Today, he begins:
Rahm Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a live pollster. Now he’s put a horse’s head in Roger Ailes’s bed.
Not very subtle. And not very smart. Ailes doesn’t scare easily.
The White House has declared war on Fox News. White House communications director Anita Dunn said that Fox is “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” Patting rival networks on the head for their authenticity (read: docility), senior adviser David Axelrod declared Fox “not really a news station.” And Chief of Staff Emanuel told (warned?) the other networks not to “be led (by) and following Fox.”
Meaning? If Fox runs a story critical of the administration — from exposing White House czar Van Jones as a loony 9/11 “truther” to exhaustively examining the mathematical chicanery and hidden loopholes in proposed health-care legislation — the other news organizations should think twice before following the lead.
The signal to corporations is equally clear: You might have dealings with a federal behemoth that not only disburses more than $3 trillion every year but is extending its reach ever deeper into private industry — finance, autos, soon health care and energy. Think twice before you run an ad on Fox.
At first, there was little reaction from other media. Then on Thursday, the administration tried to make them complicit in an actual boycott of Fox. The Treasury Department made available Ken Feinberg, the executive pay czar, for interviews with the White House “pool” news organizations — except Fox. The other networks admirably refused, saying they would not interview Feinberg unless Fox was permitted to as well. The administration backed down.
This was an important defeat because there’s a principle at stake here. While government can and should debate and criticize opposition voices, the current White House goes beyond that. It wants to delegitimize any significant dissent. The objective is no secret. White House aides openly told Politico that they’re engaged in a deliberate campaign to marginalize and ostracize recalcitrants, from Fox to health insurers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
There’s nothing illegal about such search-and-destroy tactics. Nor unconstitutional. But our politics are defined not just by limits of legality or constitutionality. We have norms, Madisonian norms.