Flashback: When D.C. media attacked Obama for calling out Fox News

Choosing sides

  
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As Fox News celebrates its 25th anniversary this week as the unapologetic arm of the Republican Party, it’s worth recalling the time that Democrats organized a revolt against the network, called it out as not being a “legitimate news organization,” and the Beltway press sprinted to defend Rupert Murdoch’s misinformation machine.

Today, Fox News has killed untold thousands during the pandemic. It spent 2020 telling viewers the Covid-19 virus was a “hoax,” and then this year urged them not to give into government “tyranny” by getting a free, safe, and life-saving vaccine. Think about all the damage and death that could have been avoided over the years if the mainstream media had moved swiftly to marginalize Fox News. Instead, anxious to beat down cries of “liberal media bias,” the Beltway press played nice with Murdoch’s network, pretended it was staffed with hard working, serious journalists, and refused to condemn Fox News for what it is — a cancer on this country.  

The standoff, and missed opportunity, began in 2009 as the new Obama administration announced it had had enough with a network devoted to destroying the Democratic president, all while masquerading as a news outlet and enjoying the institutional perks of being one.

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” senior White House advisor Anita Dunn told the New York Times in October, 2009. “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.”

It’s hard to describe, 12 years removed, just how on the mark Dunn was with her analysis, as well as with the White House strategy to knock Fox News down a peg; to begin to de-legitimize the outlet in the eyes of mainstream America. The Obama White House clearly understood not only the danger Fox News posed to the administration, with its 24/7 cycle of lies, but understood the dangers an irresponsible propaganda outlet posed to the country.

Its hardball strategy was the right approach to take. And of course, Fox News shrieked in response. They’re “the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington,” complained Chris Wallace. But that was to be expected. In terms of the larger debate, it didn’t really matter that they objected to the White House freezing out Fox News. What changed the dynamic was when high-profile Beltway journalists raced to defend Fox News, despite its rampant record of aggressive dishonesty.

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Instead of finding fault with Murdoch’s serial mendacity, the press gleefully chided the Obama team, portraying it as thin skinned.

"It makes the White House look childish and petty at best, and it has a distinct Nixonian feel,” the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus scolded. “By brazenly declaring war on a member of the Fourth Estate, the Obama administration is making a first-rate error in judgment,” the San Diego Times-Union announced, adding it was for better for Obama, “to just ignore whatever bothers you.” Yahoo News claimed that calling out Fox News was a “loser strategy,” because it generated unsightly “public barbs.”

Keep in mind that by 2009, the cable channel had clearly morphed into the Opposition Party in America, having long ago left the realm of journalism. But the Beltway press looked away.

The media response was so overwhelmingly in favor of Fox News, that Howard Kurtz, then working at CNN, asked if “the war on Fox had backfired on Obama and company?”

There was a key exchange between Jake Tapper, then with ABC News, and Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary [emphasis added]:

TAPPER: It's escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it's appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one –

GIBBS: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.

TAPPER: But that's a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say –

GIBBS: ABC -

TAPPER: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?... I'm not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I'm talking about saying 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?

At the time, Tapper had no idea how Fox News was different than ABC News, and he worked there. Keep in mind that in 2009, Fox News was sponsoring Tea Party rallies all across the country — the network was literally marketing, staging, and airing anti-Obama rallies coast-to-coast, but Tapper was stumped as to what made Fox News different from ABC.

And this was after Glenn Beck called Obama a “racist” with “a deep-seated hatred of white people.” After Beck had devoted endless time to attacking then-White House advisor Van Jones, calling him a “communist-anarchist radical.” And after the network had launched a hysterical and homophobic, weeks-long smear campaign, falsely painting an openly gay member of the Obama administration as a "pervert."

When the Democratic White House called out Fox News for not being a “legitimate news organization,” Beltway journalists, in total denial about a dangerous propaganda outlet, looked at Obama’s team like they had two heads.

Twelve years later, we continue to pay a steep price.

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(Photo: Cahrles Ommeanney/Getty Images)

GOOD NEWS:

Speaking of Fox News, I’m glad Chris Hayes is hammering this point lately — everyone who works there is vaccinated. Everyone.

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