Here's something virtually every American likely thought they'd never see: the New York Times declaring Fox News the winner in a fight with Barack Obama.
Yet, that's what David Carr declared in "The Battle Between the White House and Fox News."
In his piece published at the Times website Saturday evening, Carr almost seemed disgusted with all the attention the White House is giving to a cable news network:
The Obama administration, which would seem to have its hands full with a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan, opened up a third front last week, this time with Fox News. [...]
"We're going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent," Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, said in an interview with The New York Times. "As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave."
Ah, but pretending has traditionally been a valuable part of the presidential playbook. Smiling and wearing beige even under the most withering news media assault is not only good manners, but also has generally been good politics. While there is undoubtedly a visceral thrill in finally setting out after your antagonists, the history of administrations that have successfully taken on the media and won is shorter than this sentence.
After discussing past Presidents who unsuccessfully fought the press, Carr first scolded the White House, and then declared an unpredictable winner:
Even though almost all the critiques contained a kernel of truth, in each instance the folks who had the barrels of ink, and now pixels, seemed to come out ahead. So far, the only winner in this latest dispute seems to be Fox News. Ratings are up 20 percent this year, and the network basked for a week in the antagonism of a sitting president...[T]he administration, by deploying official resources against a troublesome media organization, seems to have brought a knife to a gunfight.
Carr seemed even less impressed with the tactics the Adminstration has been employing in this battle:
On the official White House Web site, a blog called Reality Check provides a running tally of transgressions by Fox News. It ends with this: "For even more Fox lies, check out the latest ‘Truth-O-Meter' feature from Politifact that debunks a false claim about a White House staffer that continues to be repeated by Glenn Beck and others on the network."
People who work in political communications have pointed out that it is a principle of power dynamics to "punch up " - that is, to take on bigger foes, not smaller ones. A blog on the White House Web site that uses a "truth-o-meter" against a particular cable news network would not seem to qualify. As it is, Reality Check sounds a bit like the blog of some unemployed guy living in his parents' basement, not an official communiqué from Pennsylvania Avenue.
Ouch. That'll leave a mark, as will Carr's conclusion:
The American presidency was conceived as a corrective to the royals, but trading punches with cable shouters seems a bit too common. Perhaps it's time to restore a little imperiousness to the relationship.
Which puts this author in the uncomfortable position of actually agreeing with the New York Times.
Mark it on your calendar.