It took less than 90 seconds of airtime, but Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Ricks did real damage to Fox News yesterday when he stated clearly and unequivocally that the channel operates "as a wing of the Republican Party," and that Fox had spent weeks politicizing and hyping the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
By quickly ushering the national security expert off the air and then having a staffer castigate him for being "rude," Fox proved it's not interested in having open debate. (Isn't it "rude" to cut an interview short because you don't like what the invited guest is saying?) The episode, and Fox's nervous, angry reaction, illustrated how crucial it is for the channel to try to maintain the facade that it's somehow a newsgathering organization.
But it's not. More and more people like Tom Ricks are comfortable saying so, and that signals a media sea change since President Obama first took office.
As I mentioned on Current TV last night, Rick's necessary truth telling confirmed why Fox so often relies on paid contributors to comment on the news, and specifically about the phony White House "cover up" Fox has manufactured with regards to Benghazi. With in-house contributors, virtually everyone is on the same page so there's very little need for debate. (Some disagreements do slip through.) And that way wild Benghazi claims are free to flower.
For some reason though, Fox ventured off-campus and booked Ricks to fill one of the endless litany of Benghazi segments, most of which revolve around fantastic claims about a vast, Watergate-like conspiracy.
What's telling is that Ricks' claim about Fox operating as a wing of the Republican Party barely caused a media stir. While the comments have been widely covered, no one in the press is leaping to defend the channel or criticize Ricks. Even conservative bloggers and pundits haven't really bothered to push back on Rick's central claim that the top-rated cable "news" channel works in tandem with a political party.
Among the few conservative outlets to come to Fox's defense on Monday was Newbusters. It faulted Ricks for not admiring the channel for "doggedly" pursuing the Benghazi story. Newsbusters though, didn't bother arguing Fox doesn't operate as a wing of the GOP.
Meaning, producers at Fox News might have freaked out when Ricks tied them to the GOP, but outside of Fox studios that's considered common knowledge.
That represents a major change in just the last three years. Back in 2009 when the White House pushed back against Fox News and correctly suggested it's not a "legitimate" news organization, but was instead acting as an "arm of the Republican Party," the channel was vigorously defended by journalists who scolded the administration for daring to critique Fox News and its openly partisan operation:
Today, that defense has mostly melted away. In the wake of Fox's unvarnished Mitt Romney cheerleading and its mindless attacks on the president during the campaign, it is no longer controversial for journalists to state publicly that Fox News isn't an independent or serious news organization.
What Ricks said on television Monday likely reflects what lots of journalists now concede to be the truth. Ricks just had the guts to say it on Fox News.