“In an angry phone call, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told the network’s executive vice president for news, Michael Clemente, that even by “Fox & Friends” standards the video crossed the line, according to two Democrats who weren’t authorized to speak of the private conversation.” (New York Times)
CHICAGO, June 22, 2012 — Last month the morning news show, “Fox and Friends”, aired a video about President Obama. The video was put together by one of its producers. The video portrays the negative impact of the Obama administration.
The video was attacked and criticized by critics on the right and left as being more of an attack ad or propaganda piece than a legitimate editorial. Criticism of the video and whether it crossed editorial, advocacy, or even ethical lines is perfectly valid.
Even the White House would be well within its rights to publicly weigh in on the issue.
Make no mistake. Criticism of bias, editorial policy, and ethics or the lack there of, is perfectly legitimate. Criticism is a valuable part of the diverse and healthy discussion of ideas.
The White House did not publicly criticize. It did not issue a press release or hold a press conference criticizing the video, Fox News, or its ethics. They did not use their bully pulpit to fight back. They would be well within their rights to do so. They could have even gone on the various news talk shows to lambast Fox News. It would have been entirely appropriate.
Instead of using the power of the bully pulpit, the White House allegedly used the bully.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney allegedly called Fox News to vent his anger and personally complain about crossing lines and standards. That should be alarming.
The federal government employs and pays Carney. He works directly for the President of the United States. He speaks for the President of the United States. Carney is one of the most powerful people in the government.
If the New York Times report is accurate, the media should be alarmed and appalled. Critics should be bashing Carney as hard as they bashed the video for crossing the line between the legitimate criticism of a free press and partisan propoganda.
Carney’s alleged conduct is not only inappropriate, it is chilling and intimidating.
For Carney to use his position to personally vent his anger to a Fox News executive crosses a very big line. Some one should give him a copy of the First Amendment and all the court rulings on it. He should be forced to read and be tested on them before he is allowed to collect another government paycheck.
Carney supposedly was a reporter for a magazine. As a reporter he would not tolerate such chilling intimidation on freedom of the press, freedom of speech, or freedom of expression. No editor would tolerate such intimidation.
Executives are different and Carney knows it. They can be intimidated easily.
If Carney did in fact make that phone call, he abused his position. The government, of which he is a representative, has no right to intimidate any media outlet for editorial, opinion, standards, ethics, or even advocacy.
They can defend themselves, complain, and criticize publicly. That is what press releases, press conferences, interviews, and talk shows are for. They could and probably should have trotted David Axelrod out to bash Fox News.
Fox News caved and removed the video with no editorial complaint. That is their right and discretion. They should also pull their ads about fearless or courageous reporting if their executives can be so easily cowed.
The media reported on the video and alleged phone call. They ignored the bigger issue of intimidation. It was ignored at their own peril. Will they cave if they get an angry phone call from the president’s spokesperson? Will they pull articles, editorials, or opinion pieces because Jay Carney is angry? Will they give up their rights to air or publish what ever they want?
Carney, a high level representative of government, personally calling media executives to complain about or demand anything sets a very bad, chilling precedent. It has a negative impact on a free press and free expression.
Critics, on the right and left, can and should weigh in on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of material. That is only right and fair. Carney can even provide sound bites through the media. That is perfectly acceptable and legitimate.
Every reporter covering the White House should be asking Carney about that phone call, whether he made it, what was said if he did, and why he made it. He should be grilled fearlessly, courageously, and mercilessly.
A fearless and courageous media should not be cowed by anyone in government. Editors or media executives should never allow a high-level member of the government to intimidate or bully them.
Carney should have aired his criticisms and complaints in public or had Axelrod do it. No one would have blamed him. It is his job to defend the president and the administration. It is not his job to privately call media executives to complain about lines being crossed.
That is crossing the line even by the standards of this White House.
One more thing. In February MSNBC produced and aired a similar propaganda video about Mitt Romney. It was produced for Chris Matthews. It aired twice. Once on the nightly MSNBC show, Hardball with Chris Matthews and once on the Sunday morning NBC program, The Chris Matthews Show. (Source: The Atlantic Wire)
There was no blistering criticism of MSNBC, NBC, or Chris Matthews for crossing lines or having low standards.
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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