Foolish but dangerous attempts to manage the media by Team Obama

 Each President for several generations whittles away our freedoms.  Each party has their preferences in freedoms to erode; neither displays much interest in expanding our political and economic interests — although all display generosity in trivial matters, and make token efforts on some important matters.  Now Obama takes the knife.

Media manipulation has been a primary tactic of US administrations since Kennedy.  The slow dying of the mainstream media and birth of new media (talk radio, cable news, the Internet) complicates government efforts to control the flow of information to the public.  Now they strike back, with some tentative strikes.  As usual with Team Obama, their execution is amateurish — but that should not mask the danger of the government directly targeting news agencies.  History suggests that this is just the another step in a long process with an unpleasant ending. 

This post looks at two examples, with links to additional information at the end.  First the proposed FCC rules to regulate the Internet.

Second, Team Obama attempts to suppress Fox News (shrewd “divide and conquer” tactics):

  1. Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz,  CNN, 11 October 2009 — transcript of interview with Anita Dunn (White House Communications Director)
  2. State of the Union with John King“, CNN, 18 October 2009 — Transcript of  interview with Rahm Emanuel (White House Chief of Staff)
  3. Fox returns fire:   “The Radical Truth About Anita Dunn“, Glenn Beck, Fox News, 15 October 2009 — Anita Dunn tells schoolkids about Mao’s insights.

Analysis (no excerpts given)

(a)  “Media Matters coordinates campaign against ‘lethal’ Fox“, Politico, 23 October 2009 — Unintenetional irony by Media Matters, illustrating the policial nature of Team Obama’s attack on Fox.

(b)  “Behind the War Between White House and Fox“, New York Times, 23 October 2009 — Excellent and fair analysis, stirred from their slumber by the competition from new media like Fox News.

(c)  A summary of the NYT story — “In other words, their problem is not that Fox isn’t a real news organization, their problem is that it is.”  From “The White House’s Real Problem with Fox“, Rich Lowry, National Review Online, 23 October 2009

(d)  Eighteen thousand webposts about the short skirts of Fox News Anchorwomen — evidence that Fox News has smart management and that Americans need either to get out more or watch more foreign TV.

A note from the past

Please read the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ in Whitney vs. California (1929). See the Wikipedia entry for details; text is from

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom.


(1)  Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz,  CNN, 11 October 2009 — transcript of interview with Anita Dunn (White House Communications Director).  Red emphasis added.

KURTZ:  We talked about conservative commentators. Let’s talk about FOX News. You were quoted in “Time” magazine as saying of FOX News, that it’s “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” What do you mean “masquerading?”

DUNN:  Howie, I think if we went back a year go to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that it was a time when 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 would have been that the biggest stories and biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and something called ACORN. 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’s not ideological. Obviously, there are many commentators who have conservative, liberal, centrist, and everybody understands that. But I think what is fair to say about FOX and certainly the way we view it is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party.

KURTZ:  Is that the reason the president did not go on FOX News Sunday when he did all the other Sunday shows, and will President Obama appear again on FOX this year?

DUNN:  President Obama, he did “The Factor.” He did “O’Reilly.”

KURTZ:  Yes. That was during the campaign.

DUNN:  That was last year. … You had a two-part question. The first was, is this why he did not appear? And the answer is yes, obviously he’ll go on Fox because he engages with ideological opponents. And he has done that before. He will do it again. I can’t give you a date because, frankly, I can’t give you dates for anybody else right now.
But what I will say is that when he goes on FOX, he understands that he is not going on — it really is not a news network at this point. He’s going to debate the opposition. And that’s fine. He never minds doing that. But…

KURTZ:  On that point, (inaudible), I want to read a statement from FOX senior VP Michael Clemente, who said the following, we’ll put it up on the screen. “An increasing number of viewers are relying on FOX News for both news and opinion, and the average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A-section of the newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents. So with all due respect to anyone who might still be confused between news reporting and vibrant opinion, my suggestion would be to talk about the stories and the facts rather than attack the messenger, which over time has never worked.” Your response?

DUNN:  Yes. I think there have been numerous independent analyses that have looked at the difference between CNN, ABC, NBC — ABC and FOX, and have seen there is a very different story selection. There’s a very even down to the chyron they run below stories that, you know, this isn’t us making it up, Howie. You study the media. You know that it’s not just their opinion shows.

KURTZ:  Take Major Garrett, he’s the White House correspondent for FOX News. Do you think he’s fair? Do you think he’s masquerading as a newsman?

DUNN:  I will say — and I’ve done this in my interviews. I’ve differentiated. No, I’ve not said — I’ve differentiated between Major Garrett, who we view as a very good correspondent, and his network, and Major knows this. Major came to me when we didn’t include Chris.

KURTZ:  Chris Wallace.

DUNN:  In the round of Sunday shows, Chris Wallace from the Sunday shows. And I told Major quite honestly that we had told Chris Wallace that having fact-checked an administration guest on his show, something I’ve never seen a Sunday show do, and Howie, you can show me examples of where Sunday shows have fact-checked previous weeks’ guests. We asked Chris for example where he had done that to anybody besides somebody from the administration in the year 2009, and we’re still waiting to hear from him. When they want to treat us like they treat everyone else — but let’s be realistic here, Howie. They are — they’re widely viewed as, you know, part of the Republican Party. Take their talking points and put them on the air. Take their opposition research and put them on the air, and that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.

KURTZ: You are making a distinction, just before I move on, between the opinion guys, O’Reilly, Hannity, Glenn Beck, and people like Major Garrett.

DUNN: I’m not talking about people like Major Garrett. I’m talking about the overall programming. For instance, Howie, “The New York Times” had a front page story about Nevada Senator John Ensign and the fact that he had gotten his former chief of staff a job as a lobbyist and his former chief of staff’s wife was someone Ensign had had an affair with.

KURTZ: We reported the story.

DUNN: Did you see coverage of that on FOX News? I’m not talking Glenn Beck, and I’m not talking Sean or “The Factor.” I’m talking about FOX News.

KURTZ: I will have to check on that. I assume you know the answer.

(2)  State of the Union with John King“, CNN, 18 October 2009 — Transcript of  remarks by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.  Red emphasis added.  Excerpt:

KING: You need to go, and so I’m going to ask you one more quick question. … I’m trying to get behind the curtain and understand why your White House has decided that it is in its interest to have this, boom, with our rival, Fox News, Anita Dunn, one of your staff, calls it the — the communications director, the wing of the Republican Party. why?

EMANUEL: Well, no, it’s not so much a conflict with FOX News. But unlike — I suppose, the way to look at it, and the way we — the president looks at it and we look at it, is, it’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that’s a different take. And more importantly, it does not have — the CNNs and others in the world basically be led and following FOX, as if that — what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization, in the sense of both sides and a sense of a value opinion.

But let me say this. While it’s clear what the White House and what Anita said, I mean, the concentration at the White House isn’t about what Fox is doing. Its concentration is about, what does it take to make sure the economy is moving, creating jobs, helping the economy grow, making sure that we responsibly withdraw from Iraq, making sure what — the decisions we make on Afghanistan, we ask the questions before we go ahead first into putting 40,000 more troops on the line and America’s reputation, its most treasured resources, its young men and women, and its resources. That’s what’s occupying the decisions and the time in the White House.

(3)  The Radical Truth About Anita Dunn“, Glenn Beck, Fox News, 15 October 2009 — Great message, poor choice of an example, stupid to have added context about Mao.  Red emphasis added.  Excerpt:

Glen Beck: The videotape I’m about to show you is from way, way, way back in June of this year. It was in front of a high school crowd. The woman on the tape is Anita Dunn

A lot of you have a great deal of ability. A lot of you work hard. Put them together and that answers the “why not” question. There is usually not a good reason. And then the third lesson and tip actually comes from two of my favorite political philosophers: Mao Tse Tung and Mother Teresa, not often coupled together, but the two people that I turn to most to basically deliver a simple point, which is, you’re going to make choices. You’re going to challenge. You’re going to say “why not.” You’re going to figure out how to do things that have never been done before.

But here’s the deal — these are your choices. They are no one else’s. In 1947, when Mao Tse Tung was being challenged within his own party on his plan to basically take China over, Chiang Kai Shek and the nationalist Chinese held the cities that had the army. They had the airport. They had everything on their side, and people said, “How can you win? How can you do this? How can you do this, against all the odds against you?” And Mao Tse Tung said, “You know, you fight your war, and I’ll fight mine.”

And think about that for a second. You don’t have to accept the definition of how to do things, and you don’t have to follow other people’s choices and paths, OK? It is about your choices and your path. You fight your own war. You lay out your own path. You figure out what’s right for you. You don’t let external definitions define how good you are internally. You fight your war. You let them fight theirs. Everybody has their own path.

And Mother Teresa, who, upon receiving a letter from a fairly affluent young person who asked her whether she could come over and help with that orphanage in Calcutta, responded very simply, “Go find your own Calcutta.”

OK? Go find your own Calcutta. Fight your own path. Go find the thing that is unique to you. The challenge that is actually yours, not somebody else’s challenge. One of the things that we see the Obamas, both of them, Michelle and Barack, came out of backgrounds as community organizers, working.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar:  Information & disinformation, the new media & the old.  It has links to posts about these subjects.

  1. The new media
  2. Propaganda and info warfare
  3. Disinformation
  4. The mainstream media

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

Some of the posts about the mainstream media :

  1. The media discover info ops, with outrage!, 22 April 2008
  2. Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable, 30 April 2008
  3. The myth of media pessimism about the economy, 13 June 2008
  4. “Elegy for a rubber stamp”, by Lewis Lapham, 26 August 2008
  5. “The Death of Deep Throat and the Crisis of Journalism”, 23 December 2008
  6. The media doing what it does best these days, feeding us disinformation, 18 February 2009
  7. The media rolls over and plays dead for Obama, as it does for all new Presidents, 19 February 2009
  8. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
  9. The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
  10. We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009 
  11. About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
  12. The perfidy of ABC News (tentative conclusion on a breaking story), 18 June 2009
  13. Are we blind, or just incurious about important news?, 6 July 2009
  14. We know nothing because we read newspapers, 12 October 2009


Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

48 thoughts on “Foolish but dangerous attempts to manage the media by Team Obama”

  1. Also, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of ‘free speech’ going on on this thread. The first amendment does not say that the president must talk with anyone who wishes to talk with him… it only says that the government cannot use its power to censor speech. No-one is censoring anything, nor is there a “War Between the White House and FOX“, as the hysterical Oct. 22 New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg would have it.

    The Obama administration simply does not wish to expose itself to attacks. This is not surprising, nor is it new. In early 2008, the Bush administration attacked NBC for being too partisan, and the same people defending FOX news now were right there cheering on the Bush administration’s attacks on NBC: (“Beck supported Bush White House attacks on NBC“, DailyKos blog, Jed Lewinson, Oct. 21, 2009). The idea that Glenn Beck, Rich Lowry, or Jake Tapper cares about the free speech issues here is completely laughable.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Given our government’s history (let alone global history), any steps to controling the media are hardly “laughable.” Many of us have learned to fight the small first steps, as it becomes only more difficult later.

  2. One of these things is NOT like the other!!


  3. Hmm. Interestingly, here is David Swanson, on his blog “Lets Try Democracy”, arguing that FOX really is a news organization, and not that much worse than CNN: “FOX Is News, Bad News“. From the blog (bolding is mine):

    there is a more destructive force in our communications system than a transparently rightwing buffoons gallery. That destructive force is the persistent myth of “objective” “viewpoint-free” reporting. When the “respectable” news outlets tell us that “objectively” we are going to have to escalate wars in order to be safe, and when they quote two “opposing” experts who both agree with that claim, thereby providing “balance,” and they neither scream nor rant nor suggest that we citizens have any role to play, we are persuaded and disempowered.

    When Fox News, in contrast, pushes its “fair and balanced” bullshit, we fight back. But the way to fight back is to build truly democratic media that promotes what we believe in without apology, and yet without the dishonesty that has damaged Fox in so many minds. The way to fight Fox is not to suggest that there is something respectable or praiseworthy about the bulk of the infofascistainment found on MSNBC and CNN.

    Now that makes sense.

  4. Yes. The remedy for “bad speech” is MORE speech. Diversity is the very reason why we need FOX, like it or not.

  5. Mikyo:

    I’m beginin’ to feel f***in’ glad I don’t have to watch c*** on fox news as I’m not livin’ within U.S. borders. Then again, there’s ALWAYS c*** closer to home…

  6. Follow up to 24, 26, 27:

    Benjamin Disraeli’s most famous advice to aspiring politicians was: “Never complain and never explain.”
    Hat tip to: National Review Online.

    To which I would simply add: “Never complain (forget the Ethos) and never explain (forget the Logos too).” Come to think of it, Abraham Lincoln was real heavy on the Pathos.

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