In its mindless war against Fox, the White House tried to ban Fox News from the White House press pool that was to interview the “pay czar,” Kenneth Feinberg. (Yes, it was a nice touch of imperial irony that the effort to cut off access to a particular news outlet came in the context of an interview of an administrative official who is not subject to congressional confirmation or oversight and whose job it is to dictate compensation rules to private firms that were bullied into taking government bailouts.) The mainstream media’s collective spine stiffened, and the administration was forced to back down.
This is hugely revealing for several reasons. First, the administration is digging in and doubling down even though its conduct has invited scorn from pundits of every political persuasion and become the object of ridicule. The belligerence is remarkable and suggests that the White House behaves in illogical and self-destructive ways. (Attention pundits: stop looking for rational explanations for the Obamis’ irrational behavior.)
Second, the administration is doing the impossible — offending the mainstream press and forcing some of Fox’s toughest critics to ride to its defense. Nice work, fellas.
Third, it’s disturbing that at a time when we still lack a strategy decision on Afghanistan, unemployment is sky high, and health-care reform is in disarray, this is what consumes the White House. For an administration that was supposed to transcend petty partisanship, it has become, yes, the spitting image of the Nixon White House — defensive, vengeful, and self-destructive.
It’s a cringe-inducing moment, both for those who oppose the White House on policy grounds and those who cheer its every move. As surely as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton allowed their personal flaws to erode the office of the presidency, Obama seems bent on allowing his own flaws (thin-skinnedness, hubris) to do potentially grave damage to the office as well. And over what? Not some grand policy matter or some key personnel matter, but over the desire to exclude a news network that has criticized him. For those who suggested that Obama’s main selling point was his “superior temperament,” we anxiously await an admission of grave error. It seems they were terribly mistaken.