Talking to the enemy



President Obama sat for a rare interview last night on Fox News - the agitprop entertainment outlet that one unnamed White House official reportedly calls "the scene of the crime" - and the atmosphere was predictably tense, as evidenced by this exchange...

Obama: "You've got to let me finish my answers."

Fox host: "Sir, I know you don't like to filibuster, but - "

Obama: "Well, I'm trying to answer your questions, but you keep on interrupting."

It was nonetheless a worthy endeavor. Granted, Fox News is basically what Northeastern University journalism professor Alan Schroeder describes as "an entertainment network that employs the conventions of journalism to promote a right-wing philosophy." And, granted, Fox was totally in character earlier this week, when it breathlessly circulated, on at least four different shows, a whopping lie about how the New England Journal of Medicine had supposedly published a study supposedly revealing that 46 percent of primary care physicians would supposedly quit their profession if health care reform is enacted. (The stat came from an unscientific survey conducted by a medical recruitment firm; the survey appeared in a free advertiser newsletter published by the same medical society that also publishes the New England Journal of Medicine. The surveyors got their figure after emailing doctors in the recruitment firm's database. Another Fox Host brought it all up again yesterday, though finally conceding on the air that it was "not a scientific poll.")

But Obama, as part of his finish-line push for health reform passage, clearly wanted to cut a wide swath - and the reality is that Fox News commands the biggest share of cable viewers, including swing voters in GOP-leaning House districts that are represented by moderate Democrats. Trying to speak their language, it was surely no accident last night that Obama referred at least twice to the reform provision that would help struggling small businessness to pay for health insurance.

Not surprisingly, Fox host Bret Baier focused heavily on reports that the House Democrats might try to get the job done by employing a parliamentary tactic known as "deem and pass" (whereby the members can make a final decision on broad reform provision changes without voting directly on the bill itself) - although, naturally, Baier somehow managed to omit the historical truth that both parties have used this House tactic 200 times during the past 15 years, and that the Republicans alone used it 35 times during the 2005-2006 session.

Obama, at times visibly exasperated by Baier's focus on process, sought instead to focus on the struggling citizens whose health insurance premiums are getting jacked up. Baier brandished a bunch of emails from people who are upset about the parliamentary process, to which Obama essentially replied that he can trump those emails with the emails he receives from mothers who are upset about being denied coverage due to their pre-existing health woes.

Baier did nail Obama a couple times; clearly, the president wasn't up to speed on what the Fox host called "the special deals" for Montana and Connecticut in the health care legislation. Baier also asked whether the failure to pass health reform would "diminish your presidency" (thereby giving us a preview of next week's Fox theme, in the event that health reform doesn't pass) - to which Obama said, "If it doesn't pass, I'm more concerned about what it does to families out there who right now are getting crushed." His reply can be interpreted either as an attempt to evade the thrust of the question, or as candid indifference to his own political fate.

That's basically the gist of the interview. Let's not forget that, a mere five months ago, the White House was waging open warfare against Fox, and making it clear that Obama would not engage with the network. Yesterday's truce was engineered because the White House decided that, at least this time, Obama's own interests would be served by reaching out.

Frankly, he should do it more often. Fox News aside, he can even head over to CNN, where the so-called Best Political Team on Television has now hired the execrable conservative Erick Erickson, who recently referred to Obama's Nobel Prize as "an affirmative action quota." Obama always says we should talk to our enemies abroad, so perhaps he should also practice that credo at home.

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