Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Attack on Fox News right out of Alinsky playbook

By Donald Sensing

FoxNews Channel is not the real target, and the rest of the media need to wake up to the crosshairs on them, too

Here's a thought about the White House's attack on FNC that I have not seen other commentators offer. The attack is directly out of the Saul Alinsky playbook, who in his work, Rules for Radicals, wrote that one of the rules of "power tactics" is to,

Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'...

"...any target can always say, 'Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?' When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments.... Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the 'others' come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...'

"One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other." (pps.127-134)
Let's consider the first sentence, which has become probably the most-quoted of the whole work, seriatim.

Pick the target. Do not make the mistake of thinking that FoxNews Channel is the actual target. The bullseye target of this campaign is all the public media. FNC's role in this much broader attack is the next two precepts.

Freeze it. This does not mean to shock the target into inactivity, but to fix a certain perception about the target in the minds of the broader community, in this case the media figures in general and the minds of the community (in this case, the whole nation is the community) as a whole.

The White House strategy here is to freeze FNC away from being thought of as just one of the universe of media outlets. White House Communications Director Anita Dunn opened this volley by declaring that FNC is not really a news organization, but the propaganda arm of the Republican party.
"The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. And it is not ideological... what I think is fair to say about Fox, and the way we view it, is that it is more of a wing of the Republican Party. ...

But let's not pretend they're a news organization like CNN is."
Here's the vid:




Personalize it. Attacking FNC puts a face, a personal identity on the White House's enemy, but also serves to obscure the larger identity of the enemy. FNC is separated from the rest of the "real" media and personalized as a partisan, ideological arm of the president's political opposition. The White House wants the other media to think that its fight is with FoxNews exclusively, hoping they won't see that the real fight is with all media.

The other media may expect to be flattered as "real" reporters and news organizations who are actually the ones being "fair and balanced." The more a White House reporters and editors toe the White House line, the greater access they will be granted, especially to power figures such as Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod and, ultimately, Barack Obama himself, whom we may expect to give a one-on-one interview with the biggest suckup reporter gaining Dunn's favor. Reporters who don't fall into place will discover they are being frozen out of access and will have to rely exclusively on press briefer Robert Gibbs, which is the kiss of death to a White House reporter.

Polarize it. The White House wants to set up an us-v-them dynamic among the White House press pool. Hence, "White House Urges Other Networks to Disregard Fox News."
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told CNN on Sunday that President Obama does not want "the CNNs and the others in the world [to] basically be led in following Fox."

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod went further by calling on media outlets to join the administration in declaring that Fox is "not a news organization."

"Other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way," Axelrod counseled ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "We're not going to treat them that way."
And to think that George W. Bush was mocked for saying, "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists." The White House is laying a foundation of future media relations that does two things. First, they are identifying, and most importantly trying to get all the media to identify, good and bad media coverage, both terms defined by the White House. Second, they are nudging each reporter and news organization to move further toward the "good" side by trying to drive a wedge between them and Fox News.

Remember, Anita Dunn said that during the campaign the "Obama Team 'Controlled' Media Coverage."
The Obama campaign's press strategy leading up to his election last November focused on "making" the media cover what the campaign wanted and on exercising absolute "control" over coverage, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn told an overseas crowd early this year.
Nothing has changed. The key word is "control," and total control over media coverage is the goal.

So far, though, it's thankfully not working. So far, that is. The question is whether the rest of the reporters and news-outlet managers understand that they are next to "picked, frozen, personalized and polarized" unless they submit to the White House's whims. Right now I think it's an open question, despite early signs of pushback, but over the long term I don't think the White House's center can hold. But who know how much damage to the country will be done in the meantime?