“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” Anita Dunn, White House Communications Director said of Fox News, “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.” I went back and re-read this quotation after reading Kathleen Parker’s column in today’s Washington Post. Parker herself comments about l’affaire Dunn: “You don’t want to give [news commentator Glen Beck] ammunition. Obama did — and now Beck gets to make the president look both silly and sinister.” Great line, but in all of the ink that’s been spilled about Obama v. Fox News, I have yet to read the obvious comparison. Anybody remember Richard Nixon? Daniel Schorr? The infamous “enemies’ list” Nixon and his advisors cooked up and onto which many members of the press were placed? No? Am I getting old or what?
Pundits compare President Obama to former President Jimmy Carter, both Nobel Peace prize winners so this comparison has some validity. But I am thinking that the more enlightening comparison may be between President Obama and President Nixon: both inherited wars; both faced energy crises during their administrations; both attempted sweeping changes in U.S. health care.
These comparisons, of course, could be written off as accidents of history. The far more intriguing similarity between the two chief executives, however, is the paranoia about the press they share. Nixon’s is well-documented and perhaps well-founded. It was the press, after all, doing its job and investigating the White House that brought down Nixon’s presidency. Obama purports to have a more loving relationship with the fourth Estate, or so we have been led to believe.
Nixon’s strategy was pretty straightforward: sic the FBI on members of the enemies’ list. Obama’s takes a very different turn, insidious and, well, sinister, as Parker says. The White House’s abortive attempt to enlist the NEH in promulgating its messages seems to me to bespeak a deep mistrust of a press that cannot be relied upon to carry the water for the administration. Establishing a “reality check” page as a part of the White House’s web site suggests the same lack of trust in the American news establishment. Clearly, the Obama administration does not believe that robust journalism will truthfully inform the American public and its decision-making.
These behind-the-scenes maneuvers are now augmented by Ms. Dunn’s declaration of war a cable television station. Forget paranoia. There’s another p-word that applies to Presidents Nixon and Obama: petty. The President of the United States is arguably the most powerful person on earth. The responsibilities that fall on his shoulders command respect from all of us. How is it possible that men so burdened can be so distracted by words that are here today and gone the next? Mr. Obama, declare a truce with Fox News before you start adding more names to your list.
For Kathleen Parker’s column see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/16/AR2009101602508.html