Politics & Policy

Fox News, Enemy of State

Enemy of the State (Department): Bill O’Reilly (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
The Obama administration’s curious cable jihad.

Marie Harf, whose career has alternated between government jobs and campaign jobs, is the deputy spokesman for the State Department, and if her recent communications are any indication, the face of the most acute foreign-policy crisis facing these United States is Bill O’Reilly’s — an admittedly self-satisfied visage, to be sure, out of which pours a stream of apparently inexhaustible glibness. But he’s never beheaded anybody, so far as I know.

Mr. O’Reilly became an enemy of State when he conducted an interview with Fox News reporter James Rosen, who had some mildly unflattering things to say about Ms. Harf’s superior, Jen Psaki, the witless off-brand Pippi Longstocking who is the current media face of the American diplomatic project. The Obama administration is, to be charitable, currently unsure of how to go about dealing with the Islamic State, and Ms. Psaki was something less than convincing in trying to explain what exactly the administration has been up to between that group’s beheadings. Ms. Harf proclaimed (here I’ll translate from the Twitterese): “Jen Psaki explains foreign policy with intelligence and class. Too bad we can’t say the same about Bill O’Reilly.”

This is not a new thing for the Obama administration, for Democrats, and for the Left. White House communications director Anita Dunn denounced Fox News in the early days of the Obama administration, and Megyn Kelly has recently been elevated to the status of sacred hate totem for Democrats.

To begin with the specific case of Ms. Harf, it is unseemly for an official of the State Department to publicly denounce Bill O’Reilly or any other critic in the media. The State Department has more important things on its agenda, its business is foreign rather than domestic, and there should be at least some decent pretense of separation between the functioning of the American diplomatic apparatus and the Democratic campaign apparatus. That is sometimes difficult to do: Ms. Psaki is literally in bed with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, being married to its deputy finance director. (You can read all about it in Greenwich magazine — because of course she’s a Greenwich girl.) The State Department is not the high-school-prom decorating committee, and Ms. Psaki is, despite her demeanor, a grown woman who works in a media-oriented job. She can take her lumps, having signed up for them.

No doubt the queen-bee tweener impersonation is putting absolute mortal terror into the Islamic State, whose members surely are checking her Twitter feed as they whet their blades.

The Left’s obsession with Fox News is something to behold: Salon published ten articles about Bill O’Reilly in the month of August alone, even managing to work him into an article purportedly about the literary treatment of the sexual practice known as “fisting.” The headlines read like they are composed by a cliché bot: “Fox News is tearing us apart: Race baiting and divisiveness hits disgusting new low,” “Fox News’ [insert news of the day] disgrace,” and (inevitably!) “Jon Stewart finally gives Fox the takedown we’ve been waiting for.”

Fox News, where I sometimes appear in an unpaid capacity, is an interesting cultural force, but, in real-world terms, a minor one. Mr. O’Reilly hosts a very popular show that consistently outperforms competitors in the same time slot by a wide margin, with an audience in television’s desired age demographic amounting to several hundred thousand people — which is to say, a rounding error on the audience of, say, The Big Bang Theory (20 million), a sit-com, or The Taste (4.5 million), a cooking show.

The Left is fixated on Fox News for the same reason that it is fixated on the philanthropic activities of Charles and David Koch: It requires enemies. In the late 20th century, the Left’s theoretical basis — Marxism — collapsed utterly as historical events revealed central-planning-in-arms as the road to misery and massacre that the Right always has insisted it is. Developing a new philosophy takes time, and it is problematic in that the Left’s fundamental antagonism is toward capitalism, but many of its heroes and leaders have discovered that they like money. Class warrior Elizabeth Warren cannot endure living in a home that costs less than a million dollars, while Bill Clinton is a centimillionaire and Al Gore is one twice over. The sight of Occupy Wall Street spastically trying to give birth to a new version of anti-capitalism while cheered on by Manhattan prep-school trust-funders like Katrina vanden Heuvel was comical — and fruitless.

Instead of a philosophy, the Left has an enemies list: investment bankers, except the ones who work in the Obama administration; financiers, except the ones who advise the Obama administration; Christians who want to use government to impose their moral vision on the country, except the ones who work in the Obama administration; the 1 percent, except . . . 

Myths must be constructed: The National Rifle Association, a relatively small player in the world of political contributions, is reimagined as an organization that buys and sells politicians. Enemies must be sought out, and there is the occasional historical reach-back: Jesse Myerson, the fashionable uptown Communist whose dotty adolescent manifestos sometimes accompany the Justin Bieber coverage in Rolling Stone, recently wrote of his distaste for “wealthy, powerful, well-connected Jews,” a formulation that is at least more forthright than “rootless cosmopolitan.” Conspiracies must be detected: The Koch brothers, libertarian industrialists who donate money to a variety of causes, are the new Illuminati.

And Bill O’Reilly, a relatively popular domestic talk-show host, commands the attention of the State Department, while Fox News is denounced by the White House. You’d think that these men and women of immense power would be sort of embarrassed by that, but you’d be wrong.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.

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