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.”


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Simple explanation:
1. Narcissistic people have a hard time accepting that not everyone loves and admires them
2. Fox is taking advantage of this fact

As Bill Ockham used to say: -”Keep it simple!”

Posted by Ockam's razor | Report as abusive

Fox new is great entertainment. I look to CBC or Reuters for real news. Fox is just fun at times- however only for a bit since the commentators are not only ignorant they have annoying whiny voices.

Still – they are fun to watch. I don’t know why someone intelligent like Obama gives them so much credit.

I guess they are concerned all the hate radio/TV will be taken seriously and create some internal terrorist groups.

If those religious right nuts watch Fox – I guess enough said. They are the next terrorist group uprising from the ignorance and hatred.

It would be great reality T.V. to have the religious right nuts here and the moslem nuts in the middle east set on an island with nothing but the cloths on their back. The first tribe to kill someone from the other tribe wins a million dollars. Wow the one on one comments with the camera would really reveal our inner beasts.

Posted by Various Animal | Report as abusive

I would have thought more out of a Reuters reporter than to just quote one liberally biased newspaper even if this is your opinion only. You lost all credibility from one reference.

Posted by Barry Smith | Report as abusive

Fox’s ratings are increasing because they are more reflective of what people are thinking than the other news station. The white house is taking them on because they see Fox as being effective as the only opposition. Obama wants control of the media as all socialists and dictators do because it furthers their agenda to have no opposition. Fortunately for America we have free speach.

Posted by Tran | Report as abusive

So Fox News is “the dominant cable news organisation.” Fox News has “more than twice the combined number of its nearest competitors, CNN and MSNBC, both of which suffered considerable audience declines.” Conservative talk radio is huge. Just look at Limbaugh’s salary. The conservative blogsphere is also huge. Those are all media outlets.
Then what is this liberal media that conservatives complain about? Do they want all opinions to be agreeable to theirs?

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

The Right Wing Conservatives are a mortal danger, not to Obama, but a mortal danger to the United States of America. Bill Cosby once said that he did not like the Archie Bunker character because he never learned anything.
Extend that to all the idiots who watch Fox News and you get my meaning. Fox News appeals to threatened and thus angry white people and I think they will do anything to keep power and Fox News feeds their frenzy. I for one do not underestimate how dangerous Fox News is. I think the FCC should pull the plug on Fox and all of “talk radio”. It has gotten completely out of hand. It is now a national security issue.

What is news? What is right? How do you or I know that what is being said on ANY network is true?

Do you know what is going on inside Rush’s head? Obama’s? How is it that we are so certain one way or another that what we hear on these networks is truth or half truths?

Step back for a moment and think about it. It is a desire of knowledge that drives us to seek what is happening in the world, but the truth is that we are so far removed from the upper echelons that we will never fully know why things are the way they are, and if what Rush or Obama (or anyone for that matter) are saying is the unfettered truth.

Be an individual, be objective, be independent, get your information from more than one source.

Posted by News? | Report as abusive

The ignorance in these comments is immense. #1 There is no Obama-Care. Obama is open to the best possible change to what we have now, which is terrible by any realistic international comaprison. #2 The White House is nowhere near shutting down Fox. Folks your President has an advanced degree in Constitutional Law, and you don’t. He believes in America, and that means real media, not Faux News. When they say it’s “not legitimate”, that’s an opinion, and it’s Free Speech. The Right Wingers are so full of fear they can’t hear anything accurately. #4 We already cover everyone, it’s a latter of how we do it. #3 John Kerry let the critics run wild, Obama will not. That’s a smart move no matter the short terms polling or radical fear from the Right, who does … let’s remember ….”want him to fail”.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

Surely our minds have forgotten the absurdity that came from the vocal minority (Republicans) at town hall meetings, yes? I agree though, FOX is an entertainment company, responding to the jokers who they somehow get to provide political “insight” merely gives them attention they don’t deserve. As much as I hear of Beck and Limbaugh in the news, I have yet to ever give them any of my time. Anyone whose followers are known as “dittoheads” has nothing to provide to me. When I want political commentary, I watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report…you know “critically aclaimed” political entertainment by people with functioning gray matter.

Posted by Justin | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann,

Fox News may actually have MORE than one purpose. Certainly, it is historical fact that many successful institutions have several purposes at the same time.

Thus, Fox News may be a show business purpose as well as a political purpose. It does not have to be one or the other.

Mr. Murdoch and his super-rich minions–Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, et al.–are directing the nation’s anger toward the government rather than to the people who run the country through the government–the super-rich. Change the government? The super-rich remain.

What is really going on in this country, as usual, is complex. Fox’s audience does not seek complexity. It seeks simplicity, which is both more entertaining (one purpose) and more effective as political propaganda (a second purpose).

Rather than announce its enemy, the administration would do better to undermine its enemy. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the administration itself also serves the interests of the super-rich. Thus, its apparent ineffectiveness is an intentional ineffectiveness, not ignorance at all.

In the UnUnited States, money pulls ALL the strings.

Posted by Rick Wrap | Report as abusive

“Obama’s job is to appeal to the Centrists, because they are the people who decide the election?????”

He’s not making it.

In my memory, the only other Democratic president to “out-socialist” Obama was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The difference is that FDR drew the ire of our “industrialites” by trying to help people, not big business.

Posted by Bob Walton | Report as abusive

Talk about sensationalism! Goebbels, Chavez?? The increase in Fox’s success is not so much the result of a few traded blows between the Administration and the Fox bobble-heads but that fact that Fox News has an opposition agenda and most people prefer slander vs. unbiased or proponent news. Look the increased success of the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow during the Bush years. Those shows galvanized their success through criticism and mockery. More amusingly though, the success of those shows continues today by making fodder out of the prattle that comes from the Right Wing New Station. So, thank-you to the Administration. By encouraging Fox News you have made more hilarious material for the liberal pundits.

if it was more profitable to ACTUALLY display an objective stance on news, i’m sure the news networks would be far more factual and overall less bias. however, this is not the case, so we are left in this sh*tstorm of rival networks. it has become so incredibly difficult for people to find a non-biased, factual and OBJECTIVE news network to watch, so people will listen to whoever says what they want to hear, not necessarily who is reporting the NEWS.

Posted by clay | Report as abusive

What happened to the lucrative business of Obama infomercials and Obama lie peddling? Supply and demand I guess. The supply of Obama infomercials and lie peddlers are so high they are through the roof but the demand for his infomercials and lies is lowering. The new demand is going to be for the truth. The truth supply is low but the demand is high.

Supply and demand.

All the other news networks road high on lying to the American people throughout the presidential campaigns, throughout Obama’s presidency all for profit in the business of sensational reporting and Obama lie peddling in order to cash in on those Obama kool aid drinkers and influencing American policy to get more money. Obama infomercials and Obama lie peddlers are numurous in selling their wares but their not supplying the people with the truth of the negative Obama side effects just the lying act that Obama wants them to show.

So the nbc, abc, cnn and msnbc corrupt networks have a lot of Obama infomercial and lie supply but the demand is dwindling as more people search for the real goings on in Washington and the reality and truth of the issues both on the good side and bad sides of implementation of failed policies.

the days of praise Obama and don’t ask questions or stand against his bad ideas are dwindling as more people seek reality, truth and take a stand for America. We need it. About time. For everyone who has just woke up and stopped thinking what Obama, Gore and Bush tell you to and are just now joining the real situation at hand, Welcome! We need your help.

Posted by CJ | Report as abusive

the obama administration is the biggest bunch of cry babies I have ever seen. wah wah fox news doesn’t like me! all of the other news organizations worship him so i guess they expect everyone to worship him. We really need an adult in the white house again. after all the abuse george bush took, he still did interviews with msnbc. He did this because he believed in his policies and wasn’t afraid to defend them. obama has no faith in his polices and is afraid to be challenged. people in this country need to wake up. vote this whining, childish, socialist administration out in 2012. and by the way the poll dicussed in this story above isn’t accurate. 33% polled were democrats compared to 20% rebublicans. that means 1 out of every 3 polled where dems and only 1 out of 5 were repubs. also look at the way they worded the question. you can’t be that biased and expect to get an accurate poll but look where its coming from. the washington post/ABC both in the pocket of the obama administration. this is scary stuff folks. its called state controlled media very much like fidel castro in cuba. maybe thats what america is turning into.

Posted by I HATE LIBERALS!!! | Report as abusive

You know when Fox and Lumbah out there spreading their trash they are trying to cover up for the biggest robbery of all mankind where the pervious admin Bush and the Gang of four bankrupted this country to line up their own pockets. If there is any justice, all the criminals who lied to enrich themselves by starting an illegal war, to jack up the price of gas at the Pump to more than four dollars per gallon, they all should stand trial on betraying this great country. I think this administration should appoint a group of independent investigators to go through the mess that we inherited and name those perpetrators and let the American people to decide what the punishments should be.

Let all they call themselves conservatives move to a location where they are happy to pay 4 dollars a gallon, they all have guns and pissed off at the entire world, and while at it just for fun let them go to wars with their own kids fighting and dieing, using real machine guns and tanks and fighter jets that they were happy to pay more taxes to support having them. I’m sure all the insurance companies will be happy to move there with them to deny them all heath insurance, and collect premiums so they can keep their bank accounts overseas stacked-up.

I urge every lawyer in this country to file a law suit against Fox Group and Lumbah to compel them to be responsible and identify their backers.

Posted by dan | Report as abusive

Well, to ignore could be an approach to this bias Faux Network.

Although, since they are feading hours of simply wrong information or bias manipulated facts to the American people, regarding Obama’s Administration, a statement telling the American viewer what they can expect from that network is worth a try.

Well, keep it simple:

1) Fox is following a extrem-right agenda.

2) Rush doesn’t care with Americans, he only cares with low taxes for the rich – like Bush provided – for is $38 million a year! ;)

3) Shame on Fox, standing with the President of the United States NO MATTER WHAT, was their modo, what happened? HIPOCRASY happened! Read your Bible Fox, see what God thinks of hipocrits!

4) Check the facts Americans!

5) Be informed, select your information sources, and stay out of issues that really don’t have matter, like if Obama is a muslin or not! Really doesn’t matter if the man can pull you guys of the crisis and give you job and a better living.



Fox News stinks. Anybody who would watch it needs their head examined.

Posted by kelliann | Report as abusive

Bernd, I am just so glad you have dethroned the dollar-bashers. Phew, nice to see a new face up there in the number 1 spot. I nearly changed to Fox.

Posted by Casper | Report as abusive

Beck tells the truth most of the time?

Beck doesn’t do truth. Just like all the far righties. They think that knowledge and the truth are uppity.

And they’ve told us so often.

Posted by Marcia C | Report as abusive