Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Truth to Power

Have you ever had a thought in your mind, but had a difficult time expressing it? Sometimes, if you're lucky, someone else will find the right words. James Taranto, the longtime house blogger/pundit at Opinion Journal, has done that for me today. Let's set this up. Taranto notes this exchange between Obama consigliere (or is that consigliera?) Valerie Jarrett and CNN reporter Campbell Brown:

BROWN: Officials have been very public about their feelings about FOX News and what they believe FOX News is and represents. And they made a point of coming out and saying it.

JARRETT: What we're saying is, is that we want the public to understand what's going on. When we saw the kind of distortions this summer, particularly directed at seniors, over health care reform, it was really outrageous. And I think what the president said in his message before Congress is, we're going to speak directly to the American people and make sure that they understand the truth. And so, certainly, if we see somebody distorting the truth, we're going to call them on the carpet for that. But we don't want to take our focus away from the core issues that are so important to the American people. Now, when there's all that chatter and distortion and false information, we have to disseminate -- we have to distinguish between truth and fiction.

BROWN: So do you think FOX News is biased?

JARRETT: Well, of course they're biased. Of course they are.

BROWN: OK. Then do you also think that MSNBC is biased?

JARRETT: Well, you know what? This is the thing. I don't want to -- actually, I don't want to just generalize all FOX is biased or that another station is biased. I think what we want to do is look at it on a case-by-case basis. And when we see a pattern of distortion, we're going to be honest about that pattern of distortion.

BROWN: But you only see that at FOX News? That's all that -- you have spoken out about FOX News.

JARRETT: That's actually not true.I think that what the administration has said very clearly is that we're going to speak truth to power. When we saw all of the distortions in the course of the summer, when people were coming down to town hall meetings and putting up signs that were scaring seniors to death, when we have seen commercials go up on television that are distorting the truth, we're actually calling everybody out. So, this isn't something that's simply directed at FOX. We really just want the American people to have a clear understanding. There's so much at stake right now. We really don't have a lot of time for nonsense and distortions.

Emphasis mine. Gee, isn't this a target-rich environment? Let's consider what Jarrett is asserting here. She says Fox News is biased. But when the CNN(!) anchor Brown challenges her, she says she doesn't want to generalize about who is biased and who isn't biased, even though she just did it a minute before. And then Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the most powerful man on the planet, says that she needs to speak "truth to power." Think about that for a minute before we turn it over to the maestro. Take it away, Mr. Taranto:

Good for Campbell Brown for sticking up for a competitor (albeit at the expense of a lesser competitor). And it's pretty funny how Jarrett, after smugly asserting, "Of course they're biased," did not make a pretense of standing by her position when Brown asked a question she would have been prepared for if she had spent any time thinking this through.

Even more risible, though, is the claim that the administration "is going to speak truth to power." Hello, Valerie? Your boss is the president of the United States! No one is more powerful. As we suggested Friday, it really seems as if Obama and his men do not understand what it means to be president. Because their power is constrained--thank you, Founding Fathers!--they labor under the delusion that they are powerless.

This is exactly right. It is risible. Jarrett and her boss have substantially more power than any single news network. Fox News cannot control the agenda of this nation; it can only report on it and comment on it. And if the commenters at Fox News are persuasive enough, they might be able to move public opinion some, but they can only seek to influence. Obama can do much more, any time he sees fit. I don't know what Team Obama expected, but separation of powers has always been baked into the design of this nation. Presidents don't necessarily get their way. Nine different men have served as president in my lifetime and every one of them has received a comeuppance at one point or another. And every one of them has deserved it.

But there's another point to be made, and Taranto makes it well:

Yet while this is all hilarious, it is also scary when you think it through. Great power entails great responsibility. There is little to suggest that Obama and his aides appreciate their responsibility, and much, including their incessant complaining that the previous president did a lousy job, to suggest an attitude of total irresponsibility.

The job of those in power is not to "speak truth to power," though it would be nice if they spoke the truth once in a while. It is to exercise power responsibly. The effort to bully Fox News Channel would be an abuse of power were it not so pathetically inept.

Here's the thing, folks. We heard it loud and clear when Obama and his team rode into Washington: the adults are in charge now. It's long since time for these guys to start acting like adults. And whining about your predecessor after nine months is not how adults act.


W.B. Picklesworth said...

It's got to be hard though. Obama got elected on false pretenses. He played to the middle and the media didn't call him on his liberal past and associations. Now he's trying to push this country hard left and he still can't afford to be honest about that. And so he and his surrogates lash out, obfuscate, ooze disingenuousness, pass the buck, misdirect, and flat out lie.

Supporters are being presented a choice. Do they buy the bs, in which case they whine about Fox, attack Limbaugh, and feign moral outrage over health care? Or do hold onto a shred of dignity and admit that this administration has been a joke so far? No shame in the second, because Obama still has plenty of time to govern like an adult if he becomes convinced that his own side won't abide the crap he's shoveling.

Gino said...

its in their genetic code.
arent you seeing a pattern here? all leftists, from castro to mao to ortega, are always the 'revolutionaries' ('speaking truth to power' rings a bell) regardless of how much power they have, or how long they been the power themselves.

its the language of collectivism. they know no other way, or language to speak.

my name is Amanda said...

The way I read it, Jarrett refused to allow Brown to de-rail her point. It's NOT about "bias" - it's about deliberate obfuscation.

Thanks for that phrasing, BTW, WBP. It is Fox News that has continued to "lash out, obfuscate, ooze disingenuousness, pass the buck, misdirect, and flat out lie." They feed an atmosphere of hate and hysteria which is actually detrimental to the US citizens, not to mention the president himself.

The administration is calling them out on their histrionic bull----, and it's about time.

Mr. D said...

It is Fox News that has continued to "lash out, obfuscate, ooze disingenuousness, pass the buck, misdirect, and flat out lie." They feed an atmosphere of hate and hysteria which is actually detrimental to the US citizens, not to mention the president himself.

Man, those Fox News folks are bastards, Amanda! Wow, we'd better shut them up or shut them down, huh?

Take a look at what you wrote. You're basically accusing Fox News of sedition. Now, consider this. There will come a time, perhaps as soon as 4 years from now, perhaps later, when a future president will govern, a president who stands for everything you despise. Will you be cool with it if that future president mounts a sustained attack against his (or her, hint hint) media critics? Or would you want to ensure that voices of opposition have the chance to be heard?

Obama's got the power now, Amanda. Fox is simply doing what you'll want someone to do to a less congenial potential successor.

Anonymous said...

Amanda, the end clearly justifies the means in your little world. Don't feel bad, you are merely rattling off the template that you have been handed.

I just have one question, where and when did they serve up the Kool Aid.

Pickesworth is absolutely right. Obama ran on lies and is trying to shove his agenda down our throat before the public realizes what that agenda is. It's difficult to do this in an honest manner.

my name is Amanda said...

Mr D, yes, that is exactly what I am accusing the network of attempting to do.

(Also, everytime you write about some supposedly horrid act perpetrated by the administration, my gut response is "my what bastards!" The exact same feeling you conveyed. I am only noting that now because I think it's sort of funny to read someone write my thoughts to me from the opposite viewpoint.)

Any network that uses the tactics that FN uses deserves the criticism they are receiving, ergo - whatever hypothetical situation you are calling out for the future. But what about the post at hand? Jarrett isn't talking about bias, which negates any point Taranto was trying to make about her purported hypocritical statement.

Anonymous - I understand how tempting it is to accuse anyone who disagrees with you as being a follower working from a template. Believe me, I've been there, ESPECIALLY in regard to FN. I think conservatives just use that reliable source of outrage to fuel their mistrust - going somewhere for an "honest and balanced" account of all the facts isn't the motivation.

But it doesn't matter if I think they're following, or if you think I'm following, Anonymous. You're going to have to accept the fact that whether anybody's ideas are originally their own, they're still going to fight for them.

Mr. D said...


I don't even know where to begin with what you've written.

First, I don't think Obama is a bastard, in the sense of the word meaning a contemptible or even evil person. I think he's a deeply narcissistic fool, but I don't have evidence that he's evil. Some people on my side of the aisle have come to that conclusion, but I'm not one of them.

I think that some of the people around Obama are deeply cynical, but I honestly don't think any of them are evil. Sometimes, when I read comments like the one you just posted, I wonder if you actually think the "bastards" at Fox are actually evil. And that sort of thing worries me.

What I believe is that evil can flow from people who lose sight of the larger picture, when their righteousness gets out of control. And I think there's a genuine problem with that among Obama's supporters, because there are too many True Believers among their ranks. And True Believers of any ilk are problematic.

I don't know that you personally are at that point; I would hope that you aren't. But when you, and a lot of other people on your side of the aisle, are essentially suggesting that opposing voices ought to be shut down, which is what you are suggesting, we're in a dangerous place. And Valerie Jarrett, one of the deeply cynical people in Obama's circle, is playing a dangerous game.

I'd suggest that you think hard about whether or not Fox News is such an impediment to your desires that the government ought to take steps to muzzle it. Because the government that can muzzle Fox News can muzzle you. And when my side of the aisle returns to power, and it will, we'll need you to challenge us, just as Fox News challenges the current administration.

W.B. Picklesworth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
W.B. Picklesworth said...

Catharsis. That is what this is about. For any of us who follow politics, it is a great feeling when a politician says what we believe. It's even better when he/she really stands up for something when other folks have been weanies.

I'll admit it, if Bush had criticized the New York Times as being a left-wing propaganda rag worthy for the birdcage, I would have loved it! "Finally, a politician willing to stand up and say what I think."

Thing is, Bush didn't do it. He didn't whine about the press. He went about doing his job, for better or worse. It's also telling that he didn't whine about his predecessor. He pursued his objectives.

Even if Obama is 100% right about Fox News, even if Bush was a disaster, he still has to quit talking about those things and he has to do his job. It may not be cathartic, but it's the mature thing to do.

Mr. D said...


I agree, catharsis is a big part of it. But what I don't like is anyone attempting to silence anyone else. And when the heavy hand of government comes down on speakers, it's problematic.

The Saul Alinsky "get in their face" stuff is good and necessary when you are out of power. Valerie Jarrett is in power.

And your point about the President is spot-on. He needs to get back to work. There's a very long list of things he should be doing right now. Feuding with Fox News is not one of those things.

Gino said...

before complaining about FN's bias, he should first point out a mistruth.

all media is biased. they show bias just in what they choose to report, regardless of how even handed/fair and balanced the reporting is.

after all, the real issue is what is reported by FN. this is what frosts the O-man.
any politician on the make will scream foul at any story, no matter how fairly reported, that shows him in a bad light.

and for FN: they are the most balanced on their reporting than any other news service i've ever seen.
but they do tend to choose stories that favor the right, just like the rest of the media chooses stories pointed to the other side, and always have.

my name is Amanda said...

Please don't think that this hasn't given me a lot of thoughts about the media, capitalism, and censorship. It has. I used to think Bill O'Reilly was upsetting, but now I could take BOR ten times a day over a couple seconds of Glenn Beck, who makes me feel blindingly angry.

I don't think the government should shut down anyone who has an opposing viewpoint. I acknowledge the danger in that. I personally watch/read media with a skeptical POV. I know they're "selling" me a story - even MSNBC - esp the cable networks. (I like Keith Olbermann, but I can't watch him anymore, because he's taken to doing these voices which seriously make me feel like stabbing the TV.) And maybe it's narcissistic - or at least paternalistic - to feel this way, but I don't believe that every person views the media the same way I do, particularly when I have my own parents quoting to me things that BOR said on TV that morning. They're just too trusting. And I fear extremist right wing militia groups (none of whom are of course represented by this blog or anyone I've read on this blog) who are emboldened by anti-Obama administration rhetoric. We just didn't see as much of them until now.

WBP, I hated that Bush never commented on the criticisms of the media. It reinforced the idea that the administration was above answering to the people they were supposed to represent, or that they had to answer to anybody else in the world.

But although it doesn't break my heart to hear Obama singling our FN, I think debating what it means, and the pros/cons is a worthy endeavor.

And yes, it's obvious I hate FN - and maybe useful for those who support the network to know how passionately those who are against FN feel. But in the end I DO agree that the president ought to be attempting to accomplish the greater problems the nation is currently facing - this isn't hardly on the radar as a most important issue.

Anonymous said...

I am a little late to this conversation, but my position hasn't changed: What's the big deal? I don't see it. Both sides in this affair are gaining points with their base, and it's just good politics. Is Obama really trying to silence or shut down Fox News? A member of his administration says "let’s not pretend Fox is an actual news source.” and somehow, free speech is being squelched? Please...get serious folks.

Fox News is still allowed to have and share its opinions on anything it wants. And it IS laughably biased, as is MSNBC. And, with the exceptions of Morning Joe, and an occasional Glen Beck episode for a good laugh, I don't watch either. So why is it such a travesty when any politician has and shares an opinion about Fox News? Many right wing politicians prattle on endlessly about the MSM. How is this so different than?


Mr. D said...

Is Obama really trying to silence or shut down Fox News? A member of his administration says "let’s not pretend Fox is an actual news source.” and somehow, free speech is being squelched?

If that's what had happened, I'd agree with you. That's not what happened. The administration actively attempted to freeze Fox out of a press availability it offered to the other nets. The other nets (to their eternal credit, by the way) refused to go along with it and Team Obama had to back down.

It may turn out to be a key moment in the history of this administration. If you've noticed, the press coverage that Obama has faced has toughened up in the last week. CBS ran a piece that was significantly more skeptical of Obama's claims about the economy than anything they'd done previously. CNN has begun asking tough questions, too.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the media are beginning to realize that they have a choice -- they can play along with this administration as it bumbles along, or they can start asking some of the questions they should have been asking a long time ago.

Gino said...

dammit mark...
you made a point i had just published.

i should have read this comment thread first.i hate to say the same thing somebody else did. i hate it.

i'd rather say nothing, and have my thoughts as my own, than be one of a crowd.

Mr. D said...


I read your post. We're in the same neighborhood, but you take the argument a step further. And your post is very good, by the way. And everyone should go over to Gino's blog and see for themselves.