In the book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, a great story is told about historian Robert Conquest. He wrote a book in the 1980s about the abuses of Stalinism, and got the usual roasting from Soviet apologists in academia. They accused him of cherry-picking data, failing to see Stalin’s supposed good points – the usual blather of Marxist-friendly social science academics.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, opened archives showed that Conquest not only had it right, but was actually a bit conservative is his assertions. His publisher suggested an updated edition of the book incorporating that information, and asked Conquest if he wanted to change the title.
Conquest responded “How about ‘I told you so, you f*cking fools’”? *
I’m feeling that same impulse after reviewing the cascade of scandals over the last few weeks.** Anyone who wasn’t mesmerized by Obama and actually paying attention already knew that:
1. Benghazi was not just a tragedy. It was one of the most massive screw-ups ever perpetrated by the State Department, and there was clearly a cover-up to keep the rest of us from finding out the what, where, when, how, and why.
Various folks on the right could see all this, yet our supposed smart media pundits at major organizations are still expressing surprise at every new revelation. In other words, we told you so, you f*cking fools. And we were ignored, or even ridiculed as paranoid and obsessive.
I learned a valuable lesson in my first job out of graduate school. The software company I worked for was acquired by a giant corporation. The executives from that giant corporation came down for meetings after the acquisition. After listening to them for a day, I concluded that they were incompetent fools.
But I had some doubt. How could they have reached such a position of authority and still be such fools?
Yet, in the ensuing years, under their leadership, the giant corporation lost tens of millions of dollars running that small software company into the ground. They ended up selling it after five years for about five percent of what they paid for it. So yeah, those guys really were the incompetent fools I thought they were.
I now assume that if I have good reasons to believe something, the assertions of powerful or influential people don’t change my mind. I assume they are simply ignorant, willfully blind, or actively deceptive. This round of scandalous outrages by the Obama administration is just another confirmation of that assumption. If media types and establishment politicians didn’t realize these problems existed before last month, then they are f*cking fools, no matter how high they have risen in the political class.
On the other hand, if they knew the problems existed and did nothing, they are despicable villains and not fit to be in the job they hold. Not in their own eyes, of course. As Robert Conquest found out, to those on the left, even Josef Stalin isn’t really a villain.
* I first saw the anecdote about Conquest in a review of the book in Reason Magazine, Fools for Communism. I got the book, which is a concise, good read. If you want examples of willful blindness by lefties, In Denial is a great source.
** Many writers predicted Obama scandals early in his term. I’m pretty sure they feel the same lack of surprise, even if they don’t express it in such a vulgar way.
Apparently, instead of backing off of its ill-advised attack on FOX News (there was word of a truce), the White House seems to have decided to kick it up a notch – by using intimidation tactics:
At least one Democratic political strategist has gotten a blunt warning from the White House to never appear on Fox News Channel, an outlet that presidential aides have depicted as not so much a news-gathering operation as a political opponent bent on damaging the Obama administration.
Political consultants are a staple of cable television talk shows, analyzing current events based on their own experiences working on campaigns or in government.
One Democratic strategist said that shortly after an appearance on Fox he got a phone call from a White House official telling him not to be a guest on the show again. The call had an intimidating tone, he said.
The message was, “We better not see you on again,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to run afoul of the White House. An implicit suggestion, he said, was that “clients might stop using you if you continue.”
In urging Democratic consultants to spurn Fox, White House officials might be trying to isolate the network and make it appear more partisan.
I’m not sure how anyone can be surprised by such tactics. No one is surprised when a jackal acts like a jackal are they? Then why should anyone be surprised when an Alinsky trained Chicago politician acts like an Alinsky trained Chicago politician?
The White House, quite naturally, denies that any of this is happening. But one Democrat is confirming it:
But Patrick Caddell, a Fox News contributor and a former pollster for Democratic President Jimmy Carter, said he has spoken to Democratic consultants who have been told by the White House to avoid appearances on Fox. He declined to give their names.
Caddell said he had not gotten that message himself from the White House. “They know better than to tell me anything like that,” he said.
Caddell added: “I have heard that they’ve done that to others in not too subtle ways. I find it appalling. When the White House gets in the business of suppressing dissent and comment, particularly from its own party, it hurts itself.”
Suppressing dissent and comment? Say it ain’t so!
This “hope and change” is good stuff – let freedom ring!
Or at least the results since the Obama White House made FOX News the focus of its attempt at dictating which organizations should or shouldn’t be taken as serious “news” organizations:
But the White House’s stance also gave extra lift to the network at a time when it is on track to record its best ratings year ever. This year, Fox News has averaged nearly 1.2 million viewers across all its programming, a 16% increase over the same period last year, according to Nielsen. In the two weeks since aides to President Obama took after the coverage, the audience has been 8% larger than the previous two weeks.
If anything, the Obama administration has succeeded in reinforcing Fox News’ identity as a thorn in the side of the establishment — a role the network loves to play.
What news organization wouldn’t love to play that role? Er, the NYT, LAT, WaPo, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and CNN?
Maybe this is a little lesson for them as well.
I continue to watch this incredibly dumb public fight the White House has picked with a news organization and cannot fathom why they continue it. At least not a rational reason. I can come up with all sorts of irrational reasons. For an election campaign organization that was touted as being so media savvy, while watching this debacle continue to develop you have to wonder where all the savvy types went.
And some of the media seems to have had a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment. Jake Tapper exemplifies that:
Jake Tapper, ABC News: It hasn’t escaped our notice that in the last few weeks the White House has decided to declare war on one of our sister organizations saying it’s not a news organization and tell the rest of the news media to not treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to say one of them is not a news organization and the rest of the media should not treat them like one.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: We render opinion based on some their coverage and the fairness of that coverage.
Tapper: That’s a pretty sweeping declaration that they’re not a news organization. How are they different from, say another, say ABC, MSNBC, Univision?
Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o’clock tonight or five this afternoon.
Tapper: I’m not talking about their opinion programs. Or issues you have with certain reports. I’m talking about saying that thousands of individuals who work for a media organization do not work for a news organization. Why is that appropriate for the White House to say?
Gibbs: That is our opinion.
When you’re reduced to “that’s our opinion” as a defense of your actions, you’ve got nothing. When you have representatives of competing news organizations referring to FOX as a “sister organization”, you’ve lost the battle.
However the White House doesn’t seem to understand that, and continues to arrogantly push this fight they picked. Other that with the extreme left, which has always hated FOX, the White House is the completely unsympathetic actor in this little charade. Here you have the Press Secretary for the President of the United States trying to dictate what constitutes “fairness” of coverage. It is pure arrogance trying to trade on waning popularity and it isn’t working. More overreach by this administration – picking fights that aren’t necessary whichmake them look petty and small and which they will, in the end, lose.
Not too bright.
The Obama administration is not doing well in two wars right now – a shooting war and a shouting war. Afghanistan continues on a downhill course while the president dithers, apparently incapable of making a decision. And on another front, he and the White House are looking both petty and foolish as they attack Fox News (one of the few things they’ve actually done during their time in office).
Tom Bevan makes some interesting points covering the latter war. Quoting Rahm Emanuel who said “The way the president looks at it – we look at it – it’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective”, Bevan says:
And MSNBC doesn’t push a certain “perspective?” What about the New York Times? The idea that FOX News’s perspective disqualifies it as a “legitimate” news operation lays bare the manipulation and hypocrisy at work here. The White House is all for news organizations taking certain “perspectives” – so long as they’re favorable to the administration’s agenda.
The current presidency, as much perhaps as any in history, is built upon the foundation of the President’s personal popularity. President Obama has, out of necessity, become the Salesman-in-Chief for his progressive agenda. But as the White House continues to struggle adjusting to the reality of governing versus campaigning, it is either unwilling or unable to brook criticism of the President or his policies. Thus FOX News is targeted as the enemy.
As Bevan points out, it is a qualification without exception. All news organizations that I’m familiar with push a perspective – that can be found daily on their editorial pages or nightly on their opinion shows. The only difference between MSNBC and Fox is the “perspective” is favorable on the former and not as favorable on the latter.
And for most of America, who aren’t buying into the White House argument, there is no difference between MSNBC and Fox but their “perspective”. They’re quite aware both have them even if the White House enjoys pretending they don’t.
The second part of their ill conceived strategy is to try to delegitimize Fox News among other news organizations:
Axelrod went out of his way to suggest to Stephanopoulos that ABC News adopt the White House strategy and not treat FOX News as legitimate. “The bigger thing is,” Axelrod said, “other news organizations, like yours, ought not to treat them that way. We’re not going to treat them that way. ”
Emanuel suggested the same to John King later in their interview: “And more importantly is not have the CNN’s and others in the world basically be led and following FOX, as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization, in the sense of both sides and a sense of valued opinion.”
That approach brought a reproach from the grand old dame of the White House news corps, Helen Thomas, who makes no bones about her liberal “perspective”. And Jake Tapper from ABC was unimpressed as well. Both find the strategy to be offensive, petty and inappropriate. So do most Americans.
The entire effort here is to cut Fox from the herd and isolate them (please review Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals“, specifically rules 5, 8 and 12) and destroy their legitimacy. It isn’t working. In fact Fox is enjoying a surge in viewership and the White House is losing face by appearing petty and vindictive.
Such tactics may not be frowned upon by brass-knuckle operatives working for the political machine in a one party town. But it’s different when you’re the President of the United States. Most Americans of all political stripes don’t want to see the President using the majesty and power of his office for heavy handed attacks on any organization simply because it has been critical of the President.
Time for the White House to wave the white flag, call off the dogs and try to resurrect their flagging credibility. Meanwhile, Fox News should send Emanuel and Axelrod a nice little thank you note.
UPDATE: Allahpundit at Hot Air notes that this may all be about “containment”:
This seems so obviously correct that I feel embarrassed for not having figured it out sooner.
The rationale of the White House offensive against Fox News has been a topic of much puzzlement lately. Is this just the White House lashing out? Are they trying to rally the base?
But I think Mike Allen and Josh Gerstein nail the real explanation in their story today: The White House is working to prevent stories born on Fox from crossing over into more widely-viewed media. Most Americans still haven’t heard of Van Jones, for instance; and the strategy is now all about containment…
This makes sense in the wake of the Van Jones story and the fact that some talking heads at Fox are emboldened by the success of forcing Van Jones out of his position (consider the suddenly surfaced video of Anita Dunn praising Mao after she attacked Fox).
That sort of a strategy at least makes more sense than the trying to question the organization’s credibility because of their “perspective”. However it will most likely fail as well, since even to those organizations whose perspective they like, news is news and they are the ones who lose credibility if they don’t cover it (regardless of who uncovers it).
UPDATE II: Heh … “It’s a quagmire!”:
Despite the President’s promise of a swift and decisive victory, Obama’s War on Fox News has developed all signs of an unwinnable quagmire, making the White House even more isolated in its unilateral attempts to crush the growing media insurgency. As the war continues to grind on for a second month, public opinion is shifting towards a quick and complete withdrawal. While many observers still agree that the “War on Limbaugh” is a “just and necessary war,” even the former supporters of the war effort are now labeling the War on Fox an “unnecessary war of choice” and claim that the cable channel had nothing to do with Obama’s falling approval numbers.
I‘m still wondering what the upside is for the White House in this fight it is picking with Fox News.
We’ve seen Anita Dunn, White House communication’s director take them on, obviously at the behest of and at least with the tacit agreement, one assumes, of the President. After all, he’s been known to complain about Fox and theirs was the only Sunday show on which he refused to appear recently. Now we have David Axelrod throwing out the same nonsense:
White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday that the Fox News Channel is “not really a news station” and that much of the programming is “not really news.”
“I’m not concerned,” Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week” when George Stephanopoulos asked about the back-and-forth between the White House and Fox News.
“Mr. [Rupert] Murdoch has a talent for making money, and I understand that their programming is geared toward making money. The only argument [White House communications director] Anita [Dunn] was making is that they’re not really a news station if you watch even — it’s not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming.
Of course what that network covers are things that the other networks would prefer not to cover – the ACORN scandal being the most recent story they attempted to avoid. And Fox has presented the other side on the “health care reform” story – giving Republicans a voice in telling the story that they’re not afforded on the other news networks.
I’m sure this does indeed rankle the White House because Fox, unlike the rest of the media isn’t a compliant lap dog for the administration. It makes waves when it reports the other side.
And I love how Axlerod denigrates “making money” as if CNN and MSNBC are in the charity business – although compared to Fox, they may as well be.
The White House apparently feels it must marginalize Fox for a reason. And the only reason I can come up with is the White House feels it is hurting it’s agenda. To me the most telling remark about Fox came when Dunn said that when President Obama goes on Fox he believes he’s debating the opposition.
I thought that’s what all real journalists considered themselves – the opposition. Now, apparently, journalistic worth is measured by the White House as how compliant you are and how willing you are to carry water for them.
It isn’t Fox that should be ashamed. It is CNN and MSNBC who, when referring to themselves, should find it more and more difficult to use the terms “news” and “journalism” with a straight face and without turning beet red with embarrassment.
In terms of any sort of media strategy, I really don’t get this – the White House has chosen to take on Fox News as some sort of enemy of the administration? Why?
Anita Dunn, communications director at White House had this to say on CNN’s “Reliable Sources”:
“If we went back a year ago to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that was a time this country was in two wars that we had a financial collapse probably more significant than any financial collapse since the Great Depression. If you were a Fox News viewer in the fall election what you would have seen were that the biggest stories and the biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and a something called ACORN.”
Now I have to admit not remembering it that way at all. What I do remember is that Fox was about the only news channel who mentioned Ayers or covered the ACORN shenanigans.
However, the “biggest stories” she complains about were mostly covered by opinion shows like Hannity, not the news arm of Fox. And I don’t think that Hannity has ever claimed to be anything but a conservative commentator. Finally, it seems that other news organizations should have been following ACORN a little more closely, given recent events.
Dunn goes on:
“The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. And it is not ideological… what I think is fair to say about Fox, and the way we view it, is that it is more of a wing of the Republican Party.”
“Obviously [the President] will go on Fox because he engages with ideological opponents. He has done that before and he will do it again… when he goes on Fox he understands he is not going on it as a news network at this point. He is going on it to debate the opposition.”
Translation: When he goes on Fox he’s likely to have journalists actually ask him hard and probing questions. When he goes on all the other networks, he expects softballs pitched by fawning sycophants. This explains why he avoided Fox when out doing his 5 Sunday show tour pitching health care.
“[Fox is] widely viewed as a part of the Republican Party: take their talking points and put them on the air, take their opposition research and put it on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news organization like CNN is.”
This is simply stupid in terms of a strategy. You take on the most viewed cable news network, insult it, claim it’s not a news organization” and almost dare it to prove you wrong. Where could such an organization better prove itself than going after the White House? Sure, it might give Dunn and others more fodder for silly statements like those above, but it could also lead to some real problems if journalists actually get a bit mad about being characterized as shills for a political party. They may actually begin to dig for dirt, and as I’m watching this circus of an administration unfold, there is probably going to be a bunch of dirt to be dug.
I’m not sure what Dunn thought she’d accomplish with such statements, but they’re the type that can come back to haunt you. Smart people don’t purposely antagonize and insult news organizations. Sure they may feel exactly as she says they feel, but the only thing that happens when statements such as her’s are made public is to spur those who are insulted to prove her wrong. And one of the best ways to do that is to break some big stories that cast the administration in a bad light.
I suspect we can expect Fox to make such news a fairly big priority since the White House has declared war on it. You certainly can’t expect it from the other “news organizations” as they’ve all proven time and time again.