The Obama administration has a particularly ineffective and ham-handed approach to the media. It has launched an unprecedented attack on journalists, going so far as to label James Rosen’s ordinary newsgathering as a criminal. It sought from its first days in office to delegitimize Fox News and limit its press access. It has evaded, delivered half-truths (and smaller fractions) and tried to frustrate mainstream reporters. But as the White House is falling down around its ears, the administration calls in lefty journalists for a private meeting. This is the distillation of “you’re either with us or against us.”
The strategy is not going so well. Mainstream reporters are lashing out at Jay Carney in the briefing room, while the reporting is generally hard-hitting on the full range of White House scandals. And a chunk of left-of-center pundits is scathing. Dan Pfeiffer’s outing on Sunday was generally panned and earned the White House another four Pinocchios.
Ryan Lizza has added to the reporting on the Rosen case, explaining:
Ronald C. Machen, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is prosecuting the case, has seized records associated with two phone numbers at the White House, at least five numbers associated with Fox News, and one that has the same area code and exchange as Rosen’s personal-cell-phone number (the last four numbers are redacted).
In all, Ronald C. Machen, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, has seized records associated with over thirty different phone numbers.
Fox, unsurprisingly, has vowed to stand behind Rosen. (“We are outraged to learn [Monday] that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter. In fact, it is downright chilling. We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press.”) Fox is anything but marginalized.
Meanwhile, the White House Correspondents’ Association has belatedly entered the fray. Referencing Carney’s statement at a briefing that “if you’re asking me whether the president believes that journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs, the answer is no,” the group declared:
Indeed, reporters should never be threatened with prosecution for the simple act of doing their jobs. The problem is that in two recent cases, one involving Fox News’ James Rosen and the other focused on the Associated Press, serious questions have been raised about whether our government has gotten far too aggressive in its monitoring of reporters’ movements, phone records, and even personal email.
We do not know all of the facts in these cases, so we will just say this in general: Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of the press and nothing is more sacred to our profession. So we stand in strong solidarity with our colleagues who have been scrutinized. And in terms of the administration, ultimately what will matter more in all of these cases is action not words.
Carney’s statement is typical of the weasel words we’ve come to expect in this administration. Is Obama the president who can halt criminalization of the media or a distant observer reflecting on events beyond his control?
If Obama actually means what Carney says, he should order the documents from the fishing expedition be returned, instruct the DOJ not to pursue such secret dragnets in the future and shift from saying he has “no apologies” to offering one.
In a real sense, then, the White House has gotten its way. The media is now divided between sycophantic apologists and everyone else. There are fewer of the former, however, by the day, and those who remain have, by close identification to the panic-stricken administration, lost a great deal of influence.
From press adoration in 2008 to open warfare in 2013. It’s quite a transformation.