Beginning almost immediately after he took office in early 2009, we’ve all witnessed the Obama White House’s ongoing war with any component of the media that wasn’t completely beholden to them — first Rush Limbaugh, then Fox News, then conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, and ultimately, in perhaps the most pathetic example of their habit of punching below their weight, prolific Twitter user Kevin Eder.
If that all seems a bit Nixonian, well, yeah. Ron Ziegler was Nixon’s beleaguered press secretary; he has the misfortune of having a couple of his press conferences immortalized by way of their videotapes being played on the TV in the newsroom set of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman’s 1976 movie, All the President’s Men:
I personally feel that this is shabby journalism by the Washington Post…I think this effort on the part of the post is getting to the point, really, of absurdity…
I don’t know what their motivation is. I have personal observations about what their motivation may be. You have a man who is the editor over at the Washington Post by the name of Ben Bradlee. I think anyone who would honestly want to assess what his political persuasions are would come quickly to the conclusion that he is not a supporter of Richard Nixon.
I read the other day where Mr. Bradlee was giving a speech and he said the Nixon administration is committed to our destruction — referring to the press — that this administration is committed to the destruction of the free press.
There has been nothing as long as I have been press secretary where we have ever involved ourselves in a program of the destruction of the free press. We respect the free press. I respect the free press. I don’t respect the type of shabby journalism that is being practiced by the Washington Post, and I have stated that view to you.
Now it’s Obama White House’s turn to destroy Bob Woodward, the journalist that Robert Redford played, since Woodward noted that the Sequester was originally Obama’s idea:
Or as Rory Cooper, Eric Cantor’s communications director tweeted yesterday, “When the White House is attempting to discredit Bob Woodward, again, it’s not a good day for them, huh?”
Of course, the Nixon White House had very few friends in journalism, which was then at the apex of its centralized power, as I wrote in my 2007 article on the history of the Blogosphere, Atlas Mugged:
By the early 1970s, mass media had reached its zenith (if you’ll pardon the pun). Most Americans were getting their news from one of three TV networks’ half-hour nightly broadcasts. With the exception of New York, most big cities had only one or two primary newspapers. And no matter what a modern newspaper’s lineage, by and large its articles, except for local issues, came from global wire services like the Associated Press or Reuters; it took its editorial lead from the New York Times; and it claimed to be impartial (while usually failing miserably).
Up until the Reagan years, Love says, “definitely fewer than one hundred people, and maybe as few as twenty people, actually decided what constituted national news in the United States.” These individuals were principally concentrated within a few square blocks of midtown Manhattan, the middle of which was home to the offices of the New York Times. The aptly nicknamed “Gray Lady” largely shaped the editorial agendas not just of newspapers but of television, as well. As veteran TV news correspondent Bernard Goldberg wrote in his 2003 book Arrogance, “If the New York Times went on strike tomorrow morning, they’d have to cancel the CBS, NBC, and ABC evening newscasts tomorrow night.”
See also Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant 1976 film Network if you really want to relive this era. It’s satire, unless you work for MSNBC, where it plays as a how-to guide.
Unlike the early 1970s, when the WaPo began to devour Richard Nixon, the Obama administration and most of the Washington Post are for the most part one and the same, which can lead to some fun moments:
Matt Drudge has some fun sticking the dagger in as well: “WASH POST Guppy Says Legend Is WRONG…”
Albeit unintentionally, perhaps the funniest moment is this:
Of course, I’m not sure if Rich is the best judge of a changing of the guard in the American media, considering he wrote the following sentence in 2008:
“In our news culture, [Joy] Behar, a stand-up comic by profession, looms as the new Edward R. Murrow.”
Does Rich believe that Ezra looms at the next Joy Behar?
On a more serious note, Jonathan Tobin of Commentary explores “The President’s Sequester Deception,” which places all of the above into context:
What needs to be pointed out here is that Woodward isn’t just calling out the White House for their deceptions. The spin coming from the president and his minions is cynical and partisan in nature, but is to be expected. The real problem is the way the mainstream media has punted on its coverage of this vital issue and allowed the president’s disingenuous arguments to go virtually unchallenged.
Democrats keep telling us that the public blames Republicans for the sequester more than they do the president, and polls bear this out. But one of the main reasons that this is so is because the White House can depend on a largely complacent liberal press corps to let their spin be treated as historical fact. When Republicans claim that the president has not negotiated in good faith and has broken its word about taxes time and again, they are depicted as whiny complainers. But, as even a supporter of the president’s agenda like Woodward is compelled to note, the GOP’s assertions about the White House are fundamentally correct.
As I wrote last week, an integral factor in President Obama’s media mastery is based on more than the clever tactics and shameless manipulation that his White House handlers have employed. The liberal bias of so many of the working press has given the president the confidence to believe he can get away with just about anything in this debate and still be portrayed as an honest player in the Washington game.
But of course. As Byron York wrote in 2010, “At Washington Post, Mum’s the Word on the JournoList.”
Related: Oh, and speaking of Ron Ziegler’s Revenge: “Robert Gibbs: As press secretary, I was ordered not to acknowledge the existence of the drone program.”
I wonder what else Gibbs, and now former Time-Warner-CNN-HBO staffer Jay Carney were ordered not to tell the American public?