No Republican would go to speak at a MoveOn event. John McCain won’t be going to YearlyKos or the Take Back America conference, and you won’t be hearing him on Air America or see him talking to Keith Olbermann. So why are Democrats told and why do they continue to believe they should go on FOX?
Chris Bowers wrote a great piece for OpenLeft that explains why it’s important for Democrats not to legitimize FOX by appearing there, and why Barack Obama’s appearance on FOX News Sunday was a huge step backwards in the Left’s efforts to identify FOX as what it is — a Republican propaganda mouthpiece. I voiced some similar opinions in a post here.
And then Hillary Clinton appeared on the O’Reilly Factor. Apparently the chance to join FOX and the Republicans to talk about Rev. Wright for the 8 millionth time was enough to make her forget the way that FOX has talked about her, her husband, her daughter, her friends, and Democrats for the last 12 years.
I’ve been seeing and reading a lot about these two appearances in the past few days, and “conventional wisdom” seems to be saying that going on FOX is a very good thing for Democrats to do. When I was on MSNBC last Friday, I was the only one on the panel who felt that Obama was making a big mistake going on FOX. But, as is usually the case, CW is completely wrong.
Democrats, especially prominent ones like Clinton and Obama, should not go on FOX. Never.
I’ve been hearing some talk about how Obama’s appearance might have actually been a very clever strategy, that by distancing himself from MoveOn and progressive blogs (who didn’t want him to go on FOX), Obama could claim that he is not beholden to liberals and can court more moderate Democratic voters, and even Republicans. I imagine the Clinton campaign is probably thinking the same thing. Unfortunately, to believe in a “strategy” like this reveals a total lack of understanding of what FOX is, as well as the mood in the US in 2008.
First, as Bowers and I have pointed out, no Democrats, no matter how conservative they might be, watch FOX, so there are no votes to be gained there. All FOX does all day is say that Democrats are liberal, atheist, Marxist, Communist, gay, racist, hypocritical, tax-raising, America-hating, troop-bashing, terrorist supporters — any Democrat who watches FOX regularly would have to be a self-hating masochist to subject himself to that kind of daily abuse. Also, FOX viewers overwhelmingly don’t vote for Democrats — you only need to look at the 2004 election where 88% of FOX viewers voted for George W. Bush with only 7% voting for John Kerry. Only registered Republicans produce margins that vast — probably because most FOX viewers are registered republicans.
FOX viewers also won’t be impressed that Democrats like Obama and Clinton are trying to reach out to them because FOX viewers don’t want to join forces with Democrats — they want to beat them into submission, irrelevance, or extinction. They don’t want to find common ground — they want to amplify differences. It’s shocking to me that after 12 years of constant abuse, Hillary Clinton doesn’t realize that FOX viewers snarl like Pavlov’s dogs at the mere mention of her name. And with FOX’s long history of hating black people from Al Sharpton to OJ Simpson, Obama never had a chance. A Democrat trying to win votes on FOX is like a Democrat trying to win votes at the Republican National Convention, or Sammy Davis Jr. trying to win fans at a KKK rally. FOX viewers are not open to being swayed — these are the same people who still think that Bush is doing a great job.
Second, there’s nothing to gain from Obama and Clinton distancing themselves from progressives because I don’t get the feeling that moderate Democrats are freaked out by MoveOn, the Center for American Progress, DailyKos, or Firedoglake. But it’s the Right’s control over the media that creates the “conventional wisdom” that MoveOn is a scary fringe organization that should be shunned, not a grassroots progressive organization with over 3 million members. Actually, I’d guess that practically all Democrats (and a majority of Americans in general) share the priorities of the progressive movement — universal healthcare, increased environmental protection, increased regulation of corporations, an end to the Iraq war, an energy policy based on renewable resources, and accountability for the Bush administration. Who would want to run from that? Distancing themselves from progressives won’t win moderate votes, but it will certainly anger, sadden, or disappoint progressives, who are the Democrats’ base and their most consistent champions, defenders, and contributors. The only people who want the Democrats to distance themselves from their base are republicans. Only Republicans say that Clinton and Obama are too liberal, not Democrats, and Republicans will say that about virtually every Democrat to the left of Joe Lieberman.
So Obama and Clinton literally have nothing to gain from going on FOX. FOX has been very quiet about Obama’s interview on Sunday, either because FOX is busy picking it apart for soundbites to be distorted and lied about at a time of their choosing, or they are too flush with excitement about new Rev. Wright statements — there’s only 24 hours in a day, and Rev. Wright stories and analysis takes up about 23.8 of them. And since Clinton’s interview is being spread over two nights, it’s too early to see if there’s any immediate fallout from that.
But, more likely, it’s because FOX knows that it already won. This is where so many Democrats who have applauded Clinton and Obama’s decisions to go on FOX have completely missed the point.
By going on FOX without attacking them and calling them out for what they are, Obama and Clinton lost, the Democrats lost, and FOX won. Obama and Clinton will win no votes, and they reinforced and enhanced FOX’s most prized possession — the illusion that they are a legitimate news organization, not a Republican propaganda machine. And with that, Obama and Clinton have legitimized every anti-Democrat smear and lie to emanate from FOX as being the result of actual journalism, not simply the dissemination of Republican talking points and misinformation. And if both Democrats and Republicans are claiming that FOX is a fair news outlet, why wouldn’t the rest of the press? As we’ve shown with FOX ATTACKS! Obama 2 and THE FOX IS WRONG! Obama, they already have, and the traditional media’s parroting of FOX has had an enormously destructive effect on both the media and the American democracy that relies on it.
And Obama didn’t just legitimize FOX and their tactics by inference and association. in the case of Rev. Wright, he did it specifically by saying that Wright is a “legitimate political issue”, despite the fact that after non-stop, prolonged coverage on every network, it isn’t now, even if it once was. This also gives FOX permission to continue their non-stop coverage of Wright — after all, Obama himself said it was “legitimate”. Obama went on to say that it was wrong to caricature Wright and his church by repeating 30-second soundbites, but he never called out FOX for being the worst, most consistent user of that technique. Clinton did a similar thing last night when she agreed with O’Reilly that she is a “polarizing” personality without noting that FOX is largely responsible for creating that perception of her (though FOX has recently toned these down to help Clinton win the nomination so she can presumptively lose the election to McCain). There is very little in the American media and political system that is as polarizing as FOX.
One would hope that with FOX’s history of covering Obama and the Clintons, they would know better than anyone what FOX is and provide much-needed leadership in the effort to delegitimize FOX. They could lead the way in asking their fellow Democrats not to go on FOX — what better way to show that FOX is a Republican propaganda machine than if Republicans are the only ones who appear on it? But at this important time, neither Obama nor Clinton seems prepared to demonstrate that leadership.
Expect to see ads for FOX featuring Obama and Clinton in the weeks and months to come. And expect FOX to use Clinton and Obama’s appearance to "prove" their "legitimacy" forever.