Fox News is taking a drubbing for broadcasting a four-minute video attacking President Obama yesterday but the network's arch-rival, MSNBC, has thus far avoided criticism for an anti-Mitt Romney video it produced and broadcast in February.
Yesterday, media critics pounced on the right-leaning cable network for running an internally-produced video on Fox & Friends purporting to show "The Impact of the President's First Term." By any fair (and/or balanced) standard, the piece was a ham-handed hatchet job with the type of scary music and fast cuts resembling a Mitt Romney campaign ad. The crux of media complaints was that airing GOP ads is one thing but for a news network to produce and broadcast its own partisan pieces dangerously shifts its role from "journalism to advocacy," as Mediaite's Noah Rothman put it. By the same standard, however, one would have to argue that MSNBC is guilty of the same crime.
In late February, the left-leaning network aired a slickly-produced hit piece on Mitt Romney titled "Mitt: Better Off Mute" that aired on the nightly cable show Hardball with Chris Matthews and Sunday morning talk show The Chris Matthews Show, which typically airs on NBC affiliates and their sister stations. The video lampoons Romney's habit of gaffing whenever he opens his mouth, and plays off the theme of the Oscar-winning film The Artist in which a silent film star struggles to adapt to films with sound.
The video latches onto the idea that, by appearance, Romney looks presidential and competent but is actually a buffoonish dunce. "Much like the perfect silent picture star whose career was thwarted by the emergence of sound in cinema, Mitt Romney has stumbled when he's had to open his mouth," reads the film's YouTube description. Some might argue that the video is shorter in length (it's a little over one-minute) and far less savage with its subject, but then we're getting into gradations, which is a factor in all political advertising. For instance, the way the segment humorously displays the build-up of political hype surrounding Romney only to show him fail, resembles the satirical "Obama is cool" ads produced by GOP operative Karl Rove.
Regardless, the outcry against Fox News has already caused the network to denounce its video, with Bill Shine, executive vice president for programming, saying in a statement, "The package ... was not authorized at the senior executive level of the network." One would imagine right-wing bloggers will now call on MSNBC and NBC to similarly denounce their video but perhaps it's time to make a larger point. Does it really matter if MSNBC or Fox News produce 3-minute partisan hit pieces? What, in effect, is the difference between a slickly-produced monologue by Ed Schultz vilifying Mitt Romney and a slickly-produced video montage serving the same purpose? Is it somehow more journalistically appropriate when there's less B-roll and over-voice involved? To complain about 4-minutes of partisan excess on a 24-hour network filled with partisan excess makes little sense.