Commentary: Why Obama Should Rise Above The Fox News Fray

by | October 20, 2009 at 12:17 PM | 42-Inch Television

President Obama (Getty Images)

President Obama (Getty Images)

Watching ‘Mad Men’ obsessively has taught me that in an advertising campaign, you never cede the higher ground to the competition—especially if you’re already out in front. This is why McDonald’s doesn’t mention Burger King in their ads; even a reference to the runner-up risks giving them the waft of credibility.

Too bad Barack Obama hasn’t gotten the same message. For the second time in as many weeks, someone from President Obama’s administration made the rounds on the Sunday talkers and took dead aim at Fox News. Two weeks ago, it was White House communications director Anita Dunn, proclaiming that Fox News was “the communications arm of the Republican party;” this past Sunday, White House senior advisor David Axelrod echoed the sentiments, saying the Fox News isn’t “news,” but rather pushes “a point of view.”

If you’re surprised by this, you aren’t alone: it’s akin to best-selling soda, Coke, talking about how much better they taste when compared to Pepsi. It’s not that what they’re saying isn’t necessarily true—only the most hard-nosed, right-wing ideologue would call Fox a reliable source for unbiased news—but why keep bringing it up in such public forums? At this point, anyone with a television understands that Fox News leans right, MSNBC leans left and CNN slides in somewhere towards the middle (though as long as Lou Dobbs remains involved with the network, we can probably safely call CNN “center-right”).

The president doesn’t need his surrogates to confirm this breakdown to the American people any more than he needs them to tell us that the economy is still in the tank. Frankly, they’d be better off saving these anti-Fox News proclamations for internal memos and secret e-mails—y’know, like the Bush administration did with MSNBC.

Years of working in an office have taught me how to handle disagreeable co-workers with one-word answers and brief nods. The thought being that nothing infuriates a rival more than a lack of confrontation; it shows they can’t get under your skin. And that’s why the attempts to discredit an already discredited news network feel so silly. By mentioning the bias, Obama seems weak, intimidated and out of touch. (Complaining about Fox News doesn’t feel like a change we can believe in—it feels like a relic from the 2004 election.)

Worse, it has emboldened Fox News to push things even further. Witness a new Fox News promo culminates with the tagline, “Hard News, Fearless Reporting,” a direct affront to the idea that Fox isn’t “news.”

If the coverage didn’t really bother the president, he wouldn’t even acknowledge its existence at all. Barack Obama should be above this fray; here’s hoping he is at some point in the very near future.

Three More Inches

An actual plot-point on the latest ‘Gossip Girl’ dealt with Serena’s on-again/off-again boyfriend Carter Bazien having to potentially move to Texas and work on an oilrig so that he could pay off some heavy gambling debts. And you wonder why I love this show?

Joss Whedon directing an upcoming episode of ‘Glee’ is great news for the most original new series, but bad news for ‘Dollhouse.’

And finally… ABC using skywriting to promote ‘V’ is a novel idea, but I’d feel a lot better about the series if it wasn’t put on the shelf for some creative re-tooling. I’m setting my expectations just below tempered.