Head south from Los Angeles and you’ll be in one of the most politically and socially conservative areas in America. Part of that is the military – the aerospace industry was born here, and there are the Marines at Camp Pendleton and half the Navy in San Diego. The Navy moved the Top Gun school from a suburb of San Diego, Miramar, out to the other side of China Lake, out beyond Barstow, beyond the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, so forget that Tom Cruise movie. Miramar is just another Naval Air Station now, although a local office park has a Top Gun Street. And Lockheed’s Slunk Works, where they developed the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 stealth fighter, is no longer in Building 38 at the Burbank Airport, having been moved to the desert out beyond Palmdale, by Edwards Air Force Base. All the super-secret Keyhole-series spy satellites were built at TRW just south of the Los Angeles International Airport, and others at nearby Hughes and such places, and no one knows what is going on there now. The B-2 Stealth bomber, that flying wing thing, was built at the old former Ford plant in Downey. For years Raytheon built all of our air-to-air missiles out in Pomona (but moved to Tucson now). A whole lot of the gizmos for the Army Future Combat Systems are from Huntington Beach. The list goes on and on. Forget Hollywood and surfers. This is a flag-waving pro-military place.
And it is socially conservative, given all the “Contemporary Christian” evangelical megachurches:
The majority of these congregations are in the suburbs between Los Angeles and San Diego, an area that some who study the phenomenon call the Southern California Bible Belt.
A handful has risen to national prominence – notably Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and its celebrity pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren.
But dozens of other large, if lesser-known, churches also are growing, even as many traditional houses of worship struggle to fill their pews.
That sets a certain tone too. This is the home of the new pro-war Muscular Jesus, who lets us know just what cannot ever be tolerated – mostly gays and women who think they have the right to choose an abortion, Muslims, and Democrats who want to tax successful folks to support the lazy parasites who actually need some tough love, so they learn personal responsibility. You know the deal – Jesus was not a wimp and all that. And of course He rather likes soft-rock music and lots of hand-waving. In short, George Bush was the one guy who got Him right.
Yes, there are liberals in Hollywood. The place is full of them. But they are surrounded by a sea of people who think the Hollywood folks are fools, at best, or pure evil, or traitors who hate America. Southern California is not what you’ve been told it is. Hollywood and Venice Beach are the exception, not the rule.
So it was not surprising that on Saturday, October 10, the family gathering just north of San Diego was what it was – lots of Obama bashing, and hoping all Democrats would get brain cancer, like Teddy Kennedy (lots of laughs at that), and how we didn’t sign up to have the country run by lazy black folk who had had everything handed to them and know nothing of real life – and how Timothy McVeigh had the right idea about the federal government and was a real American hero. And someone was running on about how there would be no doctors and hospitals left in America, as he didn’t know one doctor, anywhere, who accepts Medicare patients, and that’s what stupid people, like Obama, seemed to want – Medicare for everyone. Then he went off about all the damned Mexicans messing up everything by flooding the emergency rooms, and wished they’d all just die. Then another noted the Rockies-Phillies playoff game had been snowed out in Denver, so global warming was obviously a hoax. No one invoked Jesus, but that would have been next, except there were steaks on the grill and all the kids needed attention. It was curious.
This was the Palin-for-President crowd, all of whom are reading Glenn Beck’s new book – who is the one who finally is saying what needs to be said to save America, who get their news from Sean Hannity, a man who hasn’t been ruined by having gone to college, where people minds are warped by those socialist professors. In short, this was the Fox News crowd. That’s who they trust, not CNN, ever, and certainly not NBC/MSNBC. They know all about the War on Christmas and Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. They are the face of Southern California. What, you thought that was Paris Hilton? Think Rupert Murdoch.
And that is interesting. Where you get your news seems to make all the difference. Time’s Michael Scherer had this piece this week about the White House’s media strategy in this news environment, on how they had come to the realization that something was amiss. Scherer reported on how different staffers came to the realization, at different times, that something was up – for Roberts Gibbs, the press secretary, it was the New York Times’ front-page piece on “outrage” over the president encouraging kids to do well in school. For Dan Pfeiffer it was “death panel” nonsense – “When you are having a debate about whether or not you want to kill people’s grandmother, the normal rules of engagement don’t apply.” The news business had changed. And for Communications Director Anita Dunn, it was the Washington Post’s two op-ed items on “czars” – we’ve never had such things before and it was awful (not mentioning Bush had a third more of such policy coordinators, and even called them czars). Something was up. The president’s team decided it was time to become more forceful. Gibbs put it this way – “The best analogy is probably baseball. The only way to get somebody to stop crowding the plate is to throw a fastball at them. They move.”
So Anita Dunn threw the first high inside fastball. She went after Fox News, specifically. She told Scherer, “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news.”
And on Sunday morning, October 11, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, she didn’t back down:
The reality of it is that Fox News often operates as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. And it’s not ideological. I mean, obviously there are many commentators who are conservative, liberal, centrist, and everybody understands that. What I think is fair to say about Fox is – and certainly the way we view it – is that it really is more of a wing of the Republican Party. …
They’re widely viewed as, you know, a part of the Republican Party – take their talking points, put them on the air, take their opposition research, put them on the air, and that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.
Steve Benen comments:
I don’t doubt these comments will cause a stir at the GOP news network, but given how obviously, painfully accurate Dunn’s observations are, I’m actually looking forward to seeing how the channel denies what is plainly true.
Would they bother to reply? Benen assumes everyone knows what’s what:
I suppose that’s part of the overall frustration with Fox News. Grown-ups living in reality should be able to simply acknowledge reality – the network is an appendage to the Republican Party. The pretense is paper thin. Reasonable people should be able to acknowledge this plain fact without it being controversial.
Dunn added, “Obviously [the president] will go on Fox because he engages with ideological opponents. He has done that before and he will do it again…. When he goes on Fox he understands he is not going on it as a news network at this point. He is going on it to debate the opposition.”
Given that Fox News has described itself as the voice of the opposition, here’s hoping Dunn’s blunt and honest assessment doesn’t become too controversial.
Yeah, dream on. See Brian Stelter in the New York Times with Fox’s Volley With Obama Intensifying:
Last month, Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, and David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, met for coffee in New York, in what Politico, which last week broke that news, labeled a “Fox summit.”
While neither party has said what was discussed, some have speculated that a truce, or at least an adjustment in tone, was at issue. (Mr. Ailes and Mr. Obama reportedly reached a temporary accord after a meeting in mid-2008.) But shots are still being fired, which animates the idea that both sides see benefits in the feud.
Yep, everyone wins, as Fox gets to sneer:
“Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality,” Michael Clemente, the channel’s senior vice president for news, said in a statement on Sunday. “Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about.”
Fox’s senior vice president for programming, Bill Shine, says of the criticism from the White House, “Every time they do it, our ratings go up.” Mr. Obama’s first year is on track to be the Fox News Channel’s highest rated.
One Fox executive said that the jabs by the White House could solidify the network’s audience base and recalled that Mr. Ailes had remarked internally: “Don’t pick a fight with people who like to fight.” The executive asked not to be named while discussing internal conversations.
And Fox is staffing up, hiring the ultra libertarian John Stossel from ABC News, for Fox Business, to join the other new hire there, Don Imus, the fellow who called the Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of nappy-headed ho’s . The Fox business channel is working on getting the immigrant bashing and Birther who thinks Obama needs to come clean about where he was really born, Lou Dobbs – “Who met for dinner with Mr. Ailes last month, according to two people with direct knowledge of the meeting.”
It works for them:
Fox’s programs have drawn record numbers of viewers this year. Through last week, Fox averaged 1.2 million viewers at any given time this year, up from one million viewers through the same time last year. Previously, the channel peaked in 2003, the year the Iraq war started, with nearly 1.1 million viewers.
Of course there are problems:
…controversial comments by the host Glenn Beck have also prompted an ad boycott. And the perception of Fox News as an opposition party has also affected its news correspondents, including Major Garrett, its chief White House correspondent, who Ms. Dunn says is a fair reporter. Mr. Garrett and other Fox correspondents have been directed by Mr. Clemente not to appear on the channel’s most opinionated programs.
The one who deals with those problems is Paul Rittenberg, who oversees ad sales for Fox, but he says Fox exists in a climate where viewers “choose cable news channels based on affinity.” His pitch to advertisers is that “people who watch Fox News believe it’s the home team.”
And the White House plays along:
“I’ve got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration,” he said in June, though he did not mention Fox by name. He added, “You’d be hard pressed if you watched the entire day to find a positive story about me on that front.”
The White House has limited administration members’ appearances on the network in recent weeks. In mid-September, when the White House booked Mr. Obama on a round robin of Sunday morning talk shows, it skipped Fox and called it an “ideological outlet,” leading the “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s prime-time show and call the administration “the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.”
Fox was the only broadcast network not to televise Obama’s healthcare reform address to the Joint Session of Congress, as they chose to air “So You Think You Cab Dance” instead. What did they expect? Of course Fox News, the cable operation, carried most of the address, save for the last several minutes, which they seemed to decide was boring.
And Michael Clemente, the channel’s senior vice president for news, says people understand what they’re doing:
Fox argues that its news hours – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays – are objective. The channel has taken pains recently to highlight its news programs, including the two hours led by Shepard Smith, its chief news anchor. And its daytime newscasts draw more viewers than CNN or MSNBC’s prime-time programs.
“The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page,” Mr. Clemente said.
The White House isn’t buying that:
They date to the month before Mr. Obama formally started his presidential campaign, when one of the network’s morning hosts falsely claimed that he had attended a Madrassa, an Islamic school. (The incident happened on what Fox calls an entertainment show, “Fox and Friends”; the mistake was corrected on the air later.)
More recently, Fox hosts have promoted tea party rallies against big government and steered attention toward a number of White House czar appointments. Mr. Beck, in particular, was credited with forcing Van Jones, a low-level White House adviser for environmental jobs, to resign last month. Mr. Beck devoted numerous segments to Mr. Jones and called him a “communist-anarchist radical.”
“If it wasn’t for Fox or talk radio, we’d be done as a republic,” Mr. Beck said in the wake of the resignation.
But Beck is a bit of a problem, a “source of considerable discomfort for Fox’s journalists,” as he makes up stuff:
In August, for instance, Mr. Beck claimed that Mr. Garrett was “never called on” at White House press briefings, but Mr. Garrett had asked a question that day.
Weeks earlier, Mr. Beck labeled Mr. Obama a racist, leading to an advertising boycott by ColorOfChange.org, an advocacy group that Mr. Jones helped found. Dozens of advertisers have distanced themselves from Mr. Beck’s show, causing headaches for Mr. Rittenberg’s advertising team, although he said Fox “hasn’t lost a dime” because the ads were moved to different hours.
But they do get to make the tensions with the White House the big story:
In August, the network’s top-rated host, Mr. O’Reilly, dispatched one of his opinion program’s producers to ask why the administration seemed “so thin-skinned” at a White House briefing. The deputy press secretary disagreed, and said that Mr. O’Reilly had interviewed Mr. Obama during his candidacy last year. The administration’s aggressive stance suggests that it does not view Fox’s audience as one that can be persuaded. During the presidential campaign, Ms. Dunn said, it booked campaign representatives on Fox to try to reach undecided voters, but by mid-October, the campaign had mostly withdrawn them from the channel’s programs.
“It was beyond diminishing returns,” she said. “It was no returns.”
Some people cannot be persuaded, and out here, and when they’re not at the local megachurch with six thousand of their friends, waving their hands in the air, they’re watching Fox News.
But we all are fed what we want to be fed. On the Sunday, October 11, edition of CNN’s ”State of the Union,” viewers could tune in to one more Sunday interview with last year’s unsuccessful presidential candidate, President John McCain.
Steve Benen runs the numbers:
For those keeping score, this will be McCain’s 14th Sunday morning appearance since President Obama’s inauguration in January. That’s 38 Sundays, for an average of a McCain appearance every 2.7 weeks.
Since the president took office, McCain has been on “Meet the Press” twice (July 12 and March 29), “Face the Nation” three times (August 30, April 26, and February 8), “This Week” three times (September 27, August 23, and May 10), and “Fox News Sunday” three times (July 2, March 8, and January 25). His appearance on “State of the Union” today will be his third visit since February (October 11, August 2, and February 15).
Not bad for a senator in the minority, who isn’t in the party leadership, who has no role in any important negotiations, and who has offered no significant pieces of legislation.
So Frank Rich’s New York Times column that morning, which highlighted McCain’s record of being consistently wrong, about most everything, was ironic:
To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty WMD evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.
What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.
Yes, the devil is in the details:
Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumbs up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.
He takes no responsibility for any of this. Asked by Katie Couric last week about our failures in Afghanistan, McCain spoke as if he were an innocent bystander: “I think the reason why we didn’t do a better job on Afghanistan is our attention – either rightly or wrongly – was on Iraq.” As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”
Along with his tribunes in Congress and the punditocracy, Wrong-Way McCain still presumes to give America its marching orders. With his Senate brethren in the Three Amigos, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, he took to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page to assert that “we have no choice” but to go all-in on Afghanistan – rightly or wrongly, presumably – just as we had in Iraq. Why? “The U.S. walked away from Afghanistan once before, following the Soviet collapse,” they wrote. “The result was 9/11. We must not make that mistake again.”
This shameless argument assumes – perhaps correctly – that no one in this country remembers anything.
Hey, Frank, welcome to Southern California, where you really shouldn’t say something like this:
Let’s be clear: Those who demanded that America divert its troops and treasure from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 – when there was no Qaeda presence in Iraq – bear responsibility for the chaos in Afghanistan that ensued. Now they have the nerve to imperiously and tardily demand that America increase its 68,000-strong presence in Afghanistan to clean up their mess.
Frank Rich doesn’t get it, but Matthew Yglesias does:
The key to understanding McCain’s strategic “thought” is that he loves war. Whichever war the United States of America seems mostly likely to start on any given day is the war he wants to start. Whichever war the United States of America seems mostly likely to escalate on any given day is the war he wants to escalate. The entire rest of his erstwhile worldview will just revolve around that. In the mid-nineties, he wanted to start a war against North Korea. In 1999, he wanted a land invasion of Serbia. But in 2002, he viewed North Korea’s nuclear program as no big deal (and certainly wasn’t mentioning the need to invade Serbia) because that might distract from the goal of invading Iraq. In 2006, he downplayed problems in Afghanistan to further his goal of sending more troops to Iraq. But now Afghanistan’s in the spotlight so we need to send troops there. But just last summer, he thought we needed to intervene in the war between Russia and Georgia.
Yglesias adds this:
It’s a consistent point of view in the sense that no matter the question, McCain’s answer is always “more war” – but it doesn’t reflect any kind of coherent theory about national priorities or strategic issues. You never see people from the American Friends Service Committee brought on TV to talk about Afghanistan policy. But pacifists have a much stronger case to make on behalf of their approach than does the “all war all the time” crowd that continues to be treated by the media as possessed of vast credibility on these matters.
But credibility may depend on geography. That McCain is far and away the most popular guest on the political talk shows, in spite of being wrong all the time, about everything, and having lost the election by a wide margin, plays well out here in Southern California, and in many places. There are cultural nexuses, informed by local history and employment patterns, and self-selection where the like find the like. And then geography becomes credibility.