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Is Obama launching a new fall attack on Fox News?

Baltimore Sun reporter

From the Z on TV blog:

Last year at this time, President Obama and his top White House advisers were about to launch a disastrous campaign against Fox News.

I say disastrous because the acting communications director, Anita Dunn, who sounded the call to arms on Howard kurtz's "Reliable Sources" show would resign within weeks, and the president and his innermost circle after going on every major non-Fox news show to attack the highest-rated cable news channel as "not really being a news channel," were in full retreat.

I was in the middle of it, a little lonely at first as one of the only mainstream journalists denouncing what the White House was up. I stressed the need for a free press -- independent from the reaches and power of any of the branches of government -- for democracy to be served.

It got nasty before journalists at other cable channels and networks who understood the principle stepped up and spoke out against an executive branch trying to bully and browbeat a competitor. ABC's Jake Tapper, then- CNN host Campbell Brown and NBC's Savannah Guthrie were among the cable and network newscasters who ultimately challenged the White House on what it was trying to do to Fox.

And now comes President Obama in a "Rolling Stone" interview citing the very Constitutional point I made over and over while under attack from his operatives when he was asked by Jann Wenner about Fox News in a midterm-themed cover story in "Rolling Stone." And after he cites the Constitutional principle, he then goes back on the attack saying Fox News is "destructive" to the country.

Here we go again -- sort of. The president seems to have learned from the mistakes of last fall's campaign against Fox. But instead of using his newly gained wisdom to respect the role of a free press, he's using it to try to be more effective in his attack on Fox News. He's trying to plug the gaping hole in last year's rationale to better disguise his partisan intent.

According to TVNewser's account of the Rolling Stone interview, here's Obama's answer after Wenner asks him is he thinks Fox News is "is a good institution for America and for democracy."

(Talk about loaded, tee-'em-up, partisan, softball questions. If the publisher of "Rolling Stone" was so concerned about what institutions were good for democracy, he should have stepped up last fall when the executive branch of government was trying to crush one of the most popular news outlets in America. Anyway, here's Obama, and please note the laughter at the question about Fox and democracy indicated in the transcript of the exchange.)

Obama: “[Laughs] Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition – it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.”

I love it that Obama finally masters the first week's topic for Government and the Press 101, the part about the need for independent press, and now he's lecturing us on the History of the Press 499 like he knows what he is talking about.

That's fine, that's Obama, isn't it?

And I guess, it is even okay if Obama wants to say he believes Fox News has a point of view and that it's "ultimately destructive" for America. That is a pretty serious charge. But, after all, Fox News is winning with the viewer-voters of America, and Obama has been losing support for his party left and right. And nothing rallies the left, which is pretty disillusioned with Obama these days, like an attack on Fox -- especially on a week of more great ratings news and the release of a study that finds Fox a winner when voters are asked what news outlets are having a positive impact on American politics.

But you don't deny Fox News or any other news organization access to pool interviews with administration officials as was done last year or have your top aides go on Sunday morning public affairs shows and tell other journalists they should cut Fox News from the journalistic herd.

I have written this before, but it bears repeating: Outside of Richard Nixon, I have never seen a president with the profound contempt for the press that Obama has.

Say what you will about Fox News and the all the candidates on its payroll, and its parent company donating $1 million to the GOP, all journalists owe Roger Ailes & Co. a debt of gratitude for standing up to the White House last year and teaching this president a lesson about the press and government -- a lesson that you think he would have learned long ago being a professor of law.

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