The lucrative business of Obama-bashing

By Bernd Debusmann
October 22, 2009

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Four days before Barack Obama was sworn into office, a prominent radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, told his conservative listeners that a major American publication had asked him to write 400 words on his hopes for the Obama presidency.

“I…don’t need 400 words,” he said, “I need four: I hope he fails.”

The remark set the tone for a steady stream of unbridled and often bizarre criticism from Limbaugh and like-minded radio and TV commentators, several of them working for Fox News, the network owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Obama responded four days after his inauguration, telling a group of Republican congressmen they needed to break away from a mindset of confrontation.

“You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”

What followed should have helped the new administration to reflect on the wisdom of singling out a media critic. But it didn’t. Limbaugh promptly portrayed himself as a man of such pivotal importance that the president of the world’s only superpower needed to pay personal attention to his tartly-worded opinion.

The controversy over his ill wishes for the president caused, as he put, his ratings to go “through the roof,” a reassuring development for a man who makes $38 million a year under an eight-year contract that runs through 2016. The score of that early skirmish: Limbaugh 1, Obama 0.

The White House is now engaged (as in war, not diplomacy) with an even bigger target, Fox News, to the evident delight of Murdoch. “There were some strong remarks coming out of the White House about one or two of the commentators on Fox News,” he told the annual shareholders’ meeting  of News Corp, the media conglomerate that includes Fox. “And all I can tell you is that it has tremendously increased their ratings.”

His cheerful observation came a few days after the administration switched from occasional counter-attacks to full-scale offensive. Anita Dunn, the White House Communications director, fired the first rocket in mid-October by saying Fox News was not a legitimate news organisation but operated as a research and communications arm of the Republican Party.

The president himself stayed out of the fray this time but two of his closest aides, Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel followed up with similar comments on television news shows. Axelrod went as far as to urge other news organisations not to treat Fox News as a legitimate news outfit. Fox denies its news coverage is slanted and says critics fail to understand the difference between reporters and commentators.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results but it is probably a safe bet that the controversy will be good for the Fox bottom line – and that the commentators with the most provocative attacks on Obama will benefit most, a pattern reflected by the network’s third quarter results.

They showed Fox News as the dominant cable news organisation. It drew an average 2.25 million prime time viewers (a 2 percent increase over the previous year) – more than twice the combined number of its nearest competitors, CNN and MSNBC, both of which suffered considerable audience declines.

The shows by Fox’s top conservative commentators all showed steep increases, but none more than Glenn Beck (up almost 90 percent), who said of Obama on a Fox show in July: “This president has exposed himself as a guy, over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people and white culture.”

Commentators aiming for shock value are not in the business of context, such as pointing out, for example, that Obama’s mother was white and that he had close and cordial relations with his white grandparents. Obama was visibly shaken when his white grandmother, Madelyn Dunham died, a day before he was elected president.

Beck’s “hatred for white people” remark prompted several advertisers to abandon his show but that didn’t hurt the bottom line. A Fox spokeswoman said at the time that offended advertisers had shifted to other Fox programmes so there was no revenue lost.

Which raises the question why Fox News, which effectively functions as the voice of the opposition, has been more of a commercial success than its competitors which feature liberal, pro-Obama commentators and give a platform to people who want the president to succeed?

After all, he won the elections with the votes of Americans who bought into his reform agenda. And according to a Washington Post/ABC poll to mark his ninth month into the presidency, his job approval rating stands at 57 percent and only 20 percent of the country now consider themselves Republican, the lowest percentage in 26 years.

Even on the most hotly disputed aspect of Obama’s health care plan, the public option seen as socialism by conservative commentators, a majority of  Americans are coming out in support of the president, according to that poll.

So why is the White House acting as if right-wing critics pose a mortal danger? Thin-skinned sensitivity to criticism? John Batchelor, a conservative radio show host, has a different suggestion: ignorance.

“The White House war on Fox,” he wrote on the website The Daily Beast, “shows its ignorance of the network’s true purpose: show business. And Team Obama is giving Murdoch just what he wants.”


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

When will we learn. First, the average viewer of FOX (working class republican) is must likely the most hurt by the station’s misinformation by the continuance of the status quo. Particularly, families with members in the military, manufacturing, and/or any of the trades. Next, Democrats that believe they know what is right for everyone are most likely to be disconnected from reality- a reality that cannot be gained by conversation or research, but rather must be gained from experience. This applies to all, regardless of race, that are socially disadvantaged. Assuredly, a the two part system is a failure. I hope one that will eventually be undone. In the interim, real political reform must be made (e.g. only public funds for elections, real consequences for misdeeds, etc.).

Posted by Matt T | Report as abusive

I find it ludicrous that anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh and possibly Fox News would take them at there word? Most know that it’s show business…but my guess is that Obama wants them out in the open for people to see for who they are. Showmen and women. The sad thing is that the American culture has gotten to this point. That someone like Limbaugh…who probably isn’t that way in real life…does have so much voice for the republican party. He does it for ratings. No truth. But ignorant people believe what they hear because he’s on the radio. He must be important! NOT. On the flip side, I think it best to take a wait and see attitude toward this administration before making any kind of praise or “Obama bashing”! It’s just too early.
And the only reason some are opposed to health care reform is because it will reflect in their pocket book! They one’s who are making a killing don’t want it to change.

Posted by John F | Report as abusive

As a youngster many years ago, we had a saying, “Consider the source.” As you have suggested Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are sources. And, I think you believe negative forces.

You also are a source. What are we to believe about you? Are you negative, positive, neutral?

In basketball, one moment you’re on offense, then defense, then offence….. It’s fluid.

It’s like your kraft: positive, negative: Are you being negative? Are you being positive? Are you right?

Of course, all of this is about opinion. It’s your opinion, my opinion, and Rush Limbaugh’s opinion. Only opinion.

When a “source” speaks, I find that I learn more about the “source” than the subject matter.

God Bless America and free speech

Posted by Bill in SoCal | Report as abusive

A simple standard that the White House might adopt is only to acknowledge as news organizations those “entities” that actually have take the time and exercise the responsibility to issue “retractions” of erroneous news stories. If that simple standard were applied– having the responsibility to publicly correct stories where the facts were shown to be “inaccurate”–ahem–we could fix a lot of this nonsense.

Posted by JWFITZ | Report as abusive

There’s basic respect and there is earned respect.

I believe most people, including Glenn Beck, respect the office of the President of the United States. Unfortunately, I believe our President lacks what is needed to be respected as The Leader of the Free World. He demonstrates that daily on the new shows. He comes of as our Huckster –in Chief. And the rest of the world laughs at us as much as they did with Bubya.

Maybe the President should give up his teleprompting ways and just get to work bringing parties together to resolve our countries woes. Instead, he and his staff choose to act like Chicago thugs and wield their corruption on the US taxpayers.

People need e reason to trust our government. Team Nobama’s current behavior will divide the country further and deepen the People’s distrust of all in power today.

And to correct Mr. Debusman, Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Obama’s plans and policies to fail. But leave it to the press to get everything wrong when it suits their purpose.

John Q. Taxpayer.

Posted by John Q Public | Report as abusive

When Bush was in the white house, he was bashed/maligned relentlessly by the mostly liberal press, and now the Czar Obama cries like a baby because one channel doesn’t worship him like all the others?

Nonsense, the liberals can dish it, but they can’t take it!

I don’t even watch ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN anymore. If they want to worship the wannabe socialist tyrant Obama that is their business, but it doesn’t mean I have to watch.

I vote with my money, do you hear that Johnson and Johnson and Proctor and Gamble.

Not everyone in America worships comrade Obama!

People have been murdered because of the rhetoric on fox news. Please realize that a lot of Americans think that professional wrestling is real. They will violently defend their belief in what is not even real. Fox realizes this and capitalizes on this ignorance. They won’t be happy until their rabble-rousing results in more deaths. Mark my words.

Posted by Marius | Report as abusive

Well fox commentators have as much free speech as anyone else and as the old saying goes “While I may not agree with what you have to say, I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. Why have so many people forgotten that free speech is supposed to be free?

I can certainly see why people are opposed to Obama, we have a president who campaigned on transparency, economic reform, ending the wars and restored the constitution after ‘previous’ administration had torn it to shreds. What do we see? Tens of thousands of more troops on their way to Afghanistan, expanding hostilities in Pakistan. Gitmo remains open and the coming about of prolonged detention (people being held indefinitely without charges or due process of law). The banking institutions which caused this economic meltdown have been given billions in tax payer money without any real reforms on them to prevent this from happening again. He’s illegally heading the UN security council.

And those are just SOME of the things he has done and just some of the promises he broken since coming into office, the list could go on far longer. It’s the same administration as the last, the same inside players that have made up previous administrations. Both the democrats and the republicans are the same party and people are well justified in saying “Hey Obama, I hope you fail”, because if he wins wall street wins, and when wall street wins the majority of people loose.

Fall of the Republic, Alex Jones

Posted by Orgizmo | Report as abusive

Race race race. That is what it boils down to. There is dislike of administration and ideas that the president has and then there is dislike for the person which has nothing to do with policy. In this case I hate to say this but it comes down to a race issue. The fact that they do not talk about his upbringing which was mainly around his white mother and grandparents is ridiculous.
What even stinks more is that those who have this racial undertone are by far the minorities but seem to be winning in the war of words. If the president was white…could someone say “I hope he fails” and get away with it? Isn’t that non patriotic? Or are the Bush days of you are either with us or against us gone? All this slanderous non respectful talk about the president will just brew hate amongst some people and probably result in something that will change our country for ever. Heed the warning my people.

Posted by Matope | Report as abusive

I prefer to look at it another way Cindy. Who would you rather be, a football jock, or a weirdo who takes art classes all day long. I think we know who the weirdos are, liberals were too busy writing in their diaries to play any sports.

Posted by PE GUY | Report as abusive

Yes it it would be nice if Rush,Sean and Glen would show respect but there not, if they did (duh) no commercial success, no money and no sponsers (yes I said sponsers). There not(sponsers)going anywhere there is to much money to be made. So there you have it the same problem that put us in this mess(the need for money above anything else)as a country, the inability to put the “need for money” in it’s proper prespective. That is all out the window these commintaters have huge contracts. I am being redundant now. MONEY….MONEY…..MONEY. WE CANNOT LEARN IT IS A DARK HOLE.

Posted by Daniel Bennison | Report as abusive

Cindy, that is quite ignorant. It is a first amendment right to publicly dissent from the Government.

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.”
–Thomas Jefferson

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Posted by D from South | Report as abusive

Respect for the presidency? The Democrats have been in full attack mode as long as I can remember, at least going back to Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan “It’s the economy, stupid”. Now that they’ve returned to power they won’t tolerate the same treatment from the other side.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck are not to blame. They have just as much a right to be idiotic on radio/television as Kim Kardashian or Kanye West. If people weren’t watching this garbage every night, they would just fade away.

Americans have lost their ability to think for themselves and so they turn to whoever speaks the loudest. Stop giving these people power! Ignore them until they go away. Stop giving them press when they say something controversial. Think for yourselves – you just might like it.

Posted by JCreezy | Report as abusive

So Obama not smart enough and getting into ring only to help Fox get more money..I would imagine it helps Obama more because the higher the pitch of Limbaugh’s rant and the more irrational he sounds, lower will be public’s perception of the Limabaughs and republicans , ultimately costing more ballots to republicans ..Check mate

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

It’s interesting to me that the GOP is looking for a new message. It shows with glaring clarity that the current GOP has no voice. It would seem that they themselves never really did their jobs out of any internal sense of good.

The only commitment they’ve made is to be the “loyal opposition”. They came up with a new website with some kind of “new generation” advertising. But they themselves have nothing.

They are actually looking for IDEAS. They have no core and they want you to give them a message to tout to you so that you will believe their sincerity when they campaign for your vote.

They should not be in office if they can’t understand the simple mission of protecting the interests of the individual citizen. They don’t want to do that. So they’re asking for some other kind of mission.

Think about that next time you vote for a rep for your state.


Neither side gives the office of President proper respect. Just go back and listen to the tirades against George Bush during his term. We live in a culture where double speak and spin support the latest “personality” running the nation. The media circus should just report the facts and let Americans form their own opinions. This is of course predicated on politicians stating the facts without redifining the definition of terms and words on the fly.

Posted by Mark from Texas | Report as abusive

For the President to spend valuable time when there are such important problems to attend to like unemployment, nuclear proliferation, etc. on this is sad. I am one of those independents that gave obama a shot in November and yes, I now regret it. Not because of what Fox says but the obvious ineptness he shows in handling his office, choosing the right people and his thin skin. Also, too bad the liberal media (MSNBC) find it hard to remember the Hitler signs with Bushs’ face on it and they didn’t find any reason then to say “we need to respect the office mroe than this”.
One correction, Limbaugh’s quote is incomplete, he said that he hopes Obama’s plans for the country and policies fail. Still, the ridiculous focus on media entertainers is silly and a waste of time – jsut get to work and realize you will never pelase anyone. You would think with the control they have in Congress and the goverment in general along with their experience in gutter politics (Chicago) they would shrug this off.

Posted by bob p | Report as abusive