WITH his recent columns sharply criticizing Fox News, the tea party movement, the rise of racism, the anti-Obama “Take Back America” crusade, and the “annexation” of the Republican Party, Frank Rich of The New York Times has become (if he wasn’t before) the poster boy for what’s wrong with the “liberal media”—at least as viewed from the far-right. It was no surprise that Fox's Bernie Goldberg, in his recent fracas with Jon Stewart, singled out the Daily Show host’s journalistic “french kissing” of Rich.
Rich returned this past Sunday with another sharp and sharply-worded column jumping off from the uproar over the new Arizona racial profiling law, concluding that this latest example of “the rage of 2010” will likely be repeated in other states, and with other issues, since the GOP is cheering it on, or at best not standing in its way.
In the column, Rich mentioned Fox only in passing (smacking Glenn Beck a bit), so I asked him how he judged Fox’s role in the latest “rage.” He replied: "Not all of Fox is automatically the same--Beck in particular is his own brand, and some of his most incendiary stuff can be on his (non-Fox) radio show. I try to be as specific as possible about who's doing what. Shepard Smith, for instance, seemed overtly skeptical about Arizona law.
"But Fox's overall role in promoting Tea Party and serving as de facto leader of fairly leaderless G.O.P. pretty self-evident. No one seriously thinks otherwise, and no one skewers this more diligently than The Daily Show.”
But what about the apparent surge of anti-Rich sentiment found at rightwing blogs? Rich: “The tone of feedback in this world is almost always red-hot -- nothing new about it and perhaps a bit mild now compared to when I wrote about the militia during the McVeigh years or about Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, which prompted Bill O'Reilly to post my picture on air and drum up ugly threats against me. Those were the days when O'Reilly was vociferously claiming that Gibson couldn't possibly be anti-Semitic. Once Gibson's Malibu fiasco revealed that the presentation of Jews in his movie was no accident, even Fox had to back away from that cause.”
For years Rich has been a strong critic of our war in Iraq and our long stay in Afghanistan—and the media coverage of both. I wondered what he thought as we passed the 7th anniversary of President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” aircraft landing this past weekend.
“What's remarkable," Rich replied, "is how much both Iraq and our other, escalating war in Afghanistan have fallen off the map of public attention as America remains riveted on domestic issues. This is true despite a lot of first-rate journalistic coverage of both wars, especially but not exclusively by papers like The Times and The Washington Post and a number of top-tier magazines. Even the Oscar enthusiasm for Hurt Locker couldn't compel movie audiences to revisit Iraq in big numbers.
“This inattentiveness cannot and will not hold indefinitely:. The outcome of Obama's Afghanistan policy may end up having as big an impact on his presidency, one way or the other, as Iraq policy did on Bush's.”
Another subject he has returned to often in recent month is the economic crisis, typified by a tough column on Goldman Sachs last week. I asked Rich what he thought of the Goldman hearings a few days ago.
“The best thing that happened at the hearings," he quipped, "was that Carl Levin said ‘shitty’ a lot, which got people's attention for the substance (when there was some) of the proceedings. But the real action remains in the murky details of the reform bill that emerges -- and in the willingness of law enforcement to look deeper into what went down on Wall Street during the bubble, and not just at Goldman.”
For those who wonder what Rich does between and beyond his weekly column: Two years ago he became a consultant on programming at HBO, “and I'm involved with several projects there -- most of them having little to do with current events,” he explains. “It's a joy to escape from the news now and then.”