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Keeping the Fox out of the White House
WASHINGTON — Apparently, the Obama White House believes in diplomacy with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but not Glenn Beck.

Two days after the president won the Nobel Peace Prize, Barack Obama's communications director was on national television essentially declaring a message war on a major cable network that employs the abrasive commentator Beck, who recently called the president a racist.

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn accused Fox News of operating "as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party."

It's hard to understand this as a calculated move for a White House that has far bigger things to worry about — Iranian President Ahmadinejad's nuclear ambitions being just one — than drive-by rants on cable television. But it's part of a new strategy of more aggressively confronting conservative media that Dunn had forecast this month to Time magazine. White House battles with the media didn't begin today, or even with Spiro Agnew's feuds with the "nattering nabobs of negativism" in the paranoia of the Nixon White House.

But Dunn's attack ran contrary to her boss's earlier actions of engaging Fox. And over the long haul, any hint of a bunker mentality from the White House is good for no one.

Fox commentators, of course, ate the attack up as if they had gotten inside the proverbial henhouse. Fox News portrays itself as the network that dares ask what CNN won't because it wants access or MSNBC can't because it is so aligned with the Democrats. What is better for that story line than to get into a food fight with the White House?

The episode tells us three things:

1. The Obama White House is still in campaign mode. It only has approximately 12 months and 15 days to be in governing mode before the next presidential election campaign starts. You can win elections by hardening your base of support by attacking the base of your opposition. But it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to govern that way. Attacks on Fox are, de facto, attacks on the people who watch it. Obama might need that base if he decides to accept the recommendation of his top general in Afghanistan and pour tens of thousands more American troops into that country — and his liberal anti-war wing turns on him. He may need Republican support to get a health care bill passed.

2. Attacking whole segments of the population belies Obama's promise of bringing people together. Obama's appearance on Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly's show in September 2008 indicated a candidate's willingness to be a different kind of president, to act on the stated desire of his predecessor, George W. Bush, to be a uniter not a divider. Obama got a fair shake in that interview.

3.There is still a thing called presidential decorum. Sending out a taxpayer-paid partisan to attack a network, and by extension, its viewers, is not presidential. If you want to get in the mud with Glenn Beck, do it on your own dime and time, not ours.

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