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Worry about trivia overload, not Fox News

It seems that Barack Obama has gotten himself into a war with Fox News. I realize that's a little like saying that Poland got itself into a war with Germany in 1939, but there's a difference: Barack had a choice.

Yes, the Fox has criticized him mercilessly for the past year or two. Its commentators have called him a racist, hinted he is an enemy alien and, just the other day, likened him to Pol Pot, the crazed mass murderer of the Cambodian people.

This criticism by a single national news organization has gone well beyond anything that occurred even in the poisonous days of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. That duo drew an extraordinary amount of vitriol, but it was being fed by a growing disaffection with the war in Vietnam. What we're seeing now is hatred being stirred by right-wing cheerleaders who call themselves a news organization. Calling Fox a news organization confuses the false front for the real operation. You can use a flower shop as a front for a betting parlor, but that doesn't make the bookies florists.

Fox's real business is to act as the attack dog of the Republican Party's paranoid right wing. It deals in lies, rumors and innuendo that a legitimate politician can't afford to say out loud, unless he or she lives in South Carolina.

So Obama is justified in fighting back, right? Justified, yes. Smart, no.

It has been said that a politician should never get in an argument with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and, in the days when newspapers mattered, that was true. Now, not so much.

But, in a similar fashion, in these modern times it isn't wise to seek confrontation with someone with access to satellite communication. The best you can do is give them free advertising.

If people can't watch Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Tucker Carlson and the rest of that unwholesome crowd on Fox and figure out that they're a couple of bricks shy of a load when it comes to judging Obama, then there's nothing our president can say to convince them otherwise. Better just to ignore them.

The real problem isn't the Fox crowd or even the people who listen to them with credulity generally reserved for Bible study. They're only a few million strong. The real problem is the tens of millions who don't watch Fox, PBS or CBS, or any other show with even a pretension of seriousness. Neither do they read newspapers or magazines that don't feature up-to-the-minute reports on disintegrating celebrity marriages.

Politics? World affairs? They just don't give a damn. They view the world through a haze of popular culture: "reality" shows, game shows and sporting events. Games and more games. They're distracted by the constant presence of trivia which they pipe in through computers, iPhones, Twitter and Facebook. They call it communication but really, it's the opposite. All that noise, which is amplified in modern restaurants, bars and clubs, makes communication impossible. They're not stupid necessarily, but if they were, it wouldn't make much difference in their lives. They know nothing of the past and care little about the future.

A week or so ago Al Franken, the comedian turned senator (a refreshing reversal of roles), offered an amendment that would have prohibited companies with government contracts from denying their employees the constitutional right to sue should they be abused as in, say, being locked in a cargo container and gang-raped by fellow workers for 24 hours. Just such a thing happened in 2005 to a female employee of KBR, a global engineering, construction, and services company with many Pentagon contracts in Iraq. When she tried to sue, she was told her employment contract prohibited such action. Franken's amendment would void that kind of prohibition. It passed the Senate. By a 68-30 vote. Republicans cast all 30 votes against it. And hardly anyone noticed or cared.

That's what we should be worrying about.

Minuteman Media and retired Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor Mich.