Even as the White House preaches tolerance toward Muslims and Sikhs, it is practicing intolerance, signaling that anyone who challenges the leaders of an embattled America is cynical, political and -- isn't this the subtext? -- unpatriotic... We should dread a climate where the jobs of columnists and comedians are endangered by dissent.
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, September 30, 2001
That was 2001, the Republicans were in the White House and liberals were busy lecturing us on the dangers of a climate where dissent is considered unpatriotic. Now it's 2009 and the liberals hold Congress and the White House and are busy creating a climate where dissent is un-American and the subtext is... criminal.
Where the worst that people like Maureen Dowd or Jacob Weisberg could dig up as examples of the Bush Administration creating a climate of intimidation was an offhand comment about Bill Maher praising the courage of the 9/11 terrorists or putting a positive spin on news from Iraq-- those days are now long behind us. If post 9/11, a few columnists faced public outrage for their comments, today the Obama Administration openly orchestrates political attacks against its media critics.
Whether it's FOX News or Rush Limbaugh or CNBC-- the Obama Administration has openly and shamelessly targeted dissenting media figures. And even told the press how they were going to do it. And naturally the same defenders of the press who furrowed their brows when Ari Fleischer suggested that maybe an obnoxious comedian should think twice before calling the 9/11 terrorists courageous and the US Air Force cowardly... are cheering the media crackdown on.
Obama's top people did their tour of the Sunday Morning talk shows to spread the message to a cooperative state run media that FOX News was to be sidelined. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, "it's important not to have the CNN's and the others of the world being led and following Fox, as if what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization."
Had the Bush Administration gotten into the business of deciding that cable news networks with a liberal bias are not legitimate news organizations, the furor would have been endless. And the same columnists repeating the Obama Administration's talking points today, would have been the first to point out that this would mean that the government now gets to decide what a legitimate news network is or isn't, based on its level of favoritism to the White House.
Back in 2005, when the Bush Administration was merely paying less attention to the press and focusing on getting its message out through PR firms, Eric Boehlert at Salon hysterically claimed that this was part of a giant plot by the Bush Administration to destroy the press altogether. Boehlert wrote, "The Bush administration has been at war with the media from Day One. Is its real goal to undermine the press itself -- and thereby eliminate inconvenient truths?..." Boehlert then went on to give a description of the Bush Administration that could all too easily apply to the Obama Administration, "the Bush administration's well-documented mastery of cold-blooded political hardball, its record of contempt for journalism, its cavalier willingness to cross ethical lines in dealing with the press, and its arrogant assertion that it alone creates and controls reality".
But Boehlert's accusations would be far better directed toward the Obama Administration, whose White House Communications Director Anita Dunn gloated publicly;
"Very rarely did we communicate through the press anything that we didn't absolutely control... Whether it was a David Plouffe video or an Obama speech, a huge part of our press strategy was focused on making the media cover what Obama was actually saying as opposed to why the campaign was saying it. One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters. ... We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it."
There could hardly be a better textbook case of contempt for journalism and arrogance in believing that it and it alone controls reality.
At no time did the Bush Administration create an Operation Matthews to target Chris Matthews. Or go on talk shows to announce that the White House no longer considers CNN a news outlet. Mostly the Bush White House dealt with the media's liberal bias by trying to talk around them. By contrast the Obama Administration is not satisfied with having the allegiance of the majority of the press, but actually conducts wars against that fraction of the media that it does not yet control.
Naturally Boehlert sees no attempt by the Obama White House to create its own reality by trying to intimidate and directly attack media outlets that broadcast reports critical of its policies. These days he works at Media Matters pushing the Obama Administration's segregation of dissenting media outlets line, specifically FOX News. The thinking apparently is that the first step is to prevent any other media outlets from repeating any stories that FOX News breaks. After all nothing can be allowed to interfere with the White House's media echo chamber in which reporters repeat White House talking points to the public and back to the White House again.
That is not journalism. It is very literally propaganda. And calling on the media to segregate dissenting reporters and channels from the propaganda stream is an attempt by a faltering administration to create its own reality in defiance of the actual reality outside. The Obama Administration has tried to create its own economic reality, its own military reality, its own diplomatic reality and above all else, its own spin reality. And to do that, to make sure that the public hears nothing but the White House talking points day in and day out, you need control of the press.
Lenin's technique for seizing power in a city was to first grab the telegraph office in order to be able to control communications, then the electricity to control power, the railway stations to control transportation, the police stations to control enforcement, and ration cards to control food distribution. The first step though was to control communications. And when Anita Dunn, who considers Mao her favorite political philosopher, boasts about the Obama campaign's ability to control the media and feed unfiltered propaganda to he American public... the key word remains, "control".
And the stunning hypocrisy of the media, which repeatedly accused the Bush Administration of suggesting that its dissenters are unpatrotic or unamerican, in turning around now and calling FOX News "unamerican", as Jacob Weisberg does in a Newsweek column, demonstrates not only their bias, but their fundamental lack of standards of any kind. Boehlert and Weisberg and Dowd are not journalists, though they do get up to wave the ink stained flag and salute the masthead at every occasion. Rather they are propagandists willing to say anything to promote whatever the liberal agenda might be at the moment.
But the fallacy of both the White House and its adoring media fans is in believing that controlling the media also means controlling the American public. Health care nationalization isn't failing because of FOX news, it's failing because the public doesn't like what it sees. FOX news played its part, but the Obama administration's combination of deceit and incompetence sealed the deal. And while the rest of the media is content to explain the White House's talking points to America, FOX News is actually asking the hard questions about the people in power.
If dissent is now unamerican and if repeating the White House's talking points has become the essence of true journalism, then the claims made about the White House during the Bush Administration have finally come true... one administration later.