That’s how Chris Wallace describes the Obama team, constantly calling to “work the umps” to whine about coverage and object to stories and guest selection on TV talk shows. Obama’s talk-show blitz today conspicuously avoided Fox even though, as Politico’s Michael Calderone concedes, “the network dominates the cable ratings and reaches a viewership far beyond the Democratic base.”
We know from David Brooks, among others, that the Obama team famously descends en masse to object to stories and insist its spin be transmitted. And the personal attacks on everyone from Rick Santelli to Rush Limbaugh directly from the White House press room are unprecedented.
One could say that this media approach is “aggressive” or “quick to respond.” But it also suggests, both in ferocity and obsessiveness, a problematic mindset that no doubt comes straight from the president: any tough criticism is inauthentic, illegitimate, or just wrong. Fox should be ignored because it don’t follow the mainstream-media story lines. Conservative-media stories should be similarly ignored because they’re just nutty attacks attempting to delegitimize the president. (The Washington Post helpfully offered that the White House sees an “existential threat” to the president from coverage of such stories.) And even a knowledgeable business reporter like Santelli needs to be written off as a know-nothing who has his facts wrong because it’s simply impossible to have legitimate objections on the merits of the president’s proposals.
The danger here, as we have seen with the health-care debate and the populist uprising on spending (embodied in the “I see nothing” reaction to the Tea Parties outside the White House windows), is that the White House misses the public mood and doesn’t pick up on early-warning signals that its agenda is in trouble or its message ineffective. The administration prefers to strangle the coverage of its critics’ complaints rather than take the criticism seriously—or even learn from it. The result is that it is caught flat-footed and unprepared to respond effectively to very real concerns about everything from political appointments to major policy initiatives. And one suspects this is purely a function of the president’s prickly personality and inability to tolerate criticism. After all, he has been the one to call out Fox and complain about the 24/7 news cycle.
The irony of all of this, obviously, is that this administration has been the beneficiary of the most sycophantic coverage ever of a presidency. That it cannot accept even minor deviations from that idolatry tells us much about the thinking of the Obama team and the president himself.