Now, as Kurtz notes, Fox does have some straight-shooting journalists, such as Major Garrett, Chris Wallace, and Carl Cameron, and some of its daytime shows provide a relatively uninflected take on the news. But even here the bias is palpable. On Monday morning, for instance, I watched as Fox brought on Karl Rove to comment on Rahm Emanuel’s criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. In the course of five minutes he made a half-dozen preposterous claims about the brilliance of Bush’s policy and the failures of Obama’s, all of which went unchallenged. In the afternoon, I watched anchor Neil Cavuto join anti-global-warming documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer in mercilessly mocking Al Gore and the environmental movement in general. On Tuesday afternoon, Cavuto went on endlessly about the closed door behind which senators are deliberating on the health care bill, speculating gleefully on whether it was locked or could be nailed shut, showing pictures of various types of doors, and airing excerpts from the Twilight Zone. By Wednesday, he was referring to the matter as “Doorgate,” and the network as a whole was comparing Obama’s criticism of Fox and the Chamber of Commerce to Nixon’s enemies list.

Watching all this, it seems clear to me that Fox is engaged in a calculated and determined campaign to destroy the Obama presidency—a campaign that also happens to be good for its ratings.

It’s true that, where Fox has a strong rightward tilt, MSNBC has a strong leftward one. Keith Olbermann seems to traffic in his own brand of Howard Beale-like bombast. (His “worst person in the world” segment is particularly obnoxious.) But the network just doesn’t seem to feature the conspiratorial looniness or corrosive fear-mongering that pervades Fox.

Some will no doubt disagree with my assessment, but Howard Kurtz doesn’t even think the issue is worth examining—the “media marketplace” will sort it out. He’s not alone. Despite the obvious influence of cable TV (and talk radio) in shaping the national political debate, our top newspapers have given up any pretense of acting as a monitor or referee of what appears on these shows. The New York Times, for instance, spends far more time dissecting reality TV than it does the political influence of TV news.

Into this vacuum has stepped Jon Stewart. Young people have embraced his show precisely because he’s willing to take on cable news in a way our top media reporters are not. And not just Fox. Last week, “The Daily Show” offered a brilliant expose of the superficiality and hollowness of the journalism practiced on CNN, showing how its anchors allow partisan spokesmen to make all kinds of ridiculous claims without challenge. “We’ll have to leave it there” was the stock response of CNN interviewers to the ludicrous talking points of their guests.

You’ll almost never see Howard Kurtz scrutinize CNN in that way. Of course, he’s employed by the network.

On Sunday, Kurtz was brought on to the NPR show “On the Media” to discuss Anita Dunn’s comments. (Alas, “On the Media” offered no analysis of its own, taking instead the lazy approach of a bland chat with Kurtz.) Kurtz observed that

in that original Time Magazine article where Anita Dunn took her first shot at FOX News, she also took shots at The New York Times and The Washington Post. They are frustrated and, frankly, I think it’s because they are not used to what is the typical aggressive and sometimes almost confrontational coverage from the media.

This is what we do. We’re not supposed to get along with these people. They’re not our friends. We’re supposed to hold them accountable. So FOX stands in the White House pantheon as the most aggressive and unfair, they would say, news outlet, but they’re not all that happy with the rest of us, either.

So there it is: Fox is no different from the Times or Post. They’re all just doing their job.

In fact, in not holding demagogues accountable, none of them is doing its job. That might be why the Obama administration felt compelled to engage the issue in the first place.


Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.