The Impact of Presidential Candidates On the Media OR What Obama Should Have Done on Fox News

by: JewishJake

Wed Apr 30, 2008 at 14:18

In a logical turn of events, Barack Obama's recent appearance on Fox News, which while a good interview, was not an attempt to "take Fox on" as promised by an Obama surrogate on Greg Sargent's blog, has birthed much criticism. Many, including Chris and Kos, had hoped that Obama would in fact attack the network when asked inevitably irrelevant questions about the "scandals" around his campaign. Instead, it amounted to ironically Clintonian Triangulation, on issues such as abortion, taxes, regulation, and John Roberts. While he didn't "throw Kos under the bus" as claimed by many, he did use him as a point of distancing himself from "the Left." In a strange, though honestly predictable turn of events, many Obama supporters are refusing to criticize the move, and many are even defending it as a means by which to court more voters, with claims such as

regardless of whether WE think the questions were vacuous or stupid, as Wallace pointed out, there ARE a lot of voters to whom these things do matter, and this allows Obama to address them more directly than just hoping they will get a snippet of his stump speeches.

This comment is actually from a diary on Kos, with the intent of criticizing Kos for his criticism of Obama.

What I think is important to note, throughout this entire fiasco, is that this was not just a mistake in its treatment of us, the activists, but also a missed opportunity to attack the current structure of the media. Now, I've said on previous occasions that I'm not sure that it would have helped him in the short term to attack Fox on the network, as it would have simply solidified his already attained base, and pissed off conservative viewers of the network (I personally think he should not have gone on in the first place), but in my research of past events, it has become clear to me that going on and "taking Fox on" could actually have helped the breaking of the current creation of false media narratives, especially by the uberpower, Fox News. This is especially evident by viewing the Dan Rather interview of George H.W. Bush in January 1988, fairly early in the campaign for President. Bush's reaction, and the firestorm after the fact, lead to one of the most important turning points in American Media History in recent times. Follow me below the fold for the details.  

JewishJake :: The Impact of Presidential Candidates On the Media OR What Obama Should Have Done on Fox News
On January 25th, 1988, Dan Rather convinced then Vice President and Republican candidate George Herbert Walker Bush (he had not wrapped up the nomination yet, but was considered the highly favored front runner) to come on the air for an interview about his policies. Bush only agreed to come on if the interview was live, fearing his words may be edited.

Important to note is Rather's reputation at the time. The far-Right had hated Rather for a while, notably for his work in exposing Nixon's involvement in the Watergate Scandal. He continuously asked Nixon whenever he had a chance, and was significant force in his downfall.

Rather had also been very harsh in his coverage of the Iran/Contra affair, causing more and more members of the Right to dislike him. He continued to be skeptical of the Reagan administration's explanations, and this finally culminated in his interview with Bush, prefaced by a report he made on the Vice President's involvement in the affair:

From the modern perspective, there is one major significant item of note: the harshness of the report. I think that most modern Progressives are stunned when they see this video, due to the stark contrast it makes with current reporting, which puts such a heavy emphasis on "Centrism" that it refuses to decisively question any governmental scandal anymore, out of a fear of being accused of "liberal bias." This type of report would likely never be presented in the Traditional Media in this modern day, with the exception of Fox News, in which case the scandal would be one of Conservative scent. This standard only applies to "liberals," as all movement to the right, be it ending in the center-right or far-right, is accepted as "more truthful" in comparison.

The question of why such a change has occurred arises. While many will merely trumpet "Fox News," it is necessary for us Progressives to be rational, and realize that events do not happen in a vacuum. The creation of Fox News was the culmination of years of Conservative critiques and attacks upon the Traditional Media. One of the key turning points was the interview which followed the report by Rather:

From that point forward, George Herbert Walker Bush never appeared on CBS again (and neither did his son). He "boycotted" the network, and Conservatives around the country rallied behind him. It was now OK to accuse Dan Rather of "liberal bias," and the many Nixon-supporters, afraid to attack a reporter who had fought against an almost universally despised President, were now able to take their rage against the man without being accused of being too far to the Right.

Now, some may question what this really means. Didn't those Conservatives already hate the man? How much of an effect did this have on his ratings, as they probably weren't watching him already? Actually, quite a bit. To quote the wikipedia article:

It... marked the beginning of Rather's ratings decline, a slump from which he never recovered.


While Rather had inherited Cronkite's ratings lead, the success of the Evening News with him at the helm fluctuated wildly. After a dip to second place, Rather regained the top spot in the 1985 until 1989 when he ceded the ratings peak to rival Peter Jennings. However, by the 1992, the Evening News had fallen to third place, where it remains to this day.

Notice that Rather was at the top until 1989, the year Bush became President. While one can argue over the different reasons for this drop, including his "off the air moment" (he he walked off the set to protest his reporting on Pope John Paul II's visit to the US cut short by a Tennis Match), the fact that this interview brought on a much larger amount of coverage and criticism from the Right, and his declines were in conjunction with continuing attacks from the Right, makes it clear that this interview had a much higher impact on his ratings and reputation.

Some may claim that Obama could not have possibly had the same effect, as he has had some problems with his perception in recent times, and that this may have simply hurt him in the polls, but this ignores an important point. While most people remember the '88 election as one of the worst in Democratic Party history, when this interview was taken, Bush only had the support of 41% of people, and Governor Dukakis (the eventual Democratic nominee) would continue to lead Bush in the polls by double digits, continuing on for several months, only going below him on a few occasions until the "rape gaffe" finally pushed him permanently below the Vice President. The fact is, Bush was not particularly popular at the time of the interview, and yet his popularity and influence with the Conservative movement increased remarkably after the interview, so that by the time he was President, Dan Rather was already coming to be known as a "liberal loon." Even those distrustful of Bush's moderate past, and later angry at his refusal to keep the campaign pledge of "no new taxes," this interview cited constantly by Conservatives, and Rather was used as a straw man by which the movement attacked the Traditional Media.

It is not by chance that Fox News was founded in 1996 by Australian businessman Rupert Murdoch and former Bush campaign manager Roger Ailes. After this interview, the concept of "liberal media bias" was "proven" to many skeptics, who viewed this interview as an example. Despite the fact that Bush essentially refused to answer the numerous questions Rather raised, either deflecting them with lame excuses of "confidentiality" or "That's already been explained under oath" (despite the fact that many involved in the affair were sent to jail for lying under oath, and the claims he cited were contradicted by Rather's report), or with the use of ad hominem attack, his public and on-air denunciation of Dan Rather became a rallying point for the Conservative movement, and its critique of Traditional Media increased. Even into the new millennium, Rather was used as a scapegoat by the Conservative movement, such as Bernard Goldberg's Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News in 2001, featuring a whole chapter on Mr. Rather. Eventually, when push came to shove, and the full fledged Conservative movement attacked Rather in 2004, he was dumped -- a total and complete triumph by the Conservative movement, revenge for Nixon and Bush.

The comparisons to Obama and Wallace are neither far-fetched nor incomparable. Even if you want to make the claim that Obama is dropping in popularity (which he isn't significantly), he is still doing much better than Bush was doing when he was interviewed by Rather. As well, had Obama been elected President and never gone on the Network (the former of which is quite likely), there would have definitely been a ratings drop for Fox News, because no matter how much you bitch and whine, it doesn't look good for a News Organization when the President won't come on you channel, as CBS learned the hard way as it dropped  to 2nd and then 3rd place over the course of Bush's term as President. Even if he had to go on the channel, he could have simply attacked them, which would have united the Progressive movement behind him (notice the unity after the CBS debate, and the splitting and fighting happening as I write this), and then never gone on Fox again. Instead, he allowed himself to be interviewed by Chris Wallace, a man who, unlike Dan Rather, has been unfair and used unjournalistic standards in his attacks on the Left, and then refused to attack him when he raised false scandals in the interview. Even worse, his campaign made it sound as though they would be "taking Fox on," getting the hopes up for many such as myself, who know the effect an increasingly powerful politician can have on the media when they attack.

Those who may attempt to compare this to Clinton's appearance miss the point; Bill Clinton is an ex-President with waning influence. While his attacks did temporarily unite the Netroots and overall Progressive movement, it takes the act of a rising political star, such as George H. W. Bush or Barack Obama to truly dent the power of the media, through the use of boycotting by a figure of national highlight, of which Clinton, an ex-President, no longer is.

I personally am quite disappointed by this act of a candidate whom I continue to support, simply because Clinton is no better (her campaign has done much worse, actively going on the network and calling it the best news network currently active). It is important for Obama supporters to understand this, and to understand that while we are not all "cultists," it is important to stop ourselves from becoming so. While I'm not sure it is my place to call one, I would like to endorse any movement to call Obama's campaign and complain, and in turn threaten to stop sending money or doing any activism on his behalf until he openly and unconditionally apologizes for this. I would like him to boycott the station, but I'm not even sure that would have the wanted effect anymore, as the Network would now be able to call him a hypocrite, due to his promise to "be back," despite all the bullshit they have spread, rendering any further critique by his campaign inconsistent. I pray this type of flawed strategy shall not be repeated.

Should there be some sort of organized reaction to the Obama campaign for this act?


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Good call, Jake! (4.00 / 3)
I don't watch TV, so I didn't see the Obama/FOX thing.  But reading the confused (and mostly disappointed) commentaries in networld, today, I began fantasizing about a candidate who DOES take it to the MSM airheads, without apology and without getting sucked in to "defending" against BS questions.  What if Hill and Barack had just taken those ABC gotcha artists Gibson and Stepinallapiss to the woodshed for wasting time, by challenging their qualifications as journalists - comparing them to Murrow, Rather, Moyers, Schieffer, Schorr or just about anyone from PBS, pointing out that they were acting like shoolyard bullies and not even attempting to carry out their responsibility to help the electorate become informed about what the electorate is interested in (as opposed to what the editors/paymasters are interested in)? What if candidates just CALLED OUT these pretenders and refused to play their destructive little power games?

Lemme tell ya, you'll lose nothing but aggravation and a hopless sense of impotence when you quit watching this crap.  Let them stew in their own juice, I say.

Great article (and an instructive history lesson, too).  I'm bookmarking your diary.  I don't have any experience promoting diaries on Kos, FDL, C&L, etc., but if you can tell me how, I'd like to recommend this post. Just email me some basic instructions.

Regards, Bob in AZ

Sadly (4.00 / 1)
I don't see an email for you. Thanks a ton for the compliments, and if you want to recommend, just scroll to the top, and then scroll down while looking on the right side of the screen. In the upper regions there should be a button on which you can click which says "Recommend." Thanks again.

Former Edwards Supporter, Obama Supporter since January 30, 2008

[ Parent ]
Promote this diary!! (4.00 / 1)
Got it - thanks for the tip, Jake.  

[ Parent ]
One step at a time (0.00 / 0)
Step one is to stop the candidate who cares about nothing but herself from obliterating any countries.

Step two is to stop the candidate who cares about others, as long as they make 7 figures.

Step three would be to pressure and criticize President Obama into doing the right thing.

Oh Good! This is back (0.00 / 0)

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

This was posted several days ago (0.00 / 0)
Right after the interview. It just so happened to be put up today. Try checking the date of publishing next time. Besides, it doesn't make the point any less relevant.  

Former Edwards Supporter, Obama Supporter since January 30, 2008

[ Parent ]
i check what is posted to the front page (0.00 / 0)
from running my own site, i judge that when things are posted up to the front page they are "new" in the publisher's eyes. meanwhile, if its several days old it makes all the more redundant, why give it this importance if we've already been around the block on this issue several times. oh that's right, the ankle is still twitching.

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

[ Parent ]
Should there be some sort of organized reaction to the Obama campaign for this act? (0.00 / 0)
Oh man, I just noticed the poll!  Are you fucking kidding?!!! Jesus. Get a grip, there is actually now a reasonable chance that he actually might not be the nominee.

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

I voted yes. (0.00 / 0)
Although I don't endorse the specific action proposed in the diary. I don't think it helps elect a Democrat for Obama to be pressured into an apology. But I think a little good cop bad cop would be an improvement over the situation as it stands. I would love to see Obama "stand up to the left" by defending his strategy of bridging divides while acknowledging the Fox propaganda and misinformation that makes such an effort "challenging" (or whatever polite understatement he might use.) He could look like the reasonable one bending over backwards to give the propagandists the benefit of the doubt, while the overall issue of Fox's lack of credibility would be "out there" (as Colbert would say.)

[ Parent ]
This was huge missed opportunity for Barack (4.00 / 4)
Excellent recall of GHWB v. Rather.

But consider that Chris Wallace has some serious "father" issues of his own, given his history of denouncing, then un-denouncing, then mildly rebuking Mike Wallace.

Barack could have delivered a response to the guilt-by-association questions ... say:

"Look, Chris, the man was my pastor, not my father.  But even if he were, would that mean our views should be the same?  I remember when you were criticized for throwing your own father under the bus for comments he made about the President and the war.  Do you renounce him?  How does it feel to be asked to comment every time Mike Wallace says something you don't agree with?"


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