The latest brouhaha between the White House and Fox News is bad politics and worse policy. President Obama has done interviews with Bill O’Reilly and with Chris Wallace, and in both instances the president said he was treated fairly and with respect.
It was a mistake for White House communications director Anita Dunn to continue the war of words last week by saying that “What I think is fair to say about Fox—and certainly it's the way we view it—is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party.” Respectfully, Ms. Dunn, the White House strategy on this one just looks plain petty and beneath the dignity of the presidency. This is also the opinion of longtime presidential adviser David Gergen, who has questioned the propriety of the White House. “It's a very risky strategy,” Gergen said recently on CNN. “It's not one I would advocate.”
I am a frequent commentator on Fox News and on Sean Hannity, but let me be clear: As a Republican African-American woman, I do not always agree with Fox’s coverage or the incendiary comments of Fox hosts like Glenn Beck. That does not, however, stop me from going on the news channel and stating my opinions—which are many times at odds with the more conservative point of view expressed there. My good friend/liberal black Professor Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is a Fox contributor, and he goes toe-to-toe with Bill O’Reilly regularly—the two of them make for great theater and “balance”—that’s what I like about O’Reilly.
That’s why I find it troubling that last week, Fox News was informed by the White House that President Obama would grant no interviews to the channel until at least 2010. The edict was relayed to Fox by a White House official after Dunn discussed the channel at a meeting with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and other Obama advisers. I also think it was out of line for Dunn to say, “Let's not pretend they're (Fox) a news network the way CNN is.” Huh?
Not wise. Here are my top five reasons for why the president should go on Fox News—and soon:
1. Fox’s audience is very broad and diverse politically—contrary to popular opinion. It is watched by a mostly white Middle America, an independent/centrist leaning public that is very likely to vote in the off-year elections (2009) and in 2010. By not going on Fox, the president is seen as alienating the conservative Democratic and independent/moderate Republican voters who helped to elect him. This is a mistake as it feeds into the worst kind of stereotypes about the president as some crazed left-wing puppet who associates himself with people like Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.
2. By having a public battle with FOX, which is viewed as a mostly white, conservative news organization that helped spark the tea parties and anti-health care rallies/town halls, the president runs the risk of being seen as disinterested and/or dismissive of conservative southern whites.
3. The president is missing an opportunity to build support with the so-called right in regard to his military position in Afghanistan. FOX viewers support strong national defense and defeating the terrorists in the Middle East. They support the president staying in Afghanistan and sending more troops if needed. Obama should play to this base with the things they agree on.
4. On health care, again, the president has missed an opportunity to speak to “Middle America” which is more likely to watch FOX than the average CNN and MSNBC viewer who is more likely to be well-educated with higher earnings.
5. Lastly, and most importantly, the president is the president of all the people regardless of their political views. FOX is a part of the free press that we all revere and support in America. So what if they are more conservative, more “right-leaning”—the president should address those citizens even if the filter through which FOX portrays him may not always be favorable.
As President Obama said during his Feb. 3, 2009 interview with FOX News anchor Chris Wallace, “I think it's fair to say that I don’t always get my most favorable coverage on FOX, but I think that's part of how democracy is supposed to work. You know, we’re not supposed to all be in lock step here.”
Sophia A. Nelson has been published, among other places, in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and Politico. She writes often for The Root.