A Fox in the White House
by Joseph Hughes, Thu Apr 27, 2006 at 09:04:24 AM EDT
When a Republican administration refuses ownership of its failures, instead painting its problems as those of poor communication, things like this happen. When a Republican network convinces the White House that better spokespeople, not better policies, are the answer and that they know just the right man for the job, already questionable relationships become incestuous in short order.
So it was no surprise to see former Fox News personality Tony Snow replace the beleaguered Scott McClellan as official White House mouthpiece. Equally unsurprising, sadly, is that many Americans won't recognize this for the shameless ploy it is. Then again, America has largely been unrecognizable since President Bush took office.
Wednesday, for instance, Neil Cavuto wondered aloud why those criticizing Snow's hire weren't similarly complaining when former Clinton staffer George Stephanopoulos took the helm at ABC's "This Week". Well, Neil, here's the short answer: Becuase these people aren't as dumb as you are. Revisionist history, like lying, comes part and parcel with working at Fox, so Cavuto must be living in a world where Stephanopoulos earned his liberal bona fides on ABC before he took a job with the Clinton administration. Because, if not, Cavuto must be an idiot. I'm sure you're just mixing up the timeline, right Neil?
Later that night, Bill O'Reilly, who is always quick to the defense of the indefensible, sang from the same hymnal as Cavuto. Wasting no time, O'Reilly bloviated about how the "far-left smear sites" were out to get his former colleague. "The smear sites spit out the usual out-of-context garbage, trying to portray Snow as anti-Bush because Tony did criticize the president on occasion, and at the same time saying he's a shill for Bush," O'Reilly said. He added, "Also, the far-left smear machine has a few so-called mainstream journalists in its pocket. So the propaganda often winds up in your newspaper."
To O'Reilly, "smear sites" must be a broadly defined concept, because, to him, they include Web sites that use one's own words. Outlets like Think Progress and Media Matters offered unedited Snow comments, which did far more to incriminate the former pundit as both a shill for an moderate critic of the president than any liberal could. If this constitutes an agenda, then, to O'Reilly, every single news outlet in the world - not only his - has an agenda.
It wasn't all anger Wednesday. Fox anchor Shepard Smith, himself no stranger to coming to his senses and criticizing the administration, joked that Snow's hire would lead people to think that "We're in bed with the White House." His guest, William Kristol, joined in the fun, suggesting other possible Fox employees who would make great administration hires. Sure, Smith was joking. But his panicked tactics, just like those of Cavuto and O'Reilly, were intended to brainwash Americans into thinking the hire doesn't raise any red flags.
But it does. No amount of network spin changes the fact that a Republican administration thinks it alright to hire a high-profile pundit from a Republican news network to parrot its views. Further, that the president, enjoying sub-zero approval ratings, thinks it's the message that's the problem, not his policies. This sort of incestuous relationship is more a hallmark of third-rate dictatorships than America. Until now, that is.
If, like the Bush White House does, you think that better messaging is the answer to the president's second-term malaise, Snow's hiring makes perfect sense. McClellan, after months of being rightly beaten up by the press corps for lying on behalf of the administration, was damaged goods. He was quickly becoming a liability to the White House, as he grew increasingly unable to fend off the circling vultures. Further, it's been reported that McClellan cared about his integrity.
The White House, however, doesn't care much for integrity. What they care about is spin. And in Snow, they've now got a living, breathing, Free Republic-posting, Kool-Aid drinking, spinning machine. A man unincumbered by the truth, free of the facts. To its short-term advantage, the West Wing has merged its bullshit with the home of some of the best bullshit peddlers out there. The move's long-term implications are equally distressing.
Though it has recently shown signs of life, the media has largely given the Bush administration a free pass. Will this continue now that one of their own has made the leap? I suspect it will, because in addition to spin, Snow is adept at the fine art of the schmooze. His lies on behalf of the administration will come in a much more pleasant package than McClellan's did.
What of his former employer? If you thought the access granted Fox by the administration was unprecendented before, just you wait. When Snow said, "I want to work with you," he wasn't referring to anyone other than Fox. And, as White House officials do when they become the story, Snow appeared on Fox Wednesday, speaking with fellow administration flack Brit Hume. There, he expressed regret that he had criticized his new boss in the past.
With his penance now paid, Snow can begin doing his lord's work.