Alex Massie

The Fox News Effect

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According to James Carville there'd be 67 Democratic Senators if it weren't for those ghastly chaps at Fox News. As with everything Carville says this must be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevetheless one need not look too hard to discover evidence of the impact Fox has had on American journalism* in precincts far from and not naturally disposed to take their orders from Roger Ailes' command-bunker. Why, the very same edition of the New York Times contains an excellent example of how Fox's "framing" of an issue has leached into the mainstream. In the paper's Week in Review section Helene Cooper "examines" the burning issue of whether Barack Obama is a wimp or a warrior...

The answer is, of course, that like all Democrats Obama is a wimp. Or, if he's not actually a wimp he is perceived as such. Now, sure, perception matters enormously in politics but perception is at least partly controlled or influenced by the press. True, Cooper's piece has the requisite paragraph that undermines most of the premises upon which her piece is based:

So soon? Here is a president who just ramped up the war in Afghanistan, sending an additional 30,000 American troops. He has stepped up drone strikes by unmanned Predators in Pakistan and provided intelligence and firepower for two airstrikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen that killed more than 60 militants. He has resisted the temptation to sign a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia that might not provide American inspectors with the level of verification detail that they want. He is moving toward the wide use of full body scans in American airports. On Thursday, in an oblique nod to the Cheney criticism, he even used the phrase “we are at war,” in describing the fight against Al Qaeda.

But the overall impact of the piece is to ay that unless the President is seen doing something "tough" then none of this matters or counts or is real. To say that this is nuts is to be far too kind.

So how can Obama show that he's a cowboy President too? Apparently by stepping up pressure on Iran (even though I think few people really believe increased sanctions will have much effect) which, in the longer-term, clearly means being open to military action (something Obama has, incidentally, never ruled out because on this, as so much else, Obama's foreign policy views are actually pretty conventional. The differences concern means, not ends.) Well, yes, I dare say that would be "tough" and to hell with whether it would be wise.

And there's this:

Then there’s terrorism. Mr. Obama will also have to demonstrate some tangible action there, the experts say, to dispel the notion put forward by the Republicans that his plans to shut down the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, makes Americans less safe. The Christmas Day attempted plane attack over Detroit failed in many ways, but it succeeded in doing one thing: reintroducing the issue of terrorism into the American psyche. Now, Mr. Obama is under pressure to show that he considers fighting terrorism to be a priority.

[...] For Mr. Obama, that may also mean talking tough more often, Mr. Rothkopf said. “If you’re going to be president of the United States in the early part of the 21st century, you’re going to have to look like you’re tough on terror.”

Right. Because this administration doesn't give a hoot about terrorism? Please. Note too the casual acceptance (hidden behind the words "the experts say") that closing - or rather, relocating - Guantanamo might imperil American security. How this could be the case I don't know, largely because it's exceedingly difficult to see how it can be true. But never mind.

Equally irrelevent, it seems, are all the occasions on which Obama has made it clear that al-Qaeda remains a major danger that must be fought. This too must be ignored because, obviously, it would be crazy for the "paper of record" to publish a piece that pointed out what is being done when it's much easier to carry a piece more-or-less dictated by Fox News talking points arguing that, evidence or reality be damned, the President is wimpier-than-wimpish and needs to "seem" tougher-than-tough.

*See Michael Wolff, mind you, for more on some interesting differences between Ailes and Rupert.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.