Why Does the White House Keep Admitting Its Policy on Fox News?

By
Pfeiffer after last year's White House Correspondence Association Dinner. Photo: Patrick McMullan

Last fall, former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn admitted what people inside and outside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have known for a long time — that the Obama administration does not regard Fox News as a news outlet that will give them a fair shake. "Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party," she said back in October. "We're going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent." Many onlookers, including us, thought that admitting this was a bad idea. And indeed, eventually the White House softened its tone, Obama sat down with Fox News White House Correspondent Major Garrett for an interview, and, as planned, Anita Dunn quietly stepped away from her position by the end of the year.

When Dunn left, we advised her successor, Dan Pfeiffer, to make sure he smiled big for his official photo, as we guessed it would be on Fox News host Glenn Beck's chalkboard of shame in no time. And it looks like that prediction will come true. In one of his first interviews on the job, Pfeiffer reignited the flame war with Roger Ailes's army by reiterating Dunn's points.

"I have the same view of Fox that Anita had, which is that Fox is not a traditional news organization. They have a point of view. That point of view pervades the entire network, both the opinion shows — like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly — but also through the newscasts during the day," Pfeiffer told the Times. "Our relationship with Fox is that we don't feel an obligation to treat them like we would treat a CNN or an ABC or an NBC or a traditional news organization. But there are times when it would make sense to communicate with them and appear on the network."

Okay, obviously this is the White House's policy — it has been for a long time and it will be for the foreseeable future. They have their own logic, and they probably have reason to believe this strategy is working for them. But why continue to admit it? If your problem is with Glenn Beck's constant hectoring, why give him a new and meaningless bone to chew on in the first place?

The White House had Dunn make her comments in the first place so they could get out the notion that the administration doesn't take Fox News seriously. They chose her because she was tough, but also because she was scheduled to leave soon after, thereby effectively ending that narrative. As it is, the White House looked like they were the ones that caved in the end, a point which Fox News is not likely to let anyone forget. "We all remember how well that turned out," a Fox News spokesperson said today. "Obviously new to his position, Dan seems to be intent upon repeating the mistakes of his predecessor." Come on, White House. Drop this storyline, or else you'll prove them right.

In the meantime, Beck is already preparing his fusillade.

Ten Minutes With Dan Pfeiffer [Caucus/NYT]
Earlier: Why Declaring War on Fox News Could Be a Mistake for Obama