The following is an excerpt from Kirsten Powers' new book: The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech
It is astonishing to me as a liberal not only how illiberal so many self-proclaimed liberals can be, but also how willingly they adopt tactics they claim to discern and detest in conservatives. In 2009, Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Slate Group, was happy to amplify the Obama administration’s anti-Fox message in Newsweek. In his column titled, “The O’Garbage Factor,” Weisberg channeled Joseph McCarthy, calling Fox “un-American.” He warned: “Respectable journalists—I’m talking to you, [NPR correspondent] Mara Liasson—should stop appearing on [Fox News] programs.” Weisberg’s broadside against Fox sprinkled in a little of that infamous leftist sexism for good measure, dismissing the female anchors, guests, and journalists who appear on Fox News as that “familiar roster of platinum pundettes and anchor androids reciting . . . soundbites.” Where are the “War on Women” warriors when you need them?
Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote a March 2010 op-ed for the Washington Post titled, “Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?” Raines criticized Ailes, the president of Fox News, for his “clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators [to overturn] standards of fairness and objectivity” in journalism. He complained that members of the journalism establishment were failing to speak out against Fox News, a sentiment the Washington Post promoted in the headline. “This is not a liberal-versusconservative issue,” Raines promised. “It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: ‘The American people do not want health-care reform.’”
I vigorously supported Obamacare, but Raines’s rant was jaw-dropping in its blinkered political arrogance—as if popular opposition to Obamacare, well testified to in all the polling data, was entirely the result of opinion-leaders at Fox News. Moreover, isn’t the job of the press to critically examine government programs, policies, and proposals? Or should the “objective” press simply cheer on Obamacare because it is “objectively” good for the country, as least if you hold liberal beliefs. The real “uber-lie” about Obamacare was nothing that came from the mouth of a Fox anchor, but President Obama’s “If you like your health care plan you can keep it” mantra. PolitiFact named this its 2013 “Lie of the year.”
But the illiberal left, acting as chorus, couldn’t stop singing from the anti-Fox hymnal. In March 2010, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief, Dan Froomkin, wrote a column headlined, “Why Journalists Shouldn’t Be Defending Fox News” and argued—you guessed it—that “Fox News is not a legitimate news organization.” Salon.com ran a column proclaiming that Fox News is populated with, “charlatans, conspiracy theorists and . . . religious fanatics endangering democracy.” Rolling Stone contributing editor Tim Dickinson argued in a 2011 article that Fox News was the “most profitable propaganda machine in history.” The former Mother Jones editor complained that the existence of Fox News “enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion.” There again is that illiberal left hubris. If Fox has commentators who buck the leftist line, they are waging a “partisan assault on public opinion”—or at least the opinions of former editors of Mother Jones and the New York Times. Moreover, Dickinson’s fantasy world where Republicans “bypass” the mainstream media doesn’t exist. If Dickinson is so worried about public officials bypassing skeptical reporters,
President Obama would be a better target for concern, as we will see in the next chapter.
Sometimes the anti-Fox derangement syndrome among leftists is almost beyond belief. Salon.com editor Joan Walsh tweeted in September 2014, “Imagine Fox covering slavery. It’s not even hard: Promoting the ‘job creators’ and hyping any rumor of violence.” The illiberal left has to demonize its opponents; it won’t engage them. And it can’t even see its own double standards. Of course no one who works for Fox has ever defended slavery, but MSNBC, where Walsh is a political analyst, has more than once indulged its inner racist, including making fun of a Romney family-photo Christmas card with its inclusion of a black baby (an adopted Mitt Romney grandchild) and an MSNBC segment about Cinco de Mayo when an MSNBC personality danced around in a sombrero on air as he shook maracas and pretended to down a bottle of tequila. The president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists called it “abominable.” It was meant as a joke, but not the sort of joke the illiberal left would ever
tolerate in a conservative. Imagine if O’Reilly or Hannity had done that.
If you want to rail against cable news, or the state of media in general, by all means, be my guest. There is plenty to gripe about. But that’s not what the illiberal left does. They troll for evidence to delegitimize Fox News and then weave a narrative to “prove” that Fox is terrible, when in fact it stands up pretty well against its rivals in terms of news reporting and credibility.
Even though a recent Pew study showed that CNN and the Fox News Channel provide a roughly 50/50 distribution between news and opinion compared to MSNBC’s “full 85 percent opinion,” MSNBC is the news network that former Obama flacks Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod joined
as political analysts after leaving the Obama administration. What happened to all their fretting about “real news”? MSNBC’s premier host, Rachel Maddow, asserted in January 2012, “There may be liberals on TV at MSNBC, but the network is not operating with a political objective.”
Contrast this with a November 2012 Pew Research study that reported that MSNBC’s coverage of Mitt Romney during the final week of the 2012 campaign was 68 percent negative with no positive stories in the sample. Did you get that? MSNBC offered not a single positive story about Mitt Romney at the conclusion of the presidential campaign. Pew noted their coverage “was far more negative than the overall press, and even more negative than it had been during October 1 to 28 when 5 percent was positive and 57 percent was negative.”
The sad fact is the illiberal left expect members of the media to support their ideological and partisan goals—or else. As reporter Sharyl Attkisson said in an interview after leaving CBS, “The troubling part is that some in the news media routinely allow themselves to be used as a tool in this propaganda effort. Instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority. By way of example, my news reporting has an impeccable record for accuracy while the Obama administration’s record for providing accurate facts is decidedly mixed. Yet some in the media question me with a skepticism and zeal that they would never think of applying to the wildly false and unfounded claims raised by ‘the other side.’”
Charles Krauthammer once noted that Fox News’ success is due to its appeal to a niche market: half the country. And unlike much of the rest of the media, Fox distinguishes between opinion and straight news shows. The problem with the illiberal left is that it believes a “progressive” take on issues is an objective take, and cannot conceive that there are other legitimate points of view. As William F. Buckley Jr. once quipped, a liberal is someone who claims to be open to all points of view—and then is surprised and offended to find there are other points of view. I think liberals should be better than that and at least acknowledge their own biases. Veteran reporter and Fox News Senior Political Analyst Brit Hume likes to point out that everyone has a bias. He has told me many times, “The people who are dangerous are those who don’t know it and fail to correct for it.” Because so many in the media believe their liberal worldview is merely a reflection of settled truth, we end up with a leftist echo chamber, which helps nobody, including liberals.