Media Wars: White House Crosses the Line
Every White House complains about its press coverage. A contentious relationship between the Executive Branch and a free and independent media is part of America’s DNA. Always has been.
But this White House seems to feel they’re different. It’s not just that the current occupant of the Oval Office has a particularly thin skin when it comes to criticism – which is especially ironic given that he’s been the recipient of more glowing press coverage than possibly any candidate or president in modern American history. But not since Nixon conjured up an “enemies list” have we seen the full weight of the Office of the Presidency brought to bear in such a targeted and deliberate effort to delegitimize a media organization critical of the President.
When Communications Director Anita Dunn first announced the White House’s war against FOX News last week, many people from across the political spectrum dismissed it as silly. But two of the administration’s heaviest hitters, Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, went on the Sunday talk shows and made clear that the White House’s attempt to delegitimize FOX News is deadly serious.
On This Week, Axelrod told George Stephanopoulos: “[FOX News] is not really a news station. It’s not just their commentators but a lot of their news programming it’s really not news it’s pushing a point of view. ”
Emanuel echoed the line to John King on CNN’s State of the Union: “The way the president looks at it – we look at it – it’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective.”
And MSNBC doesn’t push a certain “perspective?” What about the New York Times? The idea that FOX News’s perspective disqualifies it as a “legitimate” news operation lays bare the manipulation and hypocrisy at work here. The White House is all for news organizations taking certain “perspectives” – so long as they’re favorable to the administration’s agenda.
The current presidency, as much perhaps as any in history, is built upon the foundation of the President’s personal popularity. President Obama has, out of necessity, become the Salesman-in-Chief for his progressive agenda. But as the White House continues to struggle adjusting to the reality of governing versus campaigning, it is either unwilling or unable to brook criticism of the President or his policies. Thus FOX News is targeted as the enemy.
The White House’s direct attack on FOX News is only part of the strategy. As Axelrod and Emanuel made clear yesterday, they also want to drive a wedge between the rest of the media and FOX News, enlisting other television networks in the effort to paint FOX News as illegitimate.
Axelrod went out of his way to suggest to Stephanopoulos that ABC News adopt the White House strategy and not treat FOX News as legitimate. “The bigger thing is,” Axelrod said, “other news organizations, like yours, ought not to treat them that way. We’re not going to treat them that way. ”
Emanuel suggested the same to John King later in their interview: “And more importantly is not have the CNN’s and 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 opinion.”
It’s actually quite brazen when you think about it. The two most senior members of the Obama White House – men who control all the information and access to the Executive Branch, the lifeblood of most news organizations – went on national television and suggested that ABC, CNN and other networks follow the White House’s lead and join in its war to marginalize a competitor because it takes a “perspective” that displeases the President.
Such tactics may not be frowned upon by brass-knuckle operatives working for the political machine in a one party town. But it’s different when you’re the President of the United States. Most Americans of all political stripes don’t want to see the President using the majesty and power of his office for heavy handed attacks on any organization simply because it has been critical of the President.
In other words, the White House’s strategy may be the Chicago way, but it isn’t the American way.
Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. He appears in the Chicago Daily Observer by special arrangement with RealClearPolitics. Read more from Tom Bevan here.