For deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer, the more hyperbolic attacks on health-care reform this summer, which were often covered as a “controversy,” flipped an internal switch. “When you are having a debate about whether or not you want to kill people’s grandmother,” he explains, “the normal rules of engagement don’t apply.”
How about when a U.S. Congressman says Republicans want sick people to die? Crickets.
And for his boss, Anita Dunn, the aha moment came when the Washington Post ran a second op-ed from a Republican politician decrying the “32” alleged czars appointed by the Obama Administration. Nine of those so-called czars, it turned out, were subject to Senate confirmation, making them decidedly unlike the Russian monarchs. “The idea — that the Washington Post didn’t even question it,” Dunn says, still marveling at the decision.
Nine out thirty-two and she is indignant. So by her standards the other 23 must qualify as so-called czars.
The take-no-prisoners turn has come as a surprise to some in the press, considering the largely favorable coverage that candidate Obama received last fall and given the President’s vows to lower the rhetorical temperature in Washington and not pay attention to cable hyperbole. Instead, the White House blog now issues regular denunciations of the Administration’s critics, including a recent post that announced “Fox lies” and suggested that the cable network was unpatriotic for criticizing Obama’s 2016 Olympics effort. (See pictures of Barack Obama’s nation of hope.)
Is it redundant to ask about the collective orgasm the press would have had if George W. Bush had suffered such a humiliating defeat on an international stage? As if MSNBC, CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC wouldn’t have run with this and dedicated hours of “analysis” on what it meant to his presidency and the United States’ standing in the world.
The general in this war is Dunn, 51, a veteran campaign strategist who arrived at the White House in May. She has been a force in Democratic campaigns since the late 1980s and helmed Obama’s rapid-response operation during his run. At the White House, she has become a devoted consumer of conservative-media reports and a fierce critic of Fox News, leading the Administration’s effort to block officials, including Obama, from appearing on the network. “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news,” Dunn says. “They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.” Fox News’s head of news, Michael Clemente, counters that the White House criticism unfairly conflates the network’s reporters and its pundits, like Glenn Beck, whom he likens to “the op-ed page of a newspaper.”
Um, MSNBC anyone?
It’s no wonder that Team O feels blindsided by the mildest of criticisms. They were given the pass of all passes during the campaign and, to date, still have the press spinning the bleakest of news in a favorable light for them. Now they can’t take it when journalists actually do their jobs for once.