The White House’s curious war against Fox News

Posted on October 19, 2009

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Over the last week, members of the White House staff have gone out of their way to single out Fox News as an unworthy news organization. It began with White House communications chief Anita Dunn’s rant on CNN last Sunday saying Fox wasn’t a real news network and was more a wing of the Republican Party. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs continued the theme by claiming there are many stories on Fox that are not true. And the White House doubled down on the strategy yesterday when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama political advisor David Axelrod both aggressively asserting in almost identical terms that Fox isn’t a real news network.

Some intellectually dishonest enablers in the media have acted as cheerleaders for the administration’s new war on Fox News. Jacob Weisberg at Newsweek makes the ridiculous assertion that Fox News is un-American, and even  laughably claims that the bias of other networks is due to Fox News. Meryl Yourish has her way with his hackneyed attempt at partisan spin, but what’s interesting is that other members of the media are coming to Fox’s defense.

The New York Times says the President is employing a dangerous and historically losing strategy here, especially after campaigning as someone who would listen to his opponents. The Nation accuses the President and his advisors of being a bunch of thin-skinned whiners who would do better to gather their wits about them and at least attempt to elevate themselves above the fray instead of rolling gloriously in the mud. Even Helen Thomas, certainly no friend to Republicans, has told the White House to knock it off.

The aggression of the White House is undoubtedly thrilling to those who enjoy using pejoratives like “Fake News” and “Faux News” when describing the news network that just happens to have the best ratings out of the three big cable news outlets. But beyond satisfying the Fox-haters, what is to be gained by launching a rhetorical assault against a news organization that has, for the most part, been alone in its rightward tilt and subsequent mild criticism of the President’s agenda?

From a purely strategic standpoint, it would seem to me that it gives more credence to Obama’s foes than his supporters would be willing to allow. The NY Times has it right – generally, you “punch up” in politics, and an attack of this orchestrated nature displays a petty unwillingness to engage hostile news organizations or even to stomach criticism displayed on an isolated band of the news spectrum.

Indeed, the administration appears so thin-skinned that it apparently cannot bear to have any negative spin on its agenda or afford to have any news organization go off-message. Anita Dunn had a surprising disclosure in January at a Dominican conference regarding the Obama campaign’s vision of control and the press:

Very rarely did we communicate through the press anything that we didn’t absolutely control,” said Dunn.”One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters,” said Dunn, referring to Plouffe, who was Obama’s chief campaign manager.

“We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it,” Dunn said.

Couple this with the recent push by the White House toward calling out the very few members of the press who have had questions about the current agenda or who have apparently not lived up to the White House standards of “fair referees.” What emerges is a picture of an administration that after only nine months cannot deal with negative publicity of any kind and reacts in the only way it knows how – smear the messenger and silence the critics.

Whatever your feelings on Fox News, it’s not leadership for a Presidential administration to go after a major news channel simply because their slant doesn’t sit well with them. It’s not the actions of a candidate elected supposedly on bringing the country together to hunt down its critics with such gleeful vigor not even in a year into its term. And it’s not the actions of a healthy democracy with a free press when the party in power seeks to muffle its loudest critics with a bully pulpit that can apparently suffer no rivals.

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Posted in: News, Politics