Obama v. Media: Is Tiff with Fox well Advised?

There was a good article in the NY Times Sunday Week in Review, The Battle is Joined; Now What? about the Obama administration's much talked-about dust up with the Fox News.  According to the story:

Administration officials seemed to have decided that they had had enough.

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, said in an interview with The New York Times. “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.”

The article analyzed the situation within the historical context of past presidential media wars.  For example, it brought up the Nixon administration, one that was famous for its paranoia.  (To put clients in the right frame of mind in our media training sessions, we start off with famous quotes about the media; e.g. Nixon's "The press is the enemy").

The story included words from Nixon VP Spiro Agnew about the media (“self-appointed analysts” at the Big Three networks exhibited undisguised “hostility” toward President Richard M. Nixon), but did not mention his famous quote denouncing the press as "nattering nabobs of negativism," one of my favorites.

We all know Fox has it in for Obama but does it make much sense for his administration to publicly declare war? Why turn a cold war into a hot war?  The elephant in the "unbiased media" room is that everyone knows there are biases, left and right leaning, and everyone plays favorites (or opposite) in their media initiatives accordingly.  As the article says:

… pretending has traditionally been a valuable part of the presidential playbook. Smiling and wearing beige even under the most withering news media assault is not only good manners, but also has generally been good politics… the history of administrations that have successfully taken on the media and won is shorter than this sentence.

It also cites a rule of thumb in political PR regarding battles: People who work in political communications have pointed out that it is a principle of power dynamics to “punch up “ — that is, to take on bigger foes, not smaller ones.

I'll add one more: Don't let them show you are sweating.  A president that is well known for his cool demeanor should not encourage his operatives to be so blatant about participating in media wars.

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