As the war between the White House and Fox News escalates, it might be insightful to take a look back and see the path which led to Thursday’s attempt by the White House to completely shut off Fox News.
The first skirmish was back in August, when people were complaining about having received unwanted emails from the White House. Major Garrett, Fox’s White House correspondent, asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about why and how those people received the emails. Gibbs had no ready answer, was quick to attempt to ridicule Garrett’s question, and ultimately bypassed answering him altogether.
The next bout came earlier this month as White House Communications Director Anita Dunn commented in a New York Times interview:
“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”
She subsequently made similar comments on the Sunday talk shows, claiming that Fox News is an arm of the Republican party:
“[Fox is] widely viewed as a part of the Republican Party: take their talking points and put them on the air, take their opposition research and put it on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news organization like CNN is.”
Fair-minded Jake Tapper of ABC News came to Fox’s defense by questioning Robert Gibbs about the legitimacy of the attack:
Tapper: It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one –
Gibbs: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.
Tapper: But that’s a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say –
Gibbs: ABC –
Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?
Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o’clock tonight. Or 5 o’clock this afternoon.
Tapper: I’m not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I’m talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a “news organization” — why is that appropriate for the White House to say?
Gibbs: That’s our opinion.
This past Sunday, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod upped the stakes by declaring outright that Fox News is not a news organization, and then working in veiled threats to the other networks:
The latest salvo was fired Thursday at a press pool event, during which the other major networks showed an amazing level of solidarity with Fox, perhaps because they realized the the shoe will eventually be on the other foot at some point during the next three years.
It seems like a mistake of major proportions to wage a war with an organization that buys digital ink by the barrel, so to speak. Given the political savvy and old school Chicago-style upbringing of the senior White House staff, I wonder what neophyte at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has the naiveté to gin up such a brawl, and the clout to make it happen.
Oh yeah, that would be President Obama.