Manuel Castells, author of Communication, Power, and Counter-power in the Network Society provided interesting analysis of how the concept of 'power' is relevant to the media. Castells summarizes, "the media have become the social space where power is decided...the fundamental battle being fought in society is the battle over the minds of the people". Where before, one directional communication served the interest of those transmitting the news, now horizontal communication is a force to be reckoned with - mostly by politicians. Politicians cannot control blogs, or even journalist on various TV stations. This is especially evident in some of the pitfalls the Obama White House is facing in recent weeks.
Recently, the Obama administration has ran into a few problems with a media outlet known as Fox News. Unfortunately, Obama and his aides are used to, as his own communication director acknowledges, "controlling the media". While this may work for networks such as NBC, CBS, and ABC it does not work with Fox News. Fox News admits to being very critical of the Obama presidency, but is not anymore critical than their coverage of the Bush presidency (if you remember correctly, Beck and ORiley could not say enough bad things about Bush). I think that Obama and his advisers are so used to "controlling the media" and having many media outlets (such as MSNBC and The New York Times) promote their agenda that they don't quite know how to handle an organization that refuses to play a part in that. Now, say what you want (and I know we are all very opinionated!) but there is no excuse for The New York Times not covering the Van Jones story until after he was forced to resign, when Fox News had been the instigator of spreading the story. Simply put, Obama doesn't know what to do when Fox News and their watchers have the power.
But, they seem to have figured it out. Attacking Fox for being a mouthpiece of the Republican Party is one way to go. The other is of course, refusing to allow administration officials (including Obama who in his most recent media blitz could just not grant an interview to Fox News) to ignore the organization. Now they have successfully brought the struggle into the spotlight, encouraging other media outlets to "ignore" Fox News, criticizing it as not reporting the news, but just opinions. I do not think this was the wisest decision for an administration skidding on thin ice with the American people to make. Side comments like these, from Annita Dunn and Robert Gibbs, only further play into the argument that Fox News is making about the short comings of this administration. As they keep attacking the organization, the cable news station ratings only keep rising. Perhaps, instead of wasting all this time critiquing it, they should appear on it, to set the record straight or correct where Fox has misstepped. Many of the hosts are inviting this, as Beck has installed a telephone line that only the White House has the number too - encouraging them to correct his reporting so that the American people can be more informed.
But go ahead, Obama administration. You have successfully given your power to Fox News, who in turn has given it to the American people. If you want to get the ball back in your own court, maybe you better start playing the media and power game a little bit better.