Peter Berkowitz writes: In October 2009, the Obama White House launched a concerted attack against critical press coverage, one unparalleled since the days of the Nixon White House. In one respect, Barack Obama and Richard Nixon were in agreement: both perceived a distinctly liberal bias in the media. Nixon denounced the press for its leftism, Obama objected to the press’s deviation from it. So Obama and his senior staff singled out for condemnation Fox News, the lone television network that did not serve up the fawning coverage the president and his team had come to expect.
In “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech,” Kirsten Powers recounts that in the space of a few days, White House communications director Anita Dunn, her deputy Dan Pfeiffer, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel openly asserted that the administration properly excluded Fox reporters from press briefings because Fox was not a legitimate news organization. When asked for comment by NBC News, President Obama stood behind his team.
Grousing about criticism is only human, and presidential displeasure with the press is nothing new. But wielding the presidential bully pulpit to decree what counts as legitimate news coverage represented an ominous turn in American politics.
“The smearing of opponents of the progressive party line as purveyors of hatred; the denigration of critics of left-liberal public policy as racists, sexists, and homophobes; and the ostracism of advocates of faith, tradition, and the virtues of America’s experiment in self-government as minions of sinister forces—these have become routine features of intellectual life at our leading universities.”
Separation of press and state is as essential to the American constitutional order as separation of church and state. In one respect, religious freedom depends on press freedom: a press that is answerable to, or in the pocket of, the government will be unwilling to report, or incapable of reporting accurately, when government exceeds its lawfully prescribed boundaries.
What could the president and his advisers have been thinking in orchestrating an assault on Fox News? Where could our president, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School and a former lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, have gotten the idea that it was government’s prerogative to determine who properly reports the news and to supervise the flow of opinion in the country?
Sad to say, they could have been thinking they were faithfully implementing the ideas about the need to regulate speech that they had learned in college. The smearing of opponents of the progressive party line as purveyors of hatred; the denigration of critics of left-liberal public policy as racists, sexists, and homophobes; and the ostracism of advocates of faith, tradition, and the virtues of America’s experiment in self-government as minions of sinister forces—these have become routine features of intellectual life at our leading universities. The development of doctrines designed to curtail nonconforming speech was already well under way by the time Obama attended college in the early1980s and law school in the early 1990s. Read the rest of this entry »