By JAMES TARANTO
Blogger Donald Sensing has a fascinating analysis of President Obama's war against Fox News. He describes the effort as "directly out of the Saul Alinsky playbook." Alinsky was the author of "Rules for Radicals," bible of left-wing community organizers. One of his rules, or "power tactics": "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Sensing analyzes how Obama is carrying out this advice:
Pick the target. Do not make the mistake of thinking that FoxNews Channel is the actual target. The bullseye target of this campaign is all the public media. FNC's role in this much broader attack is the next two precepts.
Freeze it. This does not mean to shock the target into inactivity, but to fix a certain perception about the target in the minds of the broader community, in this case the media figures in general and the minds of the community (in this case, the whole nation is the community) as a whole.
The White House strategy here is twofold. First, to freeze FNC away from being thought of as just one of the universe of media outlets. White House Communications Director Anita Dunn opened this volley by declaring that FNC is not really a news organization, but the propaganda arm of the Republican party. . . .
Personalize it. Attacking FNC puts a face, a personal identity on the White House's enemy, but also serves to obscure the larger identity of the enemy. FNC is separated from the rest of the "real" media and personalized as a partisan, ideological arm of the president's political opposition. The White House wants the other media to think that its fight is with FoxNews exclusively, hoping they won't see that the real fight is with all media.
The other media may expect to be flattered as "real" reporters and news organizations who are actually the ones being "fair and balanced." The more a [sic] White House reporters and editors toe the White House line, the greater access they will be granted, especially to power figures such as Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod and, ultimately, Barack Obama himself, whom we may expect to give a one-on-one interview with the biggest suckup reporter gaining Dunn's favor. Reporters who don't fall into place will discover they are being frozen out of access and will have to rely exclusively on press briefer Robert Gibbs, which is the kiss of death to a White House reporter.
Polarize it. The White House wants to set up an us-v-them dynamic among the White House press pool. Hence, "White House Urges Other Networks to Disregard Fox News."
Sensing, who wrote this on Tuesday, observed, "So far, though, it's thankfully not working." That same day, as the New York Times reports, the White House escalated its effort--and the other networks sided with Fox:
In a sign of discomfort with the White House stance, Fox's television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Tuesday to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a "pool" camera crew shared by all the networks.
The Hill reports that in an interview aired yesterday, NBC's Savannah Guthrie asked the president, "Do you think it's appropriate for the White House to say what is and what is not a news organization?"
Obama dodged the question: "I think the American people are a lot more interested in what we're doing to create jobs and how we're handling the situation in Afghanistan."
"Fair enough," Guthrie replied, "but your advisers raised this issue."
Obama: "We no, the--I think that what our advisers have simply said is that we are going to take media as it comes, and if media is operating basically as a talk-radio format, then that's one thing, and if it's operating as a--as a news outlet, then that's another. But it's not something I'm losing a lot of sleep over."
The quality of the president's slumber is no one's business but his and Mrs. Obama's, but the president's protestations of disinterest in this question are belied by this detail from the Times:
Speaking privately at the White House on Monday with a group of mostly liberal columnists and commentators, including Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Bob Herbert of The New York Times, Mr. Obama himself gave vent to sentiments about the network, according to people briefed on the conversation.
MediaBistro has a complete list of attendees at the meeting, and it includes nonpartisan journalists such as Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal and Gwen Ifill of PBS. If Obama thinks they belong in the same category as MSNBC ranter Keith Olbermann, one cannot take seriously his drawing a distinction between talk radio and news outlets.
It's hard to see any way in which the White House's war on Fox makes sense. The aim of the effort seems to be to contain the political damage from stories like the Van Jones and Acorn scandals, which Fox reported well ahead of most media outlets, by encouraging journalists at those outlets to think of Fox as illegitimate.
But that is their natural inclination anyway; it is the reason Fox was out in front on those stories. Other news organizations were embarrassed to be so badly scooped--and rightly so, because it exposed them as, at best, lacking a nose for news and, at worst, being in the tank for the Obama White House. The role of Obama courtier may suit Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow just fine, but for any real journalist, being blessed as "legitimate" by a powerful politician is a challenge to prove one's independence.
Further, it diminishes the president for him to act as media critic. As Obama himself suggested in trying to dodge Savannah Guthrie's question, why isn't he concentrating on the economy, Afghanistan and other matters that are actually part of his job? Eric Burns of MediaMutters.org makes the point, hilariously if unwittingly, in a Puffington Host post:
The issue is not whether it was a good idea politically for the White House to say that the emperor has no clothes. The issue is that the emperor actually has no clothes. In other words, the administration's comments about Fox News aren't the story. Fox News is the story.
In Burns's rendition of "The Emperor's New Clothes," the president of the United States is cast in the role of the innocent child who isn't afraid to observe that the emperor is naked. That seems to get the fable exactly backward. Of course, for a professional ankle-biter like Burns, Fox News is the emperor--i.e., a vastly more powerful and important institution than MediaMutters. But it doesn't seem to occur to Burns that he diminishes the president by bringing him down to his own level--perhaps because the president has been so busy diminishing himself of late.
Which brings us back to Alinsky, and this quote from the "Rules for Radicals" prologue:
What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.
For an example of how the Have-Nots are capitalizing on Alinsky's insights, read our Weekend Interview with Andrew Breitbart, the Internet entrepreneur who masterminded the publicity campaign that made the Acorn scandal into a story the media couldn't ignore.
But Alinskyite tactics are of no use to Obama. As president of the United States, he is the ultimate Have. Maybe he is wearing an exquisite suit of clothes, but Obama doesn't seem to have a clue that he is the emperor.