The White House's attack on Fox News is ripe with irony. Supposedly, it was conservatives who famously stood athwarthistory shouting, "Stop!" Supposedly, the Obama administration favors change. Turns out the only change the White House "communicators" want to see in media is the one that stops the wheels of progress.
"Progress," of course, is entirely subjective. After all, those who support a return to 1930s-style Keynesianism and corporatism, plus a penchant for a Chamberlain-like appeasement of the same vintage, can declare themselves progressive with a straight face. Likewise, not everybody will consider Fox and what it does progress.
Less debatable is the fact that Fox's mix of immediacy and opinionated commentary has proved a fantastically popular business model. And, in a capitalist system, that means a profitable model. Not surprisingly, it's a formula that others are now striving to copy.
Immediacy and opinion may seem to be at war, but they actually go hand in hand. The technology that brought us the first makes the second necessary.
Raw news is now the stuff of cell phone cameras, text messaging and Twitter. It has been commoditized and is being taken away from journalists. Neda Soltan's murder in Tehran this summer was captured by someone who probably couldn't tell you who Joseph Pulitzer was, but he or she had a cell phone. This may be a calamity for legacy media, but it's not a national tragedy. Rest assured, we are better informed today -- or at least have the means to be -- than when we sat around the national hearth and got the news from one source, Uncle Walter.
I spent a few hours this summer at Off the Record, a watering hole for journalists near the White House, trying to convince a newly arrived British correspondent for a major outlet that his gig was up. He couldn't compete with millions of Bangladeshis, Bolivians and Californians armed with $10 hand-held electronic devices, I said. He agreed, but argued vehemently that what journalists must provide now is context.
He's right. With news commoditized, sellers aren't in charge of pricing. Opinion alone differentiates it and allows the purveyor to command a premium. Thus Fox's success.
Now, my friend's "context" is by definition subjective. So is Fox's. Unlike most of its competitors, Fox's "context" is conservative, which means it has a huge audience that was previously being neglected. Other major papers and networks trend left because their journalists trend left. Fox has half the nation to itself!
No wonder Anita Dunn and David Axelrod are crying foul and, in the latter's case, pleading with other journalists to bar Fox from their playground.
Government, of course, has an awesome power, if it decided to be rough. The administration has a panoply of tools, including the Fairness Doctrine and net neutrality. But it wouldn't be doing the nation or democracy any favors by depriving it of the only national television outlet that breaks the left's monopoly on news. It would also be fighting the only workable media business model in sight.
Michael Gonzalez, a former reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal, is vice president of communications at The Heritage Foundation. He served in the Bush administration from 2005-2008.
First Appeared in NPR