Before yesterday's Super Bowl, President Obama sat for a ten-minute interview with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly. The interview was about what you'd expect: a grab-bag of conservative grievances, discredited conspiracy theories, and attempts at gotcha questions. Why didn't you call Benghazi terrorism! Why haven't you fired Kathleen Sebelius! Why did the head of the IRS visit the White House! And my personal favorite, when O'Reilly read a letter from a viewer asking, "Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?" Ah yes, the "transform America" outrage, as though that 2008 statement must have been a coded message meaning Obama wanted to destroy America, combined with the old Why aren't you people more grateful?
The question is, though, why on earth would a Democratic president bother to grant an interview to an antagonistic conservative talk show host? The New York Times described the interview as "an unpleasant duty that was more or less unavoidable," but in truth it was nothing of the sort. A solo interview with the president is a relatively rare privilege given to only a few journalists. I don't remember George W. Bush inviting Keith Olbermann to interview him in the White House. So what gives?
It isn't just the President, either. There's an odd kind of solicitousness you often see coming from the left toward the right. Last week, someone at MSNBC tweeted, "Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family." A little too sweeping an attack? Maybe. But when Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus demanded a personal apology from MSNBC chief Phil Griffin, he not only got one, Griffin even fired the low-level staffer who wrote the tweet.
Now imagine for a moment if we change the players. A Fox News Twitter account sends out a tweet that insults the "leftwing." Debbie Wasserman Schultz expresses her outrage and demands an apology. What would Roger Ailes do? I'm not 100 percent sure, but his response would probably involve finding the most unflattering photo of Wasserman Schultz in existence to put on screen while a bunch of Fox hosts rain down ridicule on her for a couple of days. He sure as hell wouldn't apologize, because that's not how Fox rolls.
Some liberals might say, "Well, that just shows we're better than them." Maybe. But it also shows you're afraid of them. When Priebus threatened to boycott MSNBC and not allow RNC employees to appear on the network—over, let's not forget, a tweet about a cereal ad—the proper response was not to grovel, but to say, "That's his right if he wants to; whenever he's ready to come back on our network we'd be happy to have him." Feeding the faux outrage machine only convinces people to express more faux outrage.
And President Obama appearing on Fox does nobody any good either. It doesn't convince anyone of anything—I guarantee you, Fox viewers who watched still believe that there were massive conspiracies behind Benghazi and the IRS, and we still don't know the full story of Obama's treachery. It doesn't produce anything enlightening or informative. And if his goal was to show the country that he's willing to reach out to his opponents, that's a story we've heard hundreds of times before. Does demonstrating it again really accomplish anything? Why not take this opportunity to, say, do an interview with an economics journalist who could ask some interesting questions about the administration's plans for the economy? Or a health care reporter who could go into detail about the present and future of the Affordable Care Act? Or pretty much anybody other than a blowhard whose only goal is to make him look bad?
Here's the O'Reilly interview, if you're so inclined:
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