Who in the media have ‘perspective’?

Among the remarks by spokesmen for the Obama administration in its war against Fox News was David Axelrod's observation that Fox was not a news organization because it had a "perspective" on the news.T hat deserves analysis on more than one level. First, there is the political angle. Obviously, Obama’s quarrel with Fox has everything to do with its "perspective." Unlike CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC and NPR, Fox is not in the tank for the current occupant of the White House. Nothing like Chris Matthew’s "tingling sensation" up his leg excites Fox journalists.

Second, there is a distinction to be made, of sorts, between straight news people and commentators at Fox, as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged, when he subsequently singled out a couple of Fox time slots for the latter. Fox, like other media, distinguishes news from opinion.

Third, Fox’s slogans are not just marketing ploys. Compared to other media, Fox is "fair and balanced," as there are more presentations of opposing viewpoints there than in the "mainstream media." The other networks give little time to the conservative point of view.

At least one intrepid journalist at a Gibbs press conference did question the wisdom of the President singling out one television network for criticism. One is reminded of the famous quotation from Martin Niemoller, a victim of Nazi oppression, about how "they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so I didn’t speak up." One hopes that lesson has been learned.

So, although it is thuggish from my "perspective" for a President to condemn one news organization and practically demand that others not follow its example of exposing, for example, ACORN’s corruption or the extremist views of a number of Obama’s "Czars," it looks like he made other journalists uncomfortable.

Although presidents have frequently been critical of media coverage for both good reasons and bad, nothing compares to the current situation so much as Vice President Spiro Agnew’s criticism of the major media in 1969. But then the obvious difference is that Agnew took on the entire New York-Washington media axis, rather than picking on only one network..

Yet there is a great similarity between the media’s hostility to the Nixon Administration 40 years ago and their opposition to George W. Bush up until less than a year ago, and that was both administrations’ prosecution of a war that most leading journalists were opposed to.

All this is interesting stuff, but let’s get back to "perspective." What’s wrong with it? More to the point, how does any journalistic organization succeed without it? Determining what is news is not merely record keeping. Each day someone must decide that some event or development is news, mindful of the fact that if it is determined to be news, it will be on the public agenda.

Years ago U.S. News did a lengthy piece on the New York Times. In their daily conferences, it was pointed out, Times editors, conscious that it was the nation’s leading newspaper which influences the television networks in their own selection of news, were very careful about what they printed, especially on the front page. They understood that more people read the front page more than the editorial page, and they were reluctant to give more publicity to an issue or cause than it deserved.

As shocking as this may sound, this is what all news organizations do, although the smaller the staff the less likely that long deliberations precede their news decisions. If politics, war, commerce, law and entertainment loom large in our media, it is not because of arbitrary editors but because these things matter to most people in a democratic republic.

No less shocking perhaps to many may be the fact that, because journalists are American citizens with opinions, some things are more important to them than others. Without that "perspective," there is no reason for anyone to be in journalism; it is part of politics even if journalists do not hold public office.

Thus, Fox was singled out not because it had a "perspective," but because its "perspective" differs from Obama’s and his friends’ in other media. We need a free media to enable us to know what our leaders are doing and to discuss the wisdom of their policies. Lacking such "perspective," self government is impossible.

No ruler of a free people should condemn any media because they have a "perspective." That is but the prelude to a controlled media and despotic government