Was Rudin wrong?

NPR “Political Junkie” Ken Rudin has apologized for comparing Barack Obama to Richard Nixon.

NPR ombudsman Alica Shepard calls attention (via Twitter) to her column today, in which she says what Rudin said “was a dumb thing to say.”

Here’s what Rudin said about the Obama administration’s spat with Fox News.

“Well, it’s not only aggressive, it’s almost Nixonesque. I mean, you think of what Nixon and Agnew did with their enemies list and their attacks on the media; certainly Vice President Agnew’s constant denunciation of the media. Of course, then it was a conservative president denouncing a liberal media, and of course, a lot of good liberals said, ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous. That’s an infringement on the freedom of press.’ And now you see a lot of liberals almost kind of applauding what the White House is doing to Fox News, which I think is distressing.”

Rudin caught it pretty quickly, and apologized:

“Comparing the tactics of the Nixon administration –which bugged and intimidated and harassed journalists — to that of the Obama administration was foolish, facile, ridiculous and, ultimately embarrassing to me.”

Rudin played it well to settle the matter quickly, but it’s worth pointing out he didn’t compare Obama’s tactics with Nixon’s intimidation of the media via illegal means. He compared it to Nixon’s “enemies” list and their (presumably rhetorical) “attacks on the media.”

It was Steve Benen of Washington Monthly who extended the meaning of Rudin’s comments:

Now would be an excellent time for a reality break. Has the Obama White House ordered the Justice Department to spy on Fox News employees? Has the administration ordered the IRS to start digging through Fox News’ books, hunting for irregularities and auditing on-air personalities? Has the president directed thugs to break into Glenn Beck’s psychiatrist’s office?

“As he noted in his apology, what the Obama administration is doing is a “far cry from illegal and unconstitutional activities,” Shepard wrote. She said “it was a dumb thing to say.” But what was dumb? What he said as fact, or saying it imprecisely so that it could be misinterpeted?

Back to Benen:

And what as (sic) the Obama team done? They’ve dared to point out a simple reality: an obviously-partisan propaganda outlet in (sic) not a legitimate news organization. That’s it. That’s the totality of the White House’s efforts — criticizing a network that operates as an arm of a political party. There’s no boycott, no punishment, no vendetta. All we have here are some White House aides who’ve criticized a network.

Not exactly. The White House has also frozen out Fox News whenever it could. That’s their right.

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, told the New York Times. “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”

Regardless of whether you like or hate Fox News (and you either like or hate it; there’s no middle ground), you have to at least consider the comment from Tom Edsall, the author of Building Red America:

“Reacting to criticism is a very dangerous thing for any kind of publication to get involved in, especially when the criticism is ideological… I do think that Fox has often been tilted to the right, but if they’re now inhibiting their coverage – if these Tea Parties [that they didn’t cover] were newsworthy – that’s not good.”

Curiously, the director of the First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky, Mike Farrell, invoked the same language that Rudin did:

“The White House has basically said that they don’t believe in the marketplace of ideas, they’re not willing to engage in debate, and they are going to be associated with John Adams and the Sedition Act and Richard Nixon and his ‘enemies’ list – is that the company they want to be in?”

  • John P.

    Fox News is surely a political opponent, as Anita Dunn points out. Prime time is filled with Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly and even what appears more like news has a definite point of view to it. You could say more or less the same about MSNBC from the other direction. Would it have been legitimate for Bush to exude MSNBC? They did favor Fox in that the Bush people constantly showed up on Fox to rile up the base, but banning someone is another step forward down the path. Both Fox and MSNBC are so heavy and strident with editorial content that I don’t consider either one to be very good news organizations.

    That’s why I belong to MPR!

    Restricting access is a bad precedent. A particularly manipulative White House could further restrict access to include only very friendly news organizations. The last thing we want is reporters afraid to ask tough questions for fear of getting on the naughty list.

  • David W.

    When Fox News is busy actually ginning up Teabagger protests it’s pretty darn clear they’ve crossed the line from being a news organization to being a partisan grist mill.