Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.
(CNN) -- I never realized that the conservative media were so eye-poppingly powerful.
So mighty, in fact, that liberal politicians can't seem to stop talking about how they are running roughshod over the country.
My response: Can we please stop the whining?
The latest to rant about the right is Al Gore. The former vice president told Charlie Rose that President Barack Obama had been cautious, and when the CBS anchor asked whether there was "a very hostile environment for progressive ideas," Gore had his culprit ready:
"Fox News and right-wing talk radio. In Tennessee there's an old saying if you see a turtle on a fence post you can be pretty sure it didn't get there by itself. And the fact that we have 24/7 propaganda masquerading as news, it does have an impact."
OK, Gore doesn't like Fox. So he started what he hoped would be a liberal counterweight in Current TV, spent millions on such stars as Keith Olbermann, and ... the channel flopped. It was such a failure that he just sold it to Al Jazeera for an estimated personal take of $100 million.
Leave aside the obvious contradiction of a climate change crusader selling to a network largely financed by the petrodollar kingdom of Qatar. Whatever you think of Fox, Rupert Murdoch's network has been a financial success and Current TV was anything but. Isn't that the free market at work?
Obama often invokes the conservative media, most recently in an interview with The New Republic. Asked about working with Republicans in his second term, the president said: "One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you'll see more of them doing it."
Now it's true that Fox or Limbaugh can boost or batter any lawmaker, and that they can help drive a controversy into the broader mainstream media. But we're talking here about the president of the United States. He has an army, a navy and a bunch of nuclear weapons, not to mention an ability to command the airwaves at a moment's notice. And he's complaining about a cable channel and a radio talk-show host?
Limbaugh later offered this response: "If Fox News and I are the only thing keeping the Republicans from caving to Barack Obama on every issue, I'm not paid enough."
I have been through this before. It was on my "Reliable Sources" program, in the fall of 2009, that the White House declared war on Fox News. Anita Dunn, then the White House communications director, called Fox "the communications arm of the Republican Party" and said, "It is not really a news network anymore."
The resulting furor gave Fox months of fodder and was widely judged a tactical misstep that if anything elevated the network's role.
There are times when many Fox programs, including in the nonopinion hours, appear to be on a jihad against the administration. And these days, MSNBC can be counted on to defend the Democrats almost around the clock.
But let's face it: These are cable channels with relatively modest audiences, and their impact is sometimes exaggerated inside the Beltway echo chamber. After all, Obama handily won re-election despite the best efforts of Sean Hannity and Limbaugh.
What liberals sometimes forget is that the conservative media took root because many Americans felt the fourth estate was too left-wing. ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post all strive for fairness, in my view, but there is little question that they have a social and cultural outlook that leans to the left. Collectively, they have far more weight than Fox, talk radio and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
Right-wing pundits make a convenient foil, but at times Obama seems to magnify their importance. After all, he's got the biggest bully pulpit of all.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.