White House Official Admits Obama Campaign “Absolutely Controlled” Media Image, Slams Fox News
By Kathleen Gilbert
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 19, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After very publicly throwing down the Obama administration's gauntlet to the Fox News network last week, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn is again attracting attention thanks to new footage of her revealing the Obama campaign's own media philosophy - deepening the already dizzying saga of the Obama administration's power struggle with the media establishment.
At a Dominican Republic conference in January, Dunn - a former team member of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the wife of Obama's personal attorney Robert Bauer - discussed the "absolute control" the campaign exerted over Obama's mainstream media image. The tactic, she says, allowed the campaign to maneuver the candidate's persona away from media questioning.
"One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters," said Dunn, referring to media packages by Obama's chief campaign manager David Plouffe. "We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said, as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much - we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it," she said.
"Increasingly, by the general election, very rarely did we communicate through the press anything that we didn't absolutely control."
Dunn gave the remarks at a conference on Barack Obama's campaign hosted by the Dominican Global Foundation for Democracy and Development.
According to Dunn, the campaign's media strategy was to discourage critique of the candidate as such. "The reality is that whether it was a David Plouffe video or an Obama speech, a huge part of our press strategy was focused on making the media cover what Obama was actually saying as opposed to why the campaign was saying it," she said.
The footage adds a new dimension to Dunn's comments made earlier this month on the right-leaning Fox News network, which she claimed was "more of a wing of the Republican Party" than a news service.
"Obviously [the President] will go on Fox because he engages with ideological opponents," Dunn said on the October 11 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources. "[Fox is] widely viewed as a part of the Republican Party ... and that's fine. But let's not pretend they're a news organization like CNN is."
Fox News responded to the attack in an email to CNN, noting that "the average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents."
Fox political commentator Glenn Beck fired his own salvo at Dunn last week by airing footage of her expressing admiration for Mao Tse Tung, the founder of Communist China considered responsible for the deaths of tens of millions - with the help of his party's wholesale takeover of Chinese media.
In the June 2009 address to high school students, Dunn juxtaposed Mao Tse Tung and Mother Teresa of Calcutta as "two of my favorite political philosophers." "In 1947, when Mao Tse Tung was being challenged within his own party on his plan to basically take China over, Chiang Kai Shek ... had everything on [his] side. And people said, how can you do this? ... and Mao Tse Tung said, you know, 'You fight your war, and I'll fight mine,'" she said. "You figure out what's right for you, you don't let external definitions define how good you are internally."
Some commentators, including Dunn, criticized the ensuing uproar, saying that people had taken her comments too seriously.
Ever since President Obama alluded to Fox as "one television station entirely devoted to attacking my administration" in a June interview with CNBC's John Harwood, White House officials have held an increasingly aggressive line against the network. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior Obama advisor David Axelrod both took the offensive to a new level by urging other news outlets to shun Fox.
Asked to comment on Dunn's remarks, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs issued a more subtle hint at the administration's antagonism. "I have watched many stories on that network that I found not to be true," he said.
The complex exchange emerges out of the long-brewing unrest over the White House's relationship with the fourth estate. While the public battle between the administration and Fox has been the most dramatic, critics say a penchant for dodging debate in favor of implying falsehoods or even foul play by opponents has become a part of the executive branch's communications strategy on several fronts.
One notable example: in the massive debate over government-funded abortion in health care reform, press secretary Gibbs has consistently responded by suggesting that the controversy is baseless thanks to the Hyde amendment, which prevents government-funded abortions. Just as consistently, the National Right to Life Committee has decried the response as deliberately misleading - for it ignores the fact that Hyde is irrelevant to the stream of funds created by the health reform legislation.
Some analysts have questioned whether the administration's aggressive posturing is a poor political move.
New York Times columnist David Carr posited that the White House's media scuffle "may present a genuine problem for Mr. Obama, who took great pains during the campaign to depict himself as being above the fray of over-heated partisan squabbling."
"While there is undoubtedly a visceral thrill in finally setting out after your antagonists, the history of administrations that have successfully taken on the media and won is shorter than this sentence," Carr wrote this weekend. "So far, the only winner in this latest dispute seems to be Fox News. Ratings are up 20 percent this year."
Former President George W. Bush's former chief political strategist Karl Rove decried the "Chicago-style politics" behind the White House tactic in an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "This is an administration that's getting very arrogant and slippery in its dealings with people. And if you dare to oppose them, they're going to come hard at you and they're going to cut your legs off," said Rove.
"This is a White House engaging in its own version of the media enemies list. And it's unhelpful for the country and undignified for the president of the United States to so do," he continued.
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage: