Thursday, October 8, 2009

The unretouchables: White House on the media offensive

“You want to know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!"

from “The Untouchables,” screenplay by David Mamet

A snippet of dialogue from a Brian De Palma movie more than 20 years old has not-so-quietly become the centerpiece for a new Obama administration philosophy for dealing with the media. Having decided that waiting for the conservative media to be embarrassed by its pattern of distortion and outright lies was a waste of time, the White House in recent days has announced a new strategy.

No more rope-a-dope. Rather than lay back ignoring falsehoods and waiting for the attackers to exhaust themselves, the new White House plan is to challenge them early and often, to challenge conservative efforts to retouch administration players and redefine policy, and to do it before those efforts are fully developed.’s Michael Scherer reported on the new approach today:

“[R]ather than just giving reporters ammunition to ‘fact-check’ Obama's many critics, the White House decided it would become a player, issuing biting attacks on those pundits, politicians and outlets that make what the White House believes to be misleading or simply false claims, like the assertion that health-care reform would establish new ‘sex clinics’ in schools.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs put it best for Time: “The best analogy is probably baseball. The only way to get somebody to stop crowding the plate is to throw a fastball at them. They move.”

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Obama, a fan of movies and pop culture, borrowed from Mamet’s line and De Palma’s film in June 2008, speaking in Philadelphia on the campaign trail. “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said of his opponents. “Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

Some in the mainstream press have expressed concern that Obama’s cri de guerre is meant to include everyone, and they needn’t worry. This probably wasn’t a gauntlet throwdown for those in the punditburo whose opposition to Obama policies is based more on bedrock principles than lunatic partisanship.

It shouldn’t be much of an issue for The New York Times, Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, nor one for the major electronic media (the alphabet networks and their news Web sites), and it’s certainly not a problem for the blogressives in the media who helped put Obama over the top in November.

This was clearly a shot at the more reality-challenged: Fox News loose cannons like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly; right-wing news Web sites like Newsmax and Drudge Report; and such madcap free agents as talk-radio Doberman and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh.

It won’t likely change anything in terms of how they do what they do. But it will make clear that the Zen-master aspect of the Obama political identity isn’t above getting back into the street when the need be. The new Obama media initiative is a bid to send a signal, clear and unmistakable, like a two-by-four upside the head.

White House to right-wing media: Can you hear me now?
Image credit: Untouchables theatrical poster: © 1987 Paramount PIctures. Fox News logo: © 2009 Fox News Channel.

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