President Obama's post-election interview with Rolling Stone includes several smart observations about media fragmentation, but the outgoing commander in chief conveniently forgets one thing: the role he and his party have played in exacerbating the problem.
“The biggest challenge that I think we have right now in terms of this divide is that the country receives information from completely different sources,” Obama said. “People are no longer talking to each other; they're just occupying their different spheres.”
Very true. People gravitate to news sources that reinforce, rather than challenge, their existing world views. Obama also pointed out — accurately — that social networks can insulate users from contrasting views and sometimes present sketchy journalism on a par with legitimate reporting.
Then Obama said this:
Part of the challenge, though, that we do have — and this is something that I've been chewing on for a while now — is that there is a cohort of working-class white voters that voted for me in sizable numbers, but that we've had trouble getting to vote for Democrats in midterm elections. In this election, [they] turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country, but part of it is also Democrats not working at a grass-roots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments. That part of the critique of the Democratic Party is accurate.
Yes, but there is another fair critique that Obama ignored. He and other Democrats could appear on Fox News Channel much more often than they do.
Obama framed Democrats' “inability” to reach white, working-class voters in terms of what the party can control and what it can't. What it can control, Obama suggested, is grass-roots outreach; what it can't control is the content of Fox News. That's not entirely true. By granting more interviews to Fox News, Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats would ensure that their voices reach the voters supposedly so hard to reach.
There is no guarantee that Democrats would persuade these voters, of course. Nor is it certain that commentators such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson would soften their rhetoric as a result. But Obama's premise is that white, working-class voters see nonstop conservative propaganda on Fox News and that there is nothing Democrats can do about it. Yet Democrats have access to the Fox News platform, too.
“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace invited Obama onto his show week after week until the president finally agreed to a sit-down in April, his first appearance on the nation's top-rated cable news channel in more than two years. If Obama feels that his perspective, and that of his party, is not conveyed on Fox News, he is partly to blame because he is seldom there to convey it.
Instead, Obama often does the very thing for which he criticizes news consumers: He occupies his own sphere. The interview with Rolling Stone is a perfect example. Here is what interviewer Jann S. Wenner, wrote about the magazine's coverage:
Rolling Stone has had a wonderful relationship with Obama over the years. I first met him at the beginning of his 2008 campaign, when he came up to my office for dinner. We backed him when he was up and when he was down. He viewed Rolling Stone readers as part of his base. A year ago, we went to Alaska with him and toured the melting glaciers. With extraordinary pride, we watched him ride the wave of history.
So Obama turned to Rolling Stone, whose readers are part of his base, to talk about how Democrats have a hard time reaching white, working-class voters who watch Fox News.
It makes zero sense.