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Neutralizing the opposition

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009; 9:34 AM

The Foxified debate over whether the White House is being mean to a certain network is morphing into a broader argument about the politics of negativity.

The question, which is being pushed on the right, is whether the Obama team is using its muscle to demonize its opponents.

The president bears a special burden in this regard. He ran as a post-partisan guy who would reach out to the other side. (Of course, Bush also ran as a uniter-not-a-divider, and that didn't work out too well.)

But while Obama is a conciliator by nature, what should a politician do when the opposition refuses to meet him even a quarter-way? Number of Republican votes for the stimulus: zero. Number of Republican votes so far for health-care reform: one.

And if the insurance industry, after making a deal with the White House, attempts to sink health care? What administration wouldn't fight back? I just wonder if Obama is being held to a higher standard when he practices plain ol' politics.

The attacks on Fox News are different. I know this has gotten caught up in the polarization over Rupert Murdoch's network, but the White House has gone beyond pushing back and is trying to marginalize Fox. Other news organizations don't seem terribly concerned about the frontal assault against the channel; ABC's Jake Tapper is one of the few who have spoken out.

Maybe this is because many journalists privately agree with the administration that Fox is an opinion outfit, not a news network. But isn't there a principle at stake? I know the Bush White House took its shots at MSNBC, but if top officials repeatedly went on the Sunday shows and said it wasn't a news network, wouldn't there have been something of a media uproar? Are such uproars warranted only when liberals are the target?

You can't blame the White House for hitting back against the Glenn Becks of the world or Fox stories it finds unfair. There's no unilateral disarmament in politics. But going after a whole network is an unprecedented tactic.

Of course, Fox seems to be enjoying its ostracization, and the White House hasn't done much to retaliate other than keep the president off its air. But I would have thought administration officials would be tamping it down by now. Haven't they made their point?

In Politico, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen make the case that the White House is trying to sideline its critics:

"President Obama is working systematically to marginalize the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party, setting loose top White House officials to undermine conservatives in the media, business and lobbying worlds.

"With a series of private meetings and public taunts, the White House has targeted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest-spending pro-business lobbying group in the country; Rush Limbaugh, the country's most-listened-to conservative commentator; and now, with a new volley of combative rhetoric in recent days, the insurance industry, Wall Street executives and Fox News.


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