Pundits have wondered aloud since last week why the White House would pursue a strategy that seems to be boosting the ratings of a purported 'opposition' news network. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough posited today that the White House's attacks on Fox News are designed to prevent the mainstream media from picking up on stories damaging to the administration (video embedded below the fold, h/t to NB reader Kirk W.).
Every time Fox breaks a story on the radical connections of a White House advisor or appointee, the news is potentially damaging to the administration. But damage is only really done if the rest of the media picks up on the story, reports it, and turns it into a national news sensation, a la Van Jones.
Yesterday I said they were playing to their base and I was talking about their democratic base. I think I've figured this out. I think they're playing to another base, and that's the Washington press corps. Because it doesn't make any, as Donny Deutsch was saying yesterday, it doesn't make any sense to attack a cable news network because you drive their ratings up. They don't care. Let Glenn Beck and Oreilly and Hannity get as high ratings as they want. They've got to make Fox News a dirty name within the Washington press corps...Fox Senior Political Analyst Brit Hume, echoed comments he made on "Special Report," chronicled by NewsBuster Jeff Poor. "This is an effort in effect to quarantine Fox News, and to discourage other media outlets from picking up on stories that originate here," Hume stated.
So Fox News, while they're throwing a lot of mud at the wall, some of it's sticking and some of it's been damaging for the White House. So again, lets figure out what the White House is doing here. They're trying to get the mainstream media to not follow any of their stories even if some of those stories would be considered I think legitimate by the majority of Americans.
He added, in reference to Fox's reports on the radical ties of numerous Obama advisors and appointees, that "reporting that continues to remind people of [Obama's] leftish sensibilities and background and associations has got to be something that they don't appreciate."
So far the administration's attempts to stifle dissent on Fox News has been met with little criticism from the media elite. Some have voiced criticism, but have gone unnoticed by the mainstream media. Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas even compared the administration's actions to those of the Nixon administration, which notoriously attempted to stifle dissent in the press.
"What the hell do they think we are, puppets?" Thomas asked. Given the uproar over Spiro Agnew's scathing critique of stilted media coverage of President Nixon's call for the "silent majority" to support the Vietnam War, it is striking that there has been this virtual silence on the Obama administration's attacks on Fox News (one Washington Post blogger astoundingly stated that "Fox should stop whining").
Agnew's suggestion that the media distorted the news by misrepresenting and sensationalizing facts, due to preconceived positions on those facts, was derided by critics in the news media at the time. The New York Times criticized the "totalitarian stance [Agnew] represents."
Norman Isaacs, then-president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said
What we're facing now is a drive for a real one party press, not through free expression but through open intimidation by the top officials of our government... I cannot help but wonder what the substantive difference is between the administration's position and that in practice in the Soviet Union.Democratic politicians also criticized what they saw as a totalitarian attempt to stifle political dissent in the news media. According to the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, "Democratic leaders...have accused the Nixon administration of seeking to stifle criticism and suppress dissent in the United States." The Star recalled Hubert Humphrey's statement that,
The Nixon administration's attack on the news media, as expressed by Vice President Agnew...alarm those who believe in the right to dissent and in a free press... Certainly government officials have a right to defend their actions and to challenge those who criticize them... But when the highest officials of the government launch a deliberate and premeditated attack upon the right to comment...this is a serious matter and a cause for alarm.No such characterizations have been raised against the Obama administration, which is employing Agnew-esque tactics designed to downplay and minimize criticism of the White House. That is a real problem, especially given that the media today are of the same political persuasion as the president. Left-leaning journalists who are sitting on their hands while a lone outpost of "truth to power" journalism is being attacked at the highest levels of executive power are setting a terrible precedent for future journalists.