On last Sunday’s news shows, members of the Obama administration defended White House communications director Anita Dunn’s statement that FOX News operates “almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.”
Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior Obama adviser David Axelrod both came out in support of Dunn. On ABC’s “This Week”, Axelrod explained, “The only argument Anita was making is that they’re not really a news station.”
“It’s not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming. It’s really not news. It’s pushing a point of view,” he continued. Rahm Emanuel echoed that statement on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
It’s a unique battle brewing between the Obama administration and the station that claims to be “fair and balanced,” and it is also much more complicated than either side is willing to admit. This issue is really about journalism ethics and the government attempting to interfere with our free press.
I don’t wonder why the Obama administration denigrates the journalistic practices of FOX News. Media watchdogs such as Media Matters frequently flag FOX programs for lying or misconstruing quotes.
According to Media Matters, Glenn Beck “falsely claimed Anita Dunn ‘worships’ ‘her hero’ Mao Zedong” on his Oct. 15 show. Actually, Media Matters points out, Dunn says that Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa were two of her “favorite philosophers.” She does not refer to either as her hero. In the respectable field of journalism, Beck’s behavior would be
considered highly unethical.
It is not FOX’s conservative bias as a news organization that I find offensive. MSNBC has a fairly clear liberal bias, and as a person who strives for consistency, I would definitely hold MSNBC to the same standard as I do FOX News.
Rather, it is FOX’s clear disregard for the truth that is harmful to society. In the segment of the Beck show that I referenced, it’s clear that he’s doing the story simply because he has found an angle to criticize Dunn. He has no regard for the value of his occupation, nor for the weighty responsibility that comes along with being a member of the press.
The freedom of the press may be the most important freedom granted by our Bill of Rights. The press is the guardian of our freedoms and the educator of society. Without it, our country could not maintain an informed electorate, and our representative democracy would decay into a totalitarian state.
The freedom of press is so important that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Obviously, Jefferson understood the gravity of maintaining a free press, with the purpose of keeping Americans informed about the United States, and he saw the importance of free information. But I think inherent in his cherishing of the press is his love for the truth.
And sometimes, the truth stands in opposition to the government’s actions. We saw this demonstrated in the lead up to the Iraq War. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were keen on the connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It turned out that the truth stood in direct opposition to their statements.
However, this is not the case today. And I think this is the most important argument for the legitimization of the Obama administration’s criticisms of a news organization. The reporting that FOX conducts, as a journalistic organization, is too often based on sensationalism and half-truths.
The real news story — the truth within this issue — is that the government is, out of necessity, stepping into the role of the guardian of truths and the education of society. That’s definitely not what Jefferson intended.
While FOX News is just one irresponsible news organization of many responsible news organizations, I think the amount of misinformation they release hurts America; and while normally I would advocate against the government commenting on the actions and reporting of our press, I think that this is one occasion when the administration is right to do so for the greater good of society.
Stephanie England is an English senior and Mustang Daily political columnist.