On October 11, Anita Dunn, White House interim communications director, declared war on Fox News. “Let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is,” she said. David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel promptly chimed in on the Sunday talk shows (but not, of course, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, which is being boycotted). “Other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way,” Axelrod told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “We’re not going to treat them that way.” The president doesn’t want “the CNNs and the others in the world [to] basically be led in following Fox” said Emanuel to CNN.
So, how’s the war on Fox working out for the White House? Not too good it seems. It didn’t work with the news media. When the administration tried to freeze Fox out of a pool interview with Kenneth Feinberg, the other networks refused to go along.
And it sure didn’t work with the public. The ratings of FNC are up nearly 10 percent in the past two weeks. Among the 25-to-54-year-old demographic that advertisers love, it’s up 14 percent. Fox has the top 11 shows in that demographic, and the top 13 shows in all demographics. Glenn Beck, a particular bête noire of the Obama White House, is in the No. 2 slot, despite being on at 5:00 p.m. instead of in prime time.
This rather reminds me of the old Catholic Legion of Decency, which used to rate films for their moral content. At first (the group was formed in 1934) a C rating (C for “condemned”) could hurt a film, as many Catholics pledged not to attend such films and not to patronize movie theaters that showed such films. But by the 1950s, with people less likely to automatically defer to authority, the disapprobation of the Legion could actually help at the box office. People wanted to see what the fuss was about and make up their own mind. By the 1970s, the Legion had faded away.
Perhaps the War on Fox is another example of just how retro this White House actually is.