Obama and Fox News

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: Obama’s interview on Fox news had me wondering whether his intention might have been recapture some of the magic that he worked so well during his visit to the GOP retreat in January. Unfortunately, Fox pit the President against Bret Baier, an awkward, oddly youthful-looking reporter who resembled a cranky sixth-grader on school picture day. With a rumpled legal pad in his lap and a self-righteous quaver in his voice, Baier interrogated the president in the style of Shaggy unmasking an evil old man who has been scaring kids by haunting the fun house at the local carnival.

A small ticker at the bottom of the screen continued reporting non-breaking news and information about terrorist attacks and bombings during most of the time the President was speaking, so that occasionally below him you would watch the words “THE OBAMA ADMIN HAS BEEN CRITICIZED BY THOSE WHO CONTEND ABDULMUTALLAB SHOULD HAVE BEEN PLACED IN MILITARY CUSTODY AS A TERRORIST”. Watching those words scroll by beneath an image of the President speaking during an interview is a strangely subversive and not so subtle attempt to both divide the viewer’s attention, and make sure that what they are reading in some way negatively influences what they are watching and listening to at the same time. Sneaky, Fox.

Still, my strongest impression of the interview was definitely one of wishing fervently that Baier would stop trying to have one of those “Gotcha!” moments that they have when David Caruso interrogates a suspected pedophile on CSI Miami and he trips up on his story. Every question Baier asked was a thinly-veiled set-up for a ‘Gotcha!’ punchline that never came. The president wasn’t about to fall into any of his interrogator’s clumsy and obvious verbal bear-traps, so Baier just came off as a contentious heckler who refused to let Obama get a word in edgewise, constantly and rudely interrupting the President whenever the answer he gave was not what Baier wanted to hear.

While before the interview took place I had high hopes that it would bring about the same delightful jousting that the GOP retreat (no pun intended!) did, I was sorely disappointed—but I probably shouldn’t have been. Viewers of Fox News have enough of a chance to see the President speak – at least when Fox actually chooses to air his speeches– and it is unlikely that they are against Obama simply because they have not had the opportunity to learn more about him or to see him in action. They may not have given themselves the opportunity, but it was certainly there.

It will likely be argued that Obama’s presence on Fox News was ultimately a bad decision as it legitimized an extremist right-wing news channel, but I would counter that at the very least, Obama’s appearing in an interview with Baier at least gave viewers the opportunity to confirm that he does not breathe fire, nor did he take Bret Baier’s paycheck and divide it up among the camera crew or sentence his grandmother to death during the interview. Fox News spends so much time demonizing Obama, that every once in awhile they should have to look over their shoulders to see if he might be standing behind them, smiling tolerantly and willing to answer their most pointed questions.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the President ought to go on Fox News every once in a while, just to show he cares.

But we live in a world where 67 percent of Republicans think Barack Obama is a socialist, 57 percent think he is Muslim, 38 percent see him with an agenda like Hitler’s, and 24 percent – 24 percent! think he may be the antichrist. So while that doesn’t all come from Fox News, legitimizing their “news organization” at all seems like a huge mistake to me.

Jon Stewart does a tremendous job of pointing out the ludicrousness of Fox’s claims that they have any times during the course of their day where they can reasonably be called a news outlet. They aren’t. They are the cable TV wing of the Republican Party. And the President isn’t going to get a fair shake on the channel. Period.

Now, taking the time to try and de-legitimize Fox News may not work all that well, either. Like it or not, a government going after a media outlet is going to be seen, and understandably so, as bullying. Never mind the tactics of the media outlet in question- the political optics are never going to work here.

So let others- Jon Stewart, in a perfect world, other media-take on Fox as often as they see fit. Some may continue to flock to the channel- there isn’t much the Obama administration can do about it.

But don’t provide any kind of fig leaf to the channel. People aren’t going to tune into Fox News and come away with a positive view of President Obama or anyone on the left. Whatever good is done by his appearances- and clearly, he does well when discussing things with those he disagrees with- are quickly washed away by the endlessly-repeated anti-Obama talking points.

Mr. President, spend that time you waste on periodic Fox News appearances with Michelle, Malia and Sasha. Lord knows you deserve it, and it is a far better way for you to kill an hour.

JESSICA BADER: I thought it was interesting that Molly wonders whether Obama’s recent Fox News interview was an attempt to recapture the GOP retreat mojo, given the way that Fox News covered that event. While the other major cable news outlets carried the whole Q&A session live, Fox cut away from the live feed while Obama and the House GOP were still going at it, preferring to show its viewers an analysis of the showdown rather than letting them see the damn thing unfiltered. I suppose it’s worth it for the President to go on Fox News every once in a while, if only because they’re not going to cut away from their own interview and Fox News viewers will get to see the actual Barack Obama for once rather than the Communist-Nazi-Islamist caricature the network is so fixated on attacking.

Did Obama’s appearance on Fox News change any minds? Perhaps a few, but most people who watch Fox News have already locked in to a highly negative opinion of him. Where it may have helped him is with those in the middle who respect his willingness to go in front of a hostile audience, and with the media as a whole (the White House’s combative attitude towards Fox News a few months back did not play well with them and prompted more than a bit of media-industry solidarity). Since those are groups he has an interest in winning over and the Fox News audience is likely a lost cause for him no matter what he says or does at this point, I think that’s a result Obama will gladly accept.

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