Afraid of Journalists

September 22nd, 2010

Especially in the 2008 elections, Fox made a pointed claim: if a Democratic politician did not grant Fox full access, or if Democrats refrained from joining a debate hosted by Fox (essentially placing themselves in the hands of a network dedicated to destroying them and giving every advantage to the other side), they were “afraid of the media” and unwilling to answer honest, straightforward questions. If the Democratic candidates didn’t appear on Fox talk shows as much as Fox wanted them to, then they were afraid to “talk to journalists.” Even when Obama gave unprecedented access to Fox, appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show (can you imagine Bush or McCain going one-to-one with Olbermann or Maddow?), he was still “afraid to come on Fox” because he didn’t give them more chances to take swings at him live on the air.

And yet, since Sarah Palin more or less blacked out the media for the most part of the 2008 elections, it now seems to be the standard with the new brand of conservative politicians to do exactly that: block out the entire mainstream media, and only speak through Fox News. And it’s not just restricting themselves to Fox–because there are perhaps a few people even on Fox who might not be 100% sympathetic–but certain personalities on Fox. Christine O’Donnell canceled out on a Fox interview last weekend because it was Chris Wallace, who sometimes will challenge right-wingers. So instead, O’Donnell is going to appear on Hannity, who is well-known as a go-to guy for cases like this.

Even more to the point, Palin even spelled out this strategy publicly, encouraging O’Donnell to do exactly that, to “speak through Fox News” and avoid the rest of the media.

And, of course, we have not heard more than the slightest peep about candidates being “afraid of the media” or unwilling to “talk to journalists” from Fox or the other right-wing sources that shouted about Democrats being that way in 2008. Even the rest of the media is somewhat mute: Palin’s outright statement of this practice was virtually ignored by the major outlets, appearing mostly on political blogs.

Since this is now becoming a new standard for right-wing politicians, it should be pointed out more. Avoiding a “news” organization that is so biased that it would be politically damaging to put yourself in their hands is one thing. But to speak only to news sources biased in your favor is something completely different–something which I am certain right-wingers–and probably more than a few on the left–would agree with if, say, a Democratic politician only agreed to appear on TV if it was with Maddow or Olbermann on MSNBC.

There has always been an attempt to cow, maneuver, and manipulate the media, but it has been a two-sided game, with the media at least usually trying to fight back. But now the game has changed, and with it the fundamental aspects of political answerability to the public.

The press is supposed to be our bulwark against tyranny, as it is in principle unafraid to challenge politicians and speak truth to the people. Thanks to Fox, right-wing politicians now have an out: their very own “news” media arm willing to campaign for them and against their opponents. And our primary defense against tyranny crumbles.

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