Recently, Brendan Greeley, a reporter and contributor to the New York Times, did a systematic review of Scott McClellan's press conferences, focusing on his reponses to specific issues, stripping out the questions, and focusing on only those aspects of what McClellan said where he repeated the same statements. This is what Greeley calls the "One Right Thing".
Basically, McClellan usually didn't respond to -- and was not responsive to -- questions from the press corps. That wasn't his job. Rather, he presented the press corps with a particular message (or very few messages) and then repeated those messages over and over, to the point that the only thing that press conferences were good for wasn't for the press to get real answers to questions, but for the press to either share the "One Right Thing" with their audience, or to lump it.
While you could potentially call this technique "clever" or "effective", the obvious implication is there. By not answering questions from the public, the White House has become unresponsive and unaccountable. This should be something of concern to Democrats and Republicans alike, as it essentially short-circuits democracy.
It gets worse, however. When the press does accuse the White House of anything, they are commonly accused of twisting the facts or making outrageous accusations that are supposedly improper, dishonorable, or unpatriotic. These comments are designed to play in to the tendency of many Americans to distrust the press in the first place. Now, I'm hardly saying that the media are perfect defenders of the American people, but the fact exists that they get to routinely ask questions in our stead. If they can't get answers from the White House, then neither can we.
Frankly, it shouldn't be the purpose of the press to always tell a balanced, uncritical version of the truth. Balance and lack of appropriate criticism and a point-by-point review of the facts is what led our country to invade another without our government supplying us with a valid rationale for war.
Rather, it's our job to be informed citizens -- to seek out and consider all the facts of a situation and make informed and just decisions. You wouldn't convict an accused rapist or an accused child molester without considering all the evidence presented at their trial and applying some standard of justice, such as that of reasonable doubt, would you? Then why should you blindly accept everything you hear on the news?
That's why Fox News is only half-right. They aren't "fair and balanced", because they don't fairly report enough of the facts for their audience to make an informed decision, and the facts they do report tend to be slanted to the right. That said, they are correct that they do report, and you should decide... ideally, once you know all the facts that they aren't telling you.
A replacement for McClellan will be named soon, but although his style will probably be somewhat different, we should all try to be aware of the new replacement's use of repetition and "message", and judge whether they are actually answering questions, or simply repeating the same talking points, ad nauseum.