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The Obama Administration War on Fox News: Reaction of the Liberal Press in General and THE BALTIMORE SUN in Particular

–Richard E. Vatz

Journalistic reactions to the fight between the Obama Administration and Fox News will not go away, and they shouldn’t. No presidential administration in Washington in my lifetime has ever tried to censor a network because that administration disagreed with the alleged politics of that network. There have been times when a network’s representatives have not been called on at a news conference, and there have been times when specific reporters have been left off of campaign planes, but the recent full-scale onslaught against Fox News by the Obama Administration has been as undemocratic an endeavor as I have witnessed. It is unprecedented.

For a brief summary of the Administration’s more egregious actions, let’s go to MSNBC: “Obama avoided ‘Fox News Sunday’ when he visited five Sunday morning news shows last month; three aides carried the administration’s message on Afghanistan, health care and the economy [recently] to ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, but not Fox…” No major Administration official has appeared on Fox News Sunday in months. Verbal attacks have been legion.

When asked why the Obama Administration singles out Fox, Director of Communication Anita Dunn has either demurred, saying she doesn’t want to get into specific network comparisons, or has said, “…let’s not pretend they’re [Fox] a news network the way CNN is.” On an otherwise excellent “Reliable Sources” segment, host Howard Kurtz didn’t question whether CNN was an unbiased network.

But that leads one to this line of analysis: one of the interesting components of this unseemly news managing and censoring display has been to observe how traditionally liberal news sources have handled and reacted to it.

There has been a not insubstantial offense taken by even some very liberal journalists. As the Huffington Post pointed out, “Even on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ Monday, the panelists largely came out against the White House’s war against Fox News.” Less far-left networks have criticized the Obama Administration’s totalitarian tactics as well..

How about my Baltimore’s The Baltimore Sun? The Sun, in contrast to its style earlier in this decade, addressed the matter head-on, albeit with a 12-second delay. Their editorial, “Obama v. Fox News,” October 28, 2009, opposed the Administration’s censorship of Fox News.

However…

The editorial contains a most selective look at The Baltimore Sun’s journalistic ethics in the last decade, a history which represents an ignominious history of ideologically generated journalism, corrected to a not insignificant extent in the last year.

The editorial in question ostensibly addresses the hypocrisy alleged by a reader respecting the Sun’s lack of criticism (now just delayed criticism) of the Obama Administration’s current attacks and periodic blacklisting of Fox News in view of the fact that it (the Sun) jumped on the Robert L. Ehrlich Administration for what the Sun paraphrases as “similar tactics.”

The editorial’s analogy, “And just as Mr. Ehrlich was wrong to exclude Sun employees from talking to state employees, Mr. Obama can’t kick Fox News out of press events” is simply incorrect. The Ehrlich Administration disallowed state employees only from talking to specific Sun journalists, due to their alleged ethical infractions. One of these was a columnist who was subsequently fired for his journalistically unethical practices. The Ehrlich Administration never excluded the Baltimore Sun from coverage.

More egregious than the false analogy is the editorial’s ignoring of the Sun’s own blacklisting of conservatives critics in the early to mid 2000’s, a blacklisting perpetrated by several editorial and op-ed editors, the worst of whom I shall not mention so as not to offend worshippers of Dianne Donovan. These journalistic outrages, analogous to, but worse than, the Obama Administration’s censorship, manifested itself in multiple ways, including this representative illustration of outrageous, ideological pseudo-journalism: in the entire 2006 election year the Sun’s op-ed page printed not one positive word about the Republican nominee for governor, Robert L. Ehrlich, by name.

The good news is that the newspaper has improved – it had to.

It’s also good that the improved Sun opposes Obama Administration undemocratic censorship and attacks on Fox News, but it’s a little sad that they need to do so through a mendacious analogy to the Ehrlich Administration.

Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University






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