October 20, 2009

Is FoxNews a "news organization"? I guess it depends on whether you think professional wrestling is a "sport"...there is a long and gloried tradition in the American free press in the existence of newspapers, journals, and the like that are controlled by or give allegiance to a specific faction or ideology. For most of the 18th and 19th Centuries, there were, in fact, specific newspapers that were directly financed by the White House, as well as by the opposing party; such was the spoils system that juiced the American government for much of this country's history. No one ever claimed that Andrew Jackson or Thomas Jefferson was trying to overthrow the First Amendment by not allowing the other side's publications equal access to the White House.

Even sillier than the faux-outrage over the entirely sensible approach by the Obama Administration towards propoganda media outlets is the notion that it is somehow comparable to Nixon's Enemies List, or even to the actions of totalitarian dictatorships. Nixon tried to use the power of the federal government to coerce the free press, most particularly by using the IRS to go after perceived political opponents, using the FCC to strip reputable news organizations of broadcast spectrum based on how they covered the White House, and bringing anti-trust actions against the three networks. So far, the Obama Administration has merely called the hucksters at FoxNews "liars," which one must admit is a relatively benign form of oppression, and certainly not the sort of thing that will convince anyone with a compelling need to have their thinking done for them by O'Reilly or Beck to avoid the channel.

FoxNews is a news channel in the same sense that The Undertaker is a real "athlete." Pro Wrestling, or something like it, has been popular in this country for almost as long as people have attended or watched athletic competition. Vince McMahon didn't invent the notion of a staged, artificial sporting event that capitalizes on the blood lust of the audience; Roman gladitorial contests could often be just as fake as SummerSlam. Pro wrestling can often be as fascinating to watch as more mainstream athletic contests, and the characters that are promoted can be as interesting as those found in classic drama. But the fact that pro wrestling gets better ratings than tennis or track does not make it a better sport, or even a sport at all, and President Obama should be under no obligation to treat FoxNews as being somehow equivalent to CNN or the network news divisions.