Every so often, I’ll get a call from someone over at Fox News to appear as a talking head.
Now, before you scream out a collective “EEEEWWW! GROSS!” let me explain. I work at a smallish think tank, and as the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity. My connection to Fox was established through a good friend (and conscientious journalist) who works on Fox News Sunday. He introduced me to a handful of other bookers, all of whom have been very courteous, friendly and genuinely appreciative of my contributions.
This started just over a year ago, and I’d estimate that Fox offers me a slot as a talking head on national security issues (oh, and on pirates. Fox LOVES pirate stories) perhaps once every two weeks. Due to scheduling conflicts and the last-minute nature of many of the requests (it’s not unusual to get a 9:00 a.m. call for a 10:30 a.m. appearance), I can do only perhaps half of them. (Click here to see a clip of me talking with none other than Geraldo Rivera [best line from Geraldo, "I agree with Jim"], or here to see me drop some knowledge on an “expert” from the Heritage Foundation [whom several of my friends suggested I ask out. I demurred].)
In the beginning, I was just really happy to get on TV. Call it narcissistic, call it what you will, but I was generally under the impression that I was providing Fox’s viewers with an alternate viewpoint. I understood that “Fair and Balanced” was a joke, but I always believed that I might be able to connect with a small percentage of the ardently conservative audience and give them some honest food for thought. When the White House froze out Fox a few months ago, I thought it was a bad move to all but give up on reaching a large percentage of the news-viewing public. (The White House has since backed down from that stance.) It’s from that perspective that I’ve been engaging Fox. But over the last few times I’ve gone on, I’ve come to realize that in some circumstances, it’s a futile effort.
Just yesterday, I received a request to discuss this op-ed from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). In the article, Lieberman dings the Obama administration’s recently released National Security Strategy because it uses the term “violent extremism” to define one of America’s enemies, rather than “violent Islamic extremism.” Lieberman took the omission of one word and turned it into an entire opinion piece.
Here’s where we run into problems. I am happy to go on Fox and discuss the big issues of the day when we’re starting from a neutral position. If the topic is “Let’s discuss Obama’s national security strategy,” that’s fine. But this time, the point of departure was, “Joe Lieberman, who’s a credible voice on national security to Fox’s viewership, says Obama’s national security strategy sucks. Jim, it’s your job to explain why it doesn’t suck.”
That’s a fairly clear illustration of Fox’s m.o. Instead of having an honest debate, Fox chooses an angle on a story (i.e., Lieberman’s critique of the National Security Strategy) that establishes a frame for the discussion. Those frames, more often than not, will have the progressive on the defensive from the start. But by having a progressive on TV, Fox can claim to be “fair and balanced.”
When I objected on these grounds, my Fox booker, whom I like a lot, reiterated that going on TV still provided me the opportunity to get my viewpoint out there. I replied that the interview was framed in such a way that did not allow their audience to be persuaded – and yet my appearance would validate their claim to be fair and balanced. I closed by saying, “[I]f there are big issues framed from a neutral point of view, I love to talk about them. I just don’t want to be the punching bag on pre-determined outcome.”
So how did the slot I refused to go on turn out? Click here and see for yourself — they only had one guest, from the center-right Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Consider that my little contribution to unfair and unbalanced.