Politics

05.21.13

How Hope and Change Gave Way to Spying on the Press

Much of the Fourth Estate shrugged when the Obama administration attacked Fox News, writes Kirsten Powers. But now it’s coming for them, too.

First they came for Fox News, and they did not speak out—because they were not Fox News. Then they came for government whistleblowers, and they did not speak out—because they were not government whistleblowers. Then they came for the maker of a YouTube video, and—okay, we know how this story ends. But how did we get here?

Turns out it’s a fairly swift sojourn from a president pushing to “delegitimize” a news organization to threatening criminal prosecution for journalistic activity by a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, to spying on Associated Press reporters. In between, the Obama administration found time to relentlessly persecute government whistleblowers and publicly harass and condemn a private American citizen for expressing his constitutionally protected speech in the form of an anti-Islam YouTube video.

Where were the media when all this began happening? With a few exceptions, they were acting as quiet enablers.

It’s instructive to go back to the dawn of Hope and Change. It was 2009, and the new administration decided it was appropriate to use the prestige of the White House to viciously attack a news organization—Fox News—and the journalists who work there. Remember, President Obama had barely been in office and had enjoyed the most laudatory press of any new president in modern history. Yet even one outlet that allowed dissent or criticism of the president was one too many. This should have been a red flag to everyone, regardless of what they thought of Fox News. The math was simple: if the administration would abuse its power to try and intimidate one media outlet, what made anyone think they weren’t next?

Video screenshot

President Obama went after Fox News in this 2009 interview with CNBC.

These series of “warnings” to the Fourth Estate were what you might expect to hear from some third-rate dictator, not from the senior staff of Hope and Change, Inc.

"What I think is fair to say about Fox … is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party," said Anita Dunn, White House communications director, on CNN. “[L]et's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is." On ABC’s “This Week” White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Fox is "not really a news station." It wasn’t just that Fox News was “not a news organization,” White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel told CNN’s John King, but, “more [important], is [to] not have the CNNs and the others in the world basically be led in following Fox, as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization …”

These series of “warnings” to the Fourth Estate were what you might expect to hear from some third-rate dictator, not from the senior staff of Hope and Change, Inc.

Yet only one mainstream media reporter—Jake Tapper, then of ABC News—ever raised a serious objection to the White House’s egregious and chilling behavior. Tapper asked future MSNBC commentator and then White House press secretary Robert Gibbs: “[W]hy is [it] appropriate for the White House to say” that “thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a ‘news organization’?” The spokesman for the president of the United States was unrepentant, saying: “That's our opinion.”

Trashing reporters comes easy in Obama-land. Behind the scenes, Obama-centric Democratic operatives brand any reporter who questions the administration as a closet conservative, because what other explanation could there be for a reporter critically reporting on the government?

Now, the Democratic advocacy group Media Matters—which is always mysteriously in sync with the administration despite ostensibly operating independently—has launched a smear campaign against ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl for his reporting on Benghazi. It’s the kind of character assassination that would make Joseph McCarthy blush. The main page of the Media Matters website has six stories attacking Karl for a single mistake in an otherwise correct report about the State Department's myriad changes to talking points they previously claimed to have barely touched. See, the problem isn’t the repeated obfuscating from the administration about the Benghazi attack; the problem is Jonathan Karl. Hence, the now-familiar campaign of de-legitimization. This gross media intimidation is courtesy of tax-deductable donations from the Democratic Party’s liberal donor base, which provides a whopping $20 million a year for Media Matters to harass reporters who won’t fall in line.

In what is surely just a huge coincidence, the liberal media monitoring organization Fairness and Accuracy in the Media (FAIR) is also on a quest to delegitimize Karl. It dug through his past and discovered that in college he allegedly—horrors!—associated with conservatives. Because of this, FAIR declared Karl “a right wing mole at ABC News.” Setting aside the veracity of FAIR’s crazy claim, isn’t the fact that it was made in the first place vindication for those who assert a liberal media bias in the mainstream media? If the existence of a person who allegedly associates with conservatives is a “mole,” then what does that tell us about the rest of the media?

What all of us in the media need to remember—whatever our politics—is that we need to hold government actions to the same standard, whether they’re aimed at friends or foes. If not, there’s no one but ourselves to blame when the administration takes aim at us.