The president of the United States — a man who successfully campaigned as a post-partisan healer who abjured the partisan backbiting that he said characterized Washington’s politics — has either ordered or permitted a hyper-political PR blitz against a major news outlet, Fox News.
First, the official (taxpayer funded and supposedly apolitical) White House website started devoting a page to chronicling the network’s “lies.” Within the past week, three members of President Obama’s inner circle have appeared on “real” news programs to lob rhetorical grenades at their new nemisis, dismissing Fox as a mere vehicle for Republican propaganda. They’ve also intentionally hampered the network’s access to newsmakers, freezing out their target by denying Fox interviews with administration officials. As Karl Rove notes, Fox now sits atop this spiteful administration’s growing enemies list.
Why might this be? The administration seems to have moved on from its previous, cynical campaign to discredit Rush Limbaugh. Why bother hammering Rush from the ultimate bully pulpit when the rest of the lefty echo chamber is promulgating that meme quite nicely–reporting fabricated quotes as facts, and wondering aloud whether Limbaugh is a genuine bigot, or just plays one on the radio. (Shame on Michael Wilbon, of whom I’m usually an admirer).
Meanwhile, Fox News’ reporting has created a number of headaches for the president recently. His “green jobs” czar, Van Jones, was forced to resign after Fox revealed his communist ties, 9/11 trutherism, and other toxic alliances. Another official, “safe schools” czar Kevin Jennings, is also on the ropes. Fox correspondent Major Garrett dogged the White House with tough questions about its controversial “misinformation” snitch line and the mysterious unsoliticted political spam email scandal. These important queries each exposed inappropriate Obama policies, both of which were changed due to public pressure.
By reporting on these controversies–all deemed “distractions” of some sort by the White House — Fox committed the journalistic sin of complicating Obama’s domestic agenda, including health care reform, cap and trade, etc. Apprently, the news media’s unofficial mission statement of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” has become a quaint anachronism of a bygone era. At least when an ideologically enlightened administration is in power.
Fox’s trangressions, the Obama braintrust has concluded, require a White House retaliatory response. The administration’s director of communications, Anita Dunn, got things rolling last weekend with this nine-minute denunciation of Fox News:
This whining is especially rich coming from a woman who is on videotape lavishing praise on a Communist dictator responsible for ~70 million deaths over the course of a merciless reign. (The stunning Mao story, broken by Fox commentator Glenn Beck, has been met with shrugs and silence from the “real” media).
But Ms. Dunn’s ‘nine-minutes-hate’ session wasn’t enough. While shutting out Fox network’s respected anchor Chris Wallace, top Obama advisors Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod were all over the other Sunday morning programs this week, reiterating the party line. Basically, they say, the White House doesn’t view Fox News as a true news outlet. No–they have a “perspective,” you see. By castigating Fox, they’re discouraging Obama-approved outlets from following Fox’s lead on news judgement, story selection, etc. That’s not my theory. That’s Axelrod/Emanuel’s stated goal:
“[Fox is] not really a news station…and the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we’re not going to treat them that way.”
“The way the president looks at it is…it’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that’s a different take. And more importantly, is not have the CNN’s and the others in the world basically be led and following Fox as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization in the sense of both sides and a sense of valued/valid opinion.”
Oh yes, because everyone knows that, say, MSNBC — with its primetime lineup of Chris “Leg Thrill” Matthews, Ed “They-want-you-dead” Schultz, Keith “Mashed-up-Bag-of-Meat” Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow — doesn’t harbor any sort of verboten “perspective.”
Both Axelrod and Emanuel not only brand Fox with a legitimacy scarlet letter, they also implore the rest of the media to actively ignore Fox’s newsgathering decisions. In other words, they’re reminding their friends in the press corps to play patty-cake with the White House and ignore Fox’s “distractions” from “progress,” or risk their own access to power. I’m sure Journalism professors from coast to coast are penning op-eds denouncing this blatant political bullying as we speak.
Also note Emanuel’s gripe that Fox doesn’t engage in reporting “both sides” of a story (demonstrably false), and that it doesn’t promote a “sense of valued/valid” opinions. He rushes his delivery of that sentence, so it’s difficult to discern which word he actually uses, but the message is unchanged: The prevailing opinion programming slant of Fox News is either (a) entirely unwelcome to this White House, or (b) just as “illegitimate” as the news coverage. A follow-up question from CNN’s John King to explore this assertion would have been nice.
Again, Fox News’ real offense is its outrageous refusal to be controlled by a political operation that has grown dangerously accustomed to playing puppetmaster. This upsets them. As Anita Dunn (she’s back!) explains in a recent interview, the Obama campaign drove home its messaging in 2008 by tightly controlling the media and forcing the press to stick to preferred storylines (not that most journalists needed much convincing). Notice the number of times Dunn boasts about “control” in this clip:
“Very rarely did we communicate anything through the press that we didn’t absolutely control.”
There’s a term for people like this, isn’t there? Oh, right: Control freaks.
Message discipline is a crucial element of any political campaign (although generally the media tries to knock camps off their pre-determined messages, rather than universally celebrating the messenger), but Team Obama has taken the idea to a new level. They’re proud of it, and they expect their ability to “absolutely control” any given narrative to continue, largely unchallenged. Those deemed most responsible for afflicting Obama’s comfort must be mocked, belittled, and ultimately punished.
Fox News is being made into an example by a vengeful, deeply ideological White House. Gone is the “bringing people together” blather of the campaign trail. Here to stay is Obama the Aliskyite. This adminstration has learned well from the Godfather of community organizing.
Saul Alinsky’s Rule for Radicals #13:
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.
In its escalating hostility toward the network, the Obama White House is checking all of those boxes, and doing so with the smug assumption that no one will call them on it.
UPDATE – MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski reminds us why any bellyaching from this White House about press coverage is risible.