Thursday, October 22, 2009

Obama's "Thuggery"

Tough talk from the mild-mannered Michael Barone, who says President Obama has brought to his administration's media relations the brawling moves he learned from Chicago politics:

The same treatment is being given to Fox News, which according to White House spokesmen, "is not a news organization." "Other news organizations, like yours," Obama consigliere David Axelrod told ABC News, "ought not to treat them that way."

In other words, when Fox breaks the news that the White House green czar is a self-proclaimed "Communist" or that operatives of pro-Obama ACORN have been aiding and abetting child prostitution, other news outlets should spike the story. Or risk being demoted from great friend to bad apple.

Last February, Obama told Fox News (to which I am a contributor), "I don't always get my most favorable coverage on Fox, but I think that's part of how democracy is supposed to work. You know, we're not supposed to all be in lockstep here."

Now we are. Maybe Obama thought everyone in Washington would be his great friend. Having encountered un-Chicago-like dissent and disagreement, he has responded with classic Chicago brass knuckles. We'll see how far this kind of thuggery gets him.


MK said...

Odd. To say that Obama (or any President) might have come to Washington hoping that everyone "would be his great friend" sounds naïve.

FNC has a mix of programming. It can be shocking to see people spinning narratives that have no relation to the reality one sees. You and I have debated how forcefully one should push back and whether it is better to engage or ignore certain actions. I’ve had to make those choices myself. Barone and others ignore the difficulty of making the right call.

There’s been a talk on blogs of the White House taking a “Nixonian” approach. But as with all things Nixonian, there are two sides. There’s the side of him which said “never, never, never” in talking about certain reporters getting access But there’s also the side which thought things through carefully. Consider what RN wrote to Bob Haldeman on July 30, 1972 after WaPo published a piece by Lou Cannon:

“I do not want people who talk about the campaign to make the mistake of cutting off representatives of periodicals, TV and newspapers simply because they are generally against us. Consequently, I do not object to an article, appearing from time to time, in unfriendly publications which is based on conversations with our campaign people. Having said this, however, we need some completely ironclad rules with regard to who talks to media representatives that we know are antagonistic to us.

First of all, it is vitally important that only the most intelligent and sophisticated person on our campaign staff dare to go in the ring with one of these people. Second, we should not waste time with one of them at the expense of turning down interviews with media representatives who are our friends. Third, even when our most intelligent people are meeting with people like Cannon they must constantly keep in mind that they are confronting a political enemy and that everything they say will, therefore, be used against us. I have to emphasize this over and over again because we never seem to get it across to our people no matter how many times they get burned.”

No one who understands the Presidency would interpret the current demand as a desire for locksstep, as Barone implied. Why not instead discuss the Nixon memo? Or attempts during the Kennedy administration to “manage the news?” Or attempts during the Eisenhower administration to ensure that “news put out by or extracted from the Pentagon must be ‘constructive’” as TIME reported in 1956? Why not educate the general reader rather than alienate the well-educated reader? This Chicago thuggery theme is as ineffective for a reader of my type as was the lef’ts "Bush is a captive of big business and the oil interests" meme was while he was in office.

Once again, I think supporters of the party out of power have missed an opportunity to take a step back and look at how perceptions arise. Left unaddressed is the question, why did someone such as I look in on Fox News for over ten years even after deciding I was an Independent rather than a Republican, only to stop tuning in to it altogether midway through George W. Bush’s first term in office?

FNC bears the burden (which its supporters largely add to) of its decisions. It carries news programming and high profile political, advocacy, opinion programming. If they wanted the network to be perceived differently, Murdoch and Ailes could have decided to split the two elements into a news channel and a separate channel for advocacy.

That this is so hard for sympathizers to point out fits in with some of what Rod Dreher has been chewing over at Crunchy Con, as in the his 10/21 post. In "Write what you know is true,”.Connor Friedersdorf discusses "palatable journalism." He argues that it would be wrong to encourage "those engaged in the fights over ideas" to write but "to pull their punches whenever what they regard as the truth might upset a segment of the public.” Pulling punches when discussing Fox doesn't help the right, any more than progressives defensively shielding the left does.

Fr. John said...

I think I must've subconsciously posted the Barone column in the hope that you would respond. His political expertise notwithstanding, your subtle response makes his outlook look a bit primitive.

Reading what you wrote, I'm conscious of having been resentful about the pervasive charge that Obama is being Nixonian -- but to be quite frank, what exactly would one expect Obama to say about a cable channel like Fox? Pat Buchanan famously said that the W. Post was the bulletin board for the DNC. That was hyperbole. Fox actually IS a bulletin board for the GOP. It might be tactically unwise for the White House to criticize Fox, but doesn't the GOP want Obama to be tactically unwise? As for whether the criticism has a chilling effect on the media -- c'mon, folks, get serious!