Thursday, October 22, 2009


I don't exactly agree with what Adam Serwer says about the Obama/Fox war with regard to at least individual he mentions -- Jake Tapper, I think, is taking Fox's side because he likes to suck up to the right -- but I believe Adam's right when says that at least some of the journos who are coming to Fox's defense have motivations along these lines:

Louis Brandeis wrote what is (ironically) probably the most famous legal defense of free speech in which he counsels that "the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and supposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones."

Brandeis actually had a far more restrictive view of free speech than we have today, but his point still stands: the best way to beat back lies in public discourse is with the truth. Using the force of government against the media is wrong and should make us uncomfortable even if it's just the bully pulpit. For some journalists, ignoring the administration's criticism of FOX means agreeing to be treated the same way next time one of them writes a story critical of the White House that gains traction. For them, there's a larger question of free speech -- and in journalism, such questions have often centered around less-than-reputable journalistic organizations.

Now, before you start typing your nasty comments to me (or Adam), please note that he says this while also asserting that the White House campaign doesn't come close to Nixon-level press intimidation, as well as agreeing wholeheartedly that Fox is a propaganda outfit that very much needs countering. He just thinks it's the press's job to do that (though the press is falling down on the job):

If we believe that Brandeis is right, that the solution to "evil counsels is good ones," it stands to reason that it is the role of the press, not the government, to remedy FOX's propaganda. But because of years of conservative bellyaching over the "liberal" press, the media is reluctant to criticize FOX News, as though it were the only free expression available to an embattled minority.

... as it stands, much of the press is not fulfilling its role in fighting lies with truth. This is what Jacob Weisberg was advocating -- that real reporters stop legitimizing FOX. He was not endorsing censorship of any kind. He was encouraging the press to remedy bad counsels with good ones. That's not really happening.

That's also the job I was advocating when I defended the assignment of a New York Times editor to monitor partisan media for stories that hadn't bubbled up to the mainstream press -- I wanted (and still want) someone to cover truthfully what they're babbling about deceptively in Beckland, because those stories are getting noticed by the public, but only as spun by the right. (Yes, I know I'll never get any of you to agree with me on that.)

I don't agree with Adam that the White House needs to take a completely hands-off approach to Fox -- a bit of denunciation is fine, as is White House truth-squadding of lies and distortions. But there needs to be a light touch; even if it's not meant as intimidation, it's going to be seen as intimidation if it's the least bit heavy-handed. And, from a purely practical point of view, if it just inspires the press to rally around the White House's target -- as it clearly has -- then maybe the White House ought to consider whether a strategy reevaluation is in order.

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