President Obama took an overt swing at Fox News in a recent speech at a Georgetown University panel, including both conservative and liberal heavy-weight intellectuals. Although the Fox criticism is getting the most traction in the news, especially on Fox News itself, the President’s speech went deeper into the issue of political polarization and class segregation.
President Obama laid out a number of policy ideas for helping the poor, but how can he convince politicians to make those plans happen?
When that question came up in the panel discussion, which included Robert Putnam, Arthur Brooks, and columnist E. J. Dionne, Obama talked about the growing challenge of apathy that comes from residential and ideological segregation, according to the Washington Post. One point in particular that might need work, according to the President, is media coverage, like that of Fox News.
President Obama’s problem with Fox News, at least the one he expressed in the discussion, is their depiction of people in poverty. By the President’s own admission, the people Fox finds to represent low-income Americans make him mad, but it’s not those people who need the airtime.
“I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative — right? — that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.”
Obama was citing the Fox News narrative as a growing challenge for policy makers trying to alleviate poverty, assuming the middle-class doesn’t want to spend money on people they see as moochers.
The President went on to explain that if America was going to better address poverty, “we’re going to have to change how the body politic thinks, which means we’re going to have to change how the media reports on these issues, and how people’s impressions of what it’s like to struggle in this economy.”
Fox News took the comments for a threat, saying it revived concerns about the federal government meddling with the news media.
Tim Graham from NewsBusters and the conservative Media Research Center said, “Had George W. Bush made the same assertion, it would have been considered tyranny.”
“The president doesn’t get to tell the media how to do its job. That’s outrageous.”
Still, the bit about Fox News was only tiny snippet of the hour-long panel discussion, and only a small part of the President’s argument, saying that people on the left too often stereotype conservatives as “cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand.”
Obama insists the truth is somewhere in the middle.
He also blamed a growing residential segregation for making the middle and upper classes more apathetic to life on the bottom rung. Barack Obama used Robert Putnam’s description of his Ohio hometown as an example, discussing how all classes of people shared common institutions: churches, schools, etc.
But, the upper classes have long since moved away, so far away they not only don’t share common goods, but they have trouble relating to the poor.
The full panel discussion can be found here (the Fox News bit comes in at about 33:30).
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