The Corner

When It Raines It Pours

I willfully ignored Howell Raines’s Outlook section piece until I read Mark Steyn’s post about it. Thanks a lot, Steyn.

Raines’s cri de coeur is beyond parody.

In addition to the bit Mark excerpted, there’s the lede:

One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?

Here’s the basic problem: Aside from the egotistical preening and bunker-mentality stuff Mark Steyn highlighted, all Raines is doing is shilling for Obamacare, i.e. he’s mimicking Fox’s alleged sins. His one serious “example” of Fox’s propagandizing is, in his words, “the endless repetition of its uber-lie: ‘The American people do not want health-care reform.’” But in the very next sentence, it goes from “uber-lie” to “somewhere between debatable and untrue.” Which is it? Uber-lie, or somewhat debatable?

And from there he’s off on a tendentious reading of polls and a debatable or untrue misreading of what “health-care reform” means. He changes the context to talk about health-care reform as a historical issue. But correctly understood in this context, “health-care reform” means Obamacare, which the American people do not want. But Raines turns it into an argument about generic health-care reform over the years so he can insinuate that Obamacare and health-care reform are synonymous terms; if you want one you must want the other. Raines clearly knows he’s playing word games here. Indeed, some might even say he’s being propagandistic, at least by his own standards.

Again, this is just so much shilling for the Democratic party’s top domestic priority. But for Raines, that’s called truth-telling and good journalism.

Beyond his special pleading for health-care Obamacare, Raines’s criticism of Fox is beyond trite. The legacy media types have been spouting this stuff about Fox since the network was founded. Raines’s is pretending that the health-care debate makes this argument new. But it’s just a lame excuse to trot out the same old tired argument we’ve been hearing for years. And where have we been hearing it from? The very same “old-school news organizations” Raines is berating for not berating Fox enough.

I mean, is there a mainstream media organization that has not given ample coverage to the alleged evil of Fox News? Let us recall that Raines’s argument is almost identical to the one pushed by Barack Obama, Anita Dunn, Robert Gibbs, et al. for much of last year: That Fox should be shunned because it is a propaganda agency. 

The press loved hyping that attempt by the White House to shun a critical news outlet. For instance, I’m generally a fan of Howard Kurtz, but does anyone think he hasn’t raised these sorts of “troubling questions” about Fox enough? He probably needs a separate hard drive just to hold them all.

Fox’s supposedly evil right-wing bias was endlessly aired when the Democratic presidential candidates boycotted it Fox-sponsored debates, thanks to John Edwards’s leadership on the issue (what a hero!). Before that, there were countless other stories about Fox. I’ve been debating media bias on campuses for more than a decade and Fox’s badness is the sturdiest of evergreens. Media Matters for America would not exist were it not for Fox.

Here’s one example off the top of my head. In 2004, Geneva Overholser resigned from the National Press Foundation’s board in protest, because the NPF honored Brit Hume. Here’s the USA Today story about it.

Still, it’s funny how someone so invested in the integrity of legacy journalism can’t spare a couple sentences to at least condemn MSNBC’s caricaturesque copy-catting of Fox News. Surely, if Raines were serious, he would see this as a metastasizing cancer on NBC News. But since MSNBC shills for Obama, it happens to be upholding Rainesian standards.

Last, as Mark notes, the suggestion that Raines’s “team” was some great, non-partisan, steward of the truth is beyond laughable. But I don’t think we need to revisit the long parade of horribles on that score. Let Walter Duranty burn one night in peace.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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