Sun reader Jean Palmer of Brooklyn Park chastised this newspaper in a letter published in Tuesday's edition for not standing up for Fox News in its battles against the Obama administration, noting that we spoke out against what she views as similar tactics of "government censorship" employed by Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. when he was governor.
She is right, although in our defense, other recent matters of note, from a particularly disturbing hit-and-run death to the need to deter gang violence in Maryland, struck us as more pressing. Nevertheless, let us set the matter straight today.
Last Thursday, the Treasury Department attempted to conduct a briefing for the media with Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration's executive pay czar, without including Fox News. The other major networks protested, and the administration promptly relented.
The Obama administration acted foolishly. The major networks - the folks Fox likes to term derisively as the "mainstream media" - were correct to stand up for Fox. In a democracy, government "doesn't get to pick and choose who covers the government," to quote Ms. Palmer quoting a fomer Sun editor.
In recent weeks, the White House has become more critical of Fox News. President Obama has not appeared on Fox talk shows. Communications Director Anita Dunn has spoken out against the network, characterizing it as a political opponent and not a legitimate news organization.
That's fair game. No president has to appear on any particular TV show or give exclusive interviews to any particular reporter. It has always been thus. Elected officials often to try to advance their point of view by choosing what they perceive as a friendly, or merely fair, outlet. What this newspaper protested five years ago was the Ehrlich administration's decision to ban all state employees from sharing information with a Sun reporter and a columnist with whom they disagreed. As we also wrote in an editorial at the time, "Mr. Ehrlich and his staff have the right to decline to be interviewed."
Blacklisting critics by unilaterally banning state employees from speaking to them, however, strikes us as something entirely different, then and now.
Admittedly, Fox News is not like most traditional news-gathering organizations - at least in this country's modern traditions. Its content demonstrates a point of view that is consistently and overwhelmingly conservative in a manner that appears not only deliberate but highly calculated to suit Republican leadership. The network sometimes rightly highlights stories the rest of the media are slow to grasp, such as the furor over last month's videos showing ACORN workers in Baltimore and elsewhere giving tax evasion advice to a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute, but it somehow consistently does so with stories tailor-made to embarrass the Obama administration, not its opponents.
This pattern is reflected not only on its opinion shows but in much of its reporting, which is far from the network's (facetious, perhaps) claim of "fair and balanced." As Slate editor Jacob Weisberg recently observed, even Fox News' own reporting of the Obama crackdown on Fox News has been blatantly and demonstrably biased.
But just as the First Amendment gives the right of free speech to lunatics and charlatans, it gives it to cable TV news networks. And just as Mr. Ehrlich was wrong to exclude Sun employees from talking to state employees, Mr. Obama can't kick Fox News out of press events. That is a line that must be recognized and defended no matter the particular parties involved. That was true in 2005 and it's still true today.
The Obama administration needs to be careful not only with trying to pick who covers the government but also not to appear to be getting into a war of words with Fox. All it does is give Fox more talking points. Obama should show he's better than that. You won't change the slant Fox puts on reporting anyway.
Actually, both Ehrlich's actions and the president's staff's actions were correct. The people demand and deserve a responsible media, not agenda driven yellow journalism.