The Obama administration really needs to get over itself.
First, the president and his aides go to war with Fox News because the network maintains a generally anti-Obama slant.
Then, an anonymous administration aide attacks bloggers for failing to maintain a sufficiently pro-Obama slant.
These are not disconnected developments.
An administration that won the White House with an almost always on-message campaign and generally friendly coverage from old and new media is now frustrated by its inability to control the debate and get the coverage it wants.
But before the president and his inner circle go all Spiro Agnew on us, they might want to consider three fundamental facts regarding relations between the executive branch and the fourth estate:
1. Since the founding of the republic, media outlets (the founders dismissed them as “damnable periodicals”) have been partisan.
White House communications director Anita Dunn was not exactly breaking news when she told CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that Fox was neither fair nor balanced. “What I think is fair to say about Fox — and certainly it’s the way we view it — is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party,” grumbled Dunn. “They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.”
Fox hosts do go overboard in their savaging of Obama and the Democrats — sometimes ridiculously so. But their assaults on the president are gentle when compared with the battering that Benjamin Franklin Bache’s Philadelphia Aurora administered to John Adams (appropriately) or the trashing that Colonel McCormick’s Chicago Tribune gave Franklin Roosevelt (inappropriately).
To suggest that Fox is not a news network simply because Sean Hannity echoes RNC talking points would be like suggesting that the Aurora was not a newspaper because it took cues from Tom Jefferson or that the Tribune was not a legitimate member of the fourth estate because it was sweet on Alf Landon.
2. Presidents are supposed to rise above their own partisanship and engage with a wide range of media — even outlets that are hard on their administrations.
In fact, presidents should go out of their way to accept invites from media that can be expected to poke, prod and pester them. The willingness to take the hits suggests that a commander-in-chief is not afraid to engage with his critics. It also reminds presidents, who tend to be cloistered, that there are a lot of Americans who get their information from sources that do not buy what the White House press office is selling.
When Dick Cheney kept giving “exclusive” interviews to Fox “personalities,” there were those of us who ridiculed both the personalities and the former vice president for going through the ridiculous exercise of lobbing softballs and swinging at them.