By the fall of 1972, then-President Nixon had famously circled the wagons as the Watergate scandal was breaking. With plenty of flop-sweat on his brow, Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s press secretary, was quoted in All The President’s Men (and later in the Redford/Hoffman movie version) as saying at a press conference:
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.
Flash-forward nearly 40 years. President Obama’s White House Communications Director Anita Dunn appears to be doing her best to channel the spirit of the late Nixon aide regarding the one network on American TV that isn’t totally in the tank for the administration:
The White House is stepping up its attacks against the Fox News Channel, labeling it a bastion of stilted and opinionated journalism. A top administration communications official has called the Fox “opinion journalism masquerading as news,” and vowed to wage a war of ideas against the network.
Speaking with Time Magazine, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn said that the administration intends to be “more aggressive rather than just sit back and defend ourselves, because they will say anything. They will take any small thing and distort it.”
The White House blog has begun singling out and taking on the cable news network. Recent blog posts carry pejorative headlines such as “Fox Lies,” and “even more Fox lies.” Time calls Dunn the “general” of this anti-Fox campaign.
White House bloggers have focused the most attention on Fox prime time host Glenn Beck. They have derided his “disregard for the facts” and his “attempt to smear” the administration for, among other things, lobbying the Olympic Committee for the 2016 games.
Surely every president has to endure his share of intense criticism from those in the media establishment that disagree with him or his policies. So scathing critiques of the office are nothing new.
Dunn, Gibbs, and the left’s anti-Fox crusaders would have Americans believe that the sort of ‘opinion journalism’ they are combating is somehow confined to the right; that conservatives, unlike liberals, will “take any small thing and distort it.” But the left certainly has its share of network television shills.
Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, David Shuster, and Chris Matthews, among others, have all partaken in too many instances of journalistic malfeasance and pro-Obama pontificating to list here. My esteemed colleagues here at NewsBusters have documented scores of such instances.
So criticism of the president is nothing new, and it is non-partisan (that is, both sides engage in it). So why the sudden interest in countering messages from the right that can damage Obama or throw him off message?
It is apparent that the White House feels there is some new necessity in firing a shot across the bow of potential critics. The nature of Obama’s agenda cannot alone account for this necessity. Though Obama’s legislative proposals are certainly vast in scope and scale, every president attempts to enact changes that inevitably spur intense opposition.
It is not the novel nature of the Obama administration that is forcing the White House to ramp up its message machine. Rather, it is the size and force of the opposition that requires Obama’s team to root out and attempt to discredit all potentially damaging messages from the media.
Criticism of Democratic officials is nothing new for Fox News. But Fox is giving its liberal media competition a run for its money like never before. It is absolutely destroying CNN and MSNBC in the prime time ratings.
For instance, during Monday prime time, Fox News had almost four times as many viewers than CNN, and three times as many as MSNBC. During the 5 PM slot, Glenn Beck had roughly four times as many viewers as Wolf Blitzer, and almost five times as many as Chris Matthews. At 8 PM, Bill O’Reilly had more than five times as many viewers as CNN’s Campbell brown, and more than three times as many as MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.
The administration tried over the summer to doctor town hall meetings with plants in the audience and pre-screened questions. Helen Thomas, not exactly an outspoken conservative, likened this media manipulation to the Nixon administration’s attempts to control the press.
Where would she get that idea?
Update: In the comments below, “Letalis Maximus, Esq.” channels Patton, or at least George C. Scott’s portrayal thereof:
“Alinsky, you magnificent bastard, I read your BOOK!”
– The Conservative Movement.
Related: Caleb Howe on the hypocrisy of “Obama’s Snark Czar: She was against her job before she was (hired) for it.”