets still come equipped with a power button.

And that’s truly the greatest power reserved to the people.

Robert Bridge, RT