MoveOn: Obama Got Outfoxed

It’s no secret that members have been very supportive of Barack Obama’s candidacy – endorsing him with a 70% vote, raising lots of small dollar donations for him, sending hundreds of thousands of personal endorsement emails to friends and family before key primaries and caucuses, and making over 1,000 30-second ads on his behalf (one of which will soon air on national TV). We’re excited about his candidacy, and we think he’ll make a great president. But Obama did himself, the Democratic Party, and the progressive movement a disservice this weekend.

It was a mistake for Obama to go on FOX’s Sunday show and treat the experience as if it was a real news interview. Democratic politicians need to understand that FOX is a Republican mouthpiece masquerading as a news outlet. When dealing with FOX, you either burn them or they will burn you.

It's well documented that FOX executives send morning memos to anchors and reporters dictating Republican talking points. In 2006, one said, “Be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents...thrilled at the prospect of a Dem controlled Congress.” Robert Greenwald's videos have shown FOX's consistent pattern of smearing Barack Obama, smearing Hillary Clinton, smearing African Americans, and denying global warming.

FOX's power lies not in its audience size – which is puny and consists mostly of unpersuadable voters. Instead, FOX's power comes from tricking politicians and real journalists into treating their “breaking stories” like real news, thereby propelling smears like the Swift Boats and Rev. Wright into the mainstream political dialogue. That's why progressives fought (successfully) last year to deprive FOX of the legitimacy that comes with hosting a Democratic presidential debate. And that's why Democratic politicians should never treat FOX like a real news outlet - including FOX's Sunday show.

Barack Obama's campaign made a promise before this weekend's appearance. They said he would "take Fox on" – inspiring hope among those who watched Bill Clinton in 2006, Chris Dodd in 2007, and progressive activist Lee Camp in 2008 delegitimize FOX on the air. But Obama didn't do that, and he suffered as a result.

Excerpts from Obama's FOX interview:

The interview began with a question about Obama's race – implying that white people won’t vote for him. Instead of “taking FOX on” and saying FOX’s questions are premised on Republican talking points, Obama simply answered. So, Wallace kept going – asking more than 10 straight race-related questions, all skewed against Obama. (One laughably began with, "I wasn’t sure whether I was even going to ask you about your former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but...") One of these rigged questions got Obama to say, "The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue" – resulting in John McCain quoting Obama hours later, hinting to right-wing allies that Rev. Wright is fair game.

FOX also asked a bunch of questions aimed at getting Obama to distance himself from Democrats and progressives. Because Obama didn't "take on" the Republican framing of these questions, Obama was cornered into saying things like, "I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea [than Democrats]" and parroting the right-wing caricature of "Chablis-drinking limousine liberals" and boasting about being "fiercely attacked" by bloggers at Daily Kos.

Enough. Democratic politicians, for your own benefit: stop legitimizing FOX.