GUEST BLOG from Mike Reid, a deputy managing editor of Dow Jones Newswires:
We, the media, have been played.
This Fox-White House feud is too good to be true. We fell for it, swallowing it whole. We delivered the message to all, daily, that Presidents shouldn’t joust with the media, no matter how venomous and relentless the attacks.
What we didn’t realize, and mostly still haven’t yet, is that this isn’t about Fox, nor the White House, nor media independence or criticism. It’s not about the First Amendment, or quashing dissent, or any of that. And it’s not White House clumsiness: in fact, it’s cynical and calculating, and brilliantly so. This is solely about redefining the Republican Party… a strategy which, albeit risky, is James Carville-like in its audacity.
The White House doesn’t like Fox News, they love it. They like the ratings boost it’s getting, they like the shrill hostility of its commentators. For them, the hardcore supporters of Fox commentary are politically unreachable anyway. The more popular the likes of Beck, Hannity and O’Reilly become, the more emboldened they are and the more caustic their tone is. It makes it easy for the White House to portray this sort of commentary as the voice of the Republican Party! The subliminal message to the moderate conservative or the wavering independent is compelling: You may not like us, broader government, bailouts, and bigger deficits, but check out that lot, then make a decision. It’s no longer the party of Lincoln, it’s the party of Beck. (Note: Fox is owned by News Corp, which also owns Dow Jones Newswires).
If Fox gets better ratings, who loses exactly? Fox doesn’t, nor the White House. Michael Steele does, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Olympia Snowe all do. Moderate Republicans lose hugely. The message of the party is redefined. Republicanism isn’t a mantra of small government, low taxes, defense and fiscal restraint… it’s that the Federal Government’s coming to kill grandma!
It’s a cunning, cynical strategy, but a brilliant one. And it’s crowning glory? Get the mainstream media to deliver the White House message, amplifying it daily. Pundit after pundit, commentators, editors, reporters, all united in an unwitting chorus of the White House’s own propaganda: The words “Fox” and “Republican,” “extreme” and “biased”, “the GOP” and “crazy” repeated constantly, tempting people to go look for themselves.
How did they achieve this? Everyone in authority knows a journalist’s worst fear is being cut off, alienated, denied access. Good reporters scoff that they can be equally effective without access to officialdom, but they know it makes life much tougher. Threaten one media outlet and the rest will circle the wagons. So the collective groan of disapproval from the mainstream media has played perfectly into the White House strategy.
The media’s universal reaction has been that the strategy is clumsy and ill-considered. Maybe it’s the media’s reaction which is. We were too gullible: In bemoaning attempts at media manipulation, we just got manipulated!