10.22.09 6:46 AM ET
Why the White House Bullies Fox
It’s not surprising that the White House doesn’t like Fox. Most politicians hate the press, and few hide it well. What’s new and remarkable about the Obama administration’s approach is the demand that everyone else hate Fox, too.
“They’re not really a news station,” David Axelrod explained to George Stephanopoulos last Sunday. “It’s not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming if you watch, it’s really not news… The bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way.”
A few hours later on CNN, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel repeated the talking point. It is vital, he said, “to not have the CNNs and the others in the world basically be led in following Fox.”
The official White House position is that the rest of the media should join Team Obama in ostracizing a news outlet that the White House doesn’t like. This raises several obvious questions:
Since when does the federal government get to make programming decisions, much less decide what is and what is not a legitimate news organization?
Where did political consultants—people who spend their lives lying to reporters—get the moral standing to make pronouncements about journalistic ethics?
When did liberals agree it was OK to use government power to muzzle opinions they don’t agree with?
And, most of all, when did the press decide to go along with all of this?
Two weeks after 9/11, then-press secretary Ari Fleischer was questioned about Bill Maher’s remark that American pilots were “cowards” for “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.” Fleischer’s response included this line: “People need to watch what they say, watch what they do.”
The response from the media was immediate and severe. Fleischer was widely denounced as an authoritarian. The words will follow him to his obituary.
Eight years later, the two most senior members of the White House staff attempt to bully a news outlet into silence, and hardly anyone in the press says a word. It was two days before Robert Gibbs got a significant question on the subject at one of the daily briefings (from, needless to say, the fearless Jake Tapper of ABC). Gibbs in effect ignored it.
Some journalists dropped the pretense entirely, openly taking the side of the White House against their colleagues. Longtime Slate editor Jacob Weisberg wrote a piece for Newsweek in which he argued that journalists have an “ethical” obligation to join Obama’s campaign against Fox.
Meanwhile, the same White House that had just finished lecturing working journalists on the superiority of straight news coverage hosted a secret, off-the-record briefing for Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. The two, along with several other liberal commentators, spent more than two hours with Obama.
• Nicolle Wallace: Outfoxing ObamaWhy is the press corps giving the White House a pass for behavior it never would have tolerated from other administrations? Conservatives believe it’s simple bias. They point to the more than a dozen journalists who have quit their jobs to work for Obama, or to the network employees who wept with joy in public the night he was elected.
The answer is slightly more complicated. Most journalists don’t think the attacks on Fox have anything to do with them. They agree with Obama’s program. They voted for him. What could go wrong?
• John Batchelor: How Fox News Outsmarted the White House Except the Obama people aren’t at war with Fox because it’s conservative. They’re angry because Fox has embarrassed them. Its correspondents ask hard questions. Its primetime hosts got Van Jones fired from the White House by exposing him as a 9/11 denier. If Keith Olbermann had done the same thing—and don’t hold your breath—David Axelrod might be denouncing MSNBC this week. Politics is seldom as ideological as it seems.
Which is something the White House press corps ought to keep in mind as it stands by in silence while Fox is bullied: Your politics won’t save you. You’ll be next.
Tucker Carlson is a contributor to the Fox News Channel. He previously hosted The Situation with Tucker Carlson and Tucker on MSNBC after working for CNN.