I’ve gotten into the habit lately of rewriting political news stories that address important topics but badly miss the mark due to credulousness, timidity, intellectual laziness, false equivalence, forgetfulness, smarminess, and so on.
But some articles simply shouldn’t be published at all.
Case in point, Politico’s Wednesday edition of West Wing Playbook, by Alex Thompson, Sarah Owermhole and Tina Sfondeles. It’s about how Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, hasn’t gone on Fox lately. It’s headlined: “A Fauci no longer in the Fox house.”
Here’s the crux of it:
Shows across the cable news channel, including ones with news hosts like BRET BAIER and NEIL CAVUTO, have been trying to book Fauci for months but he’s been turning them down, according to an official familiar with bookings at Fox News.
Let’s start off with a key philosophical and etymological failure. The article refers to Fox as a “cable news channel.” This endows the propaganda and disinformation network with an authority it neither has nor deserves. And it presumes that Fox has a right to expect the presence of administration officials on its shows.
Then consider the third paragraph:
It’s not exactly a surprise given the channel’s coverage of the doctor. Just in the past 48 hours, host TUCKER CARLSON called him “a shorter version of Benito Mussolini” and put up an image dubbing him the “Patron Saint of Wuhan.” Fox News guest commentator and streaming show host LARA LOGAN said “people” compare him to the infamous Nazi doctor, JOSEF MENGELE.
No, it’s not exactly a surprise. So how is this possibly a news item?
Obviously, in Politico’s view, Fauci should appear on Fox anyway. But that is crazy. Even if the network hadn’t just likened him to the Angel of Death, Fox isn’t owed anything.
If some administration officials and politicos want to go on Fox and try to speak the truth, I guess you have to respect that on some level. But at the same time, their presence lets Fox market itself as a legitimate news organization, which it isn’t.
The absolute worst thing Fox has ever done is persuade its viewers not to get vaccinated. But Politico doesn’t blame Fox, it blames Fauci:
Fauci’s absence from Fox shows also means that the Biden administration’s most public-facing figure in the effort to contain Covid-19 is not a presence on the country’s most watched cable news network, with an audience that includes many of the people the Biden team is still trying to get vaccinated.
Does Politico really think that anyone – not to mention someone the network has so effusively demonized — would be able to effectively make their case being interviewed by hostile hosts and sandwiched between lies?
And then comes some laughably ridiculous inside-Washington tea-leaf reading stuff:
The Biden team also sends out Surgeon General VIVEK MURTHY to appear on Fox News, but he has not been front-and-center on Biden’s Covid-19 efforts. When the White House released a photo Monday of Biden in the Oval Office meeting with his team about the Omicron variant, Murthy was not in it.
Eventually the authors quote Eric Shultz, a Democratic communications expert, asking the obvious questions: “Would you go on a show that compared you to a Nazi war criminal? Do you really think that’s an opportunity to get a fair hearing?”
But the very existence of the story makes it clear that Politico’s answers to those questions are yes and yes.
Here’s an analogy from American Independent writer Oliver Willis:
Up next on Politico: Why won't the president of the NAACP speak at the KKK rally? https://t.co/0UXZ40Kima
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) December 2, 2021
At the risk of calling attention to my own hypocrisy, it’s not exactly a surprise that Politico would run such dreck, especially in a newsletter. Their standards are arguably lower than ever, especially under the constant pressure of finding something to put at the top of their newsletters that will get people talking about them.
On the larger point, I think it would be perfectly reasonable for the administration not to put officials on Fox — and banish its stooge from the White House briefing room – just not yet.
I think what’s needed first is for the news industry itself to renounce Fox, and correctly identify it as the opposite of news.
That’s why watching Politico make this absurd argument that grants Fox some sort of claim to legitimacy infuriated me enough to bring out first the figurative red pen – and then the figurative spike.
[See also, from Eric Kleefeld at Media Matters: “Politico should blame Fox News — not Dr. Fauci — for his reported refusal to go on the network“.]