White House v. Fox News – Unnecessary And Missing The Point

Posted in General by TBartine on October 30, 2009 No Comments yet

Normally, seeing as it’s Friday, we’d be running our usual “Chaos Theory Edition,” in which we wrap up all of the strange and wonderful political news that we were unable to mention earlier in the week.  But seeing as we were unable to post for the last three days, the list of “things we didn’t get to” is…well…everything.  Therefore, in the hopes of doing ONE thing well instead of MANY things badly, we’ll focus on a single topic for the day:  New, disheartening, and unnecessary developments in the so-called “War between the White House and FOX News.”

Let’s start by saying, THE WHITE HOUSE MADE A MISTAKE.  First, a White House aide came forward and said that…yes…FOX News is biased, and often serves as the propaganda wing of the Republican Party.  A brief summary of the events following this statement may be found here.  Recently, another White House advisor, Valerie Jarrett, performed another disservice to the Office of the President, by reaffirming that “of course” FOX News is biased, by hedging on whether or not MSNBC is biased, and by saying that this was part of the White House’s ideology of “speaking truth to power:

Why is all of this behavior, on the part of White House staff, inappropriate?  Is it because they are somehow curtailing the First Amendment?  No…they have prevented no one from speaking.  Is it because this is somehow, as talking heads on FOX suggest, tyrannical behavior typical of fascist and communist regimes?  No…George W. Bush and the presidents before him have always been critical of one or more news outlets, and it’s not like the government is shutting FOX down and arresting its people.  No…the reason that this is a mistake, is because it is unnecessary.

1)Speaking truth to power?“  You are the White House.  You AREthe power.“  By stooping to engage a lesser entity in a verbal sparring match, you miss the obvious opportunity to “rise above them” instead.  Ignoring them, much as one would ignore the attention-seeking behavior of a screaming child, would serve the image of the POTUS better.

2) What you’ve said is true and obviously so…but is pointless, and if anything, will only serve to boost FOX’s ratings.  Why? Because the people who watch FOX either do so because they LIKE that it is biased in such a way as to agree with them, or because they don’t watch anything else, in which case they do not know that it is biased, nor will they ever accept that it is…because it is the source of ALL their information and it provides the interpretation of said information.

If FOX weren’t biased…why would Shepard Smith being receiving so mach hate mail, and so many threats?  For those who do not recognize the name, Shep Smith is perhaps the LEAST biased anchor on FOX News.  Earlier this year, Smith grew tired of listening to his guests attempt to justify the unjustifiable.  He listened to them try to rationalize our country’s use of torture, while clumsily dodging the fact that it is not simply immoral…but also 100%, clearly, illegal.  When Smith had had enough, he erupted: “We are America, we don’t torture! And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train! This government is of, by, and for the people….I’m saying, whatever it is, you don’t do it for me.”  This is the same Shepard Smith, accurately identified former Vice President Cheney’s stance on gay rights, especially given the fact that his daughter is gay, as a “cop out.“  Smith also questioned the fairness of a story which criticized the Canadian health care system while attempting to discredit the current plans in our country to reform health care…and he rightly pointed out that the proposed reforms in the U.S., have absolutely NOTHING in common with the Canadian system.  Quite recently, Smith apologized after a segment where a Republican candidate was interviewed, but the Democratic candidate was not: “Wow. I didn’t know that was about to happen. My apologies for the lack of balance there. If I’d had control it wouldn’t have happened.

Want to know something about FOX News’ viewers?  Want to know how one anchor’s attempts to remain objective and squelch bias on that network were rewarded?  He is attacked…threatened by viewers of the network, told by viewers, “You don’t belong here,” and harassed in public.  Do these sound like the kind of people who will respond to the White House’s criticism by changing channels?  Do they sound like people who will come to say, “Wow.  We had no idea that FOX was so unbalanced.  We are upset that they are distorting the news in order to communicate conservative dogma and ideology.

No. They’ll keep watching FOX News.  They’ll watch it because it agrees with them…because it tells them what they want to hear…and because it plays into their psychological defense mechanisms.  That’s right.  There IS actually a psychological explanation for much of the unreasonable “outrage” and the inexplicable “conspiracy theorizing” that we are all observing.  A brief article in Psychology Today, sums up this all-too-human phenomenon quite clearly.  In short…the human brain WANTS to make connections between events and other things in our environment.  It is part of the way that our minds detect threats, and so the brain rewards this behavior with the release of dopamine.  In other words, it feels good to “connect the dots.“  In times of high uncertainty and stress…like say, a recession characterized by financial instability, high foreclosure rates, and rampant unemployment…or perhaps the election of a president who some view as “strange” and/or “different“…our brains may tend to go into overdrive, drawing connections between as many things in our world as possible, in hopes of identifying threats to our lives, our security, our comfort.  Here’s a fun example from Glenn Beck, who has provided us many such examples:

What should be obvious, is that such theorizing is not created through sound reasoning…and it is, therefore, impervious to facts and reasoning.  For example, if I take the unreasonable position that I was abducted by aliens and replaced by an identical pod person…you are going to have more than a little difficultly “disproving” this, simply because there is nothing factual or logical in it for you to address.  “Conspiracy thinking” is this way because is not the product of logical thinking…but is instead produced through a powerful defense mechanism.  This should be apparent to anyone who has attempted to “talk down” such a theorist through the communication of facts, or by pointing out that some of their “relationships” or “lines of causation” don’t make any sense.  The scholar’s reaction to such questioning would be engagement, and excitement.  The conspiracy theorists reaction…is heightened defensiveness, or even combativeness.  Your attempt to reason with them is a threat to the delicate and implausible “early warning system” they have meticulously built for themselves.  As crazy as it sounds…they feel safer thinking that the threat to their existence is a “president who is a secret Muslim trying to form a communist shadow government“…then for this NOT to be the case, and for them NOT to have any idea where actual threats might exist, which would make them feel blind and vulnerable.

Unfortunately, all this introspection into “why people think what they think” is lost in the media circus engaged in covering this minor and unnecessary dispute.  CNN, its ratings in the basement, decides to get in on the action by crying out (I’m paraphrasing), “MSNBC is as bad as FOX.“  A little transparent, even for you, Miss Campbell Brown.  Of course, Keith Olbermann can’t resist responding back to CNN…pointing out that “CNN seems to still think it is the primary source for its viewers, that they know nothing until they tune in.  This is, ever increasingly, nonsensical. People now watch news on TV for elucidation and context and analysis. They have brought the facts with them, the way we used to bring TV dinners.”  Meanwhile, no one is examining why people watch FOX News at all…and why so many are willing to believe some of the obvious falsehoods and patently inane conspiracy theories espoused on the network.  Maybe…it’s as simple as the psychology of a scared human being reacting to change and uncertain times.  Whatever it is…nobody is better than FOX News at exploiting it, as Jon Stewart of The Daily Show explains: