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Obama vs. Fox News -- behind the White House strategy to delegitimize a news organization

  • Jan. 14, 2013: President Obama gestures during his final news conference of his first term in the East Room of the White House in Washington.AP

  • AP

There is no war on terror for the Obama White House, but there is one on Fox News.

In a recent interview with The New Republic, President Obama was back to his grousing about the one television news outlet in America that won’t fall in line and treat him as emperor. Discussing breaking Washington's partisan gridlock, the president told TNR,"If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News...for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it."

Alas, the president loves to whine about the media meanies at Fox News. To him, these are not people trying to do their jobs. No, they are out to get him. What other motive could a journalist have in holding a president accountable? Why oh why do Ed Henry and Chris Wallace insist on asking hard questions? Make them stop!

Alas, the president loves to whine about the media meanies at Fox News. To him, these are not people trying to do their jobs. No, they are out to get him.

The president seems more comfortable talking to "real journalists" such as Chris Hughes, who asked the question in the TNR interview that elicited Obama's reflexive Fox hatred. Hughes is the new owner of TNR and is a former major Obama campaign donor and organizer who was featured on the cover of Fast Company, with the headline, "The Kid Who Made Obama President." You can't make this stuff up.

This latest volley from the president is just one in a long line of comments from his White House as part of their campaign to silence any dissent they detect in the press corps. 

Recently, the White House has kept Fox News off of conference calls dealing with the Benghazi attack, despite Fox News being the only outlet that was regularly reporting on it and despite Fox having top notch foreign policy reporters. 

They have left Chris Wallace’s "Fox News Sunday" out of a round of interviews that included CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS for not being part of a “legitimate” news network. In October 2009, as part of an Obama administration onslaught against Fox News,White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week” that the Fox News Channel is "not really a news station" and that much of the programming is "not really news."

Whether you are liberal or conservative, libertarian, moderate or politically agnostic, everyone should be concerned when leaders of our government believe they can intentionally try to delegitimize a news organization they don’t like. 

In fact, if you are a liberal – as I am – you should be the most offended, as liberalism is founded on the idea of cherishing dissent and an inviolable right to freedom of expression. 

That more liberals aren't calling out the White House for this outrageous behavior tells you something about the state of liberalism in America today. 

Sure, everyone understands how some of Fox's opinion programming would get under President Obama's skin, the same way MSNBC from 4pm until closing time is not the favorite stop for Republicans.  But it's not okay -- or presidential -- to continue smearing an entire network of hard working journalists because you are mad at Sean Hannity.  

During the initial launch of the war on Fox News in October 2009, then-White House Communications Director Anita Dunn told the New York Times of Fox News, “[W]e don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” On CNN, she declared that Fox was a “wing of the Republican Party.” Then: “let's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is."

Gosh, this sounds so familiar. In fact, it’s exactly the line that Media Matters used in a 2010 memo to donors: “Fox News is not a news organization. It is the de facto leader of the GOP, and it is long past time that it is treated as such by the media, elected officials and the public.” 

In fact, this is the signature line of Media Matters in discussing Fox News, which they say they exist to destroy. Their CEO, David Brock told Politico in 2011 that their strategy was a “war on Fox” that is executed by 90 staff members and a $10 million yearly budget, gratis liberal donors.

Can someone explain to me how it’s “liberal” to try and shut down a media organization? What the Obama administration is doing, and what liberals are funding at MMFA is beyond chilling – it’s a deep freeze.

On the heels of Dunn’s attack on Fox, Brock wrote a letter to progressive organizations bragging about the U.S. government trashing a news organization: “In recent days, a new level of scrutiny has been directed toward Fox News, in no small part due to statements from the White House, and from Media Matters, challenging its standing as a news organization.” Point of order: who put Media Matters in charge of determining what is and isn't a news operation?

A Media Matters memo found its way into the public domain and if you care at all about decency and freedom of the press, it will make you throw up. If you like McCarthyism, it’s right up your alley. It details to liberal donors how they have plans to assemble opposition research on Fox News employees. 

It complains of the “pervasive unwillingness among members of the media to officially kick Fox News to the curb of the press club” and outlines how they are going to change that through targeting elite media figures and turning them against Fox. They say they want to set up a legal fund to sue (harass) conservatives for any “slanderous” comments they make about progressives on air. They actually cite one of the best journalists around, Jake Tapper, as a problem because he questioned the White House about calling a news outlet “illegitimate.” Tapper can see the obvious: if the White House can call one news outlet illegitimate for asking tough questions, then guess who is next? Anyone.

We defend freedom of the press because of the principle, not because we like everything the press does. For example, I defend MSNBC’s right to run liberal programming to their hearts content. 

Monitoring the media is actually a good thing; the media should be held accountable, including Fox News. When MMFA began I was supportive of their endeavor and even used some of their research. They seemed a counterbalance to conservative media monitoring organizations. 

But now the mask is off. They make no bones about their intentions, and it's not a fair media. It is clear now that the idea of freedom of the press actually offends Media Matters. In their memo, they complain about “an expansive view of legal precedent protecting the freedom of the press, and the progressive movement's own commitment to the First Amendment” as an impediment to be overcome or changed. They say they are “consider[ing] pushing prominent progressives to stop appearing on Fox News.” For those who defy the order, they threaten to start daily publishing the names of Democrats who appear in order to shame them. If that doesn’t work, presumably they will just shave our heads and march us down Constitution Avenue.

When Anita Dunn was informing America – as a senior government official – which news organizations were “legitimate,” she conveniently deemed CNN, which rarely challenges the White House, as a “real” network. Presumably she believes MSNBC is “legitimate” also, despite their undisguised disgust of the GOP and hagiography of the president, not to mention more opinion programming than any cable outlet. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume she thinks CBS is “legitimate” after they just ran what amounted to a 2016 ad for Hillary Clinton on "60 Minutes." CBS is the same place that has a political director who also writes for one of the most liberal outlets in the country, Slate. Who also just wrote in that publication that the president should “pulverize” the GOP. Imagine a political director at CBS hired away from the Weekly Standard who then wrote an article about "pulverizing" Democrats. I know, I lost you at the part where CBS hired a political director from a conservative outlet.

Last week Rolling Stone editor Michael Hastings – who is a liberal and said recently that “most journalists I know are liberal” – discussed his time covering Obama on the campaign trail. Among the things he witnessed was a reporter trying to interview Obama using a sock puppet.

He told MSNBCs Martin Bashir, “That’s the presence of Obama, even on the press corps, even on the people who follow him every day. When they are near him, they lose their mind sometimes. They start behaving in ways, you know, that are juvenile and amateurish and they swoon.”

Hastings admitted that the presence of Obama made him go gooey too. "Did I ask about drones, did I ask about civil liberties? No, I did not.”

I guess this is what the White House and their friends at Media Matters call the “legitimate” media.