Cast your mind back, for a moment, to the fall of 2009. It was still relatively early in the Obama era when the president's communications team chose to embark upon a concerted effort to marginalize Fox News, arguing publicly and aggressively that the top-rated cable news network was not a legitimate press organization. Leading the charge was then-White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, who deliberately ramped up her rhetorical attacks against the news organization widely seen as a thorn in her boss's side. Her rhetoric was not terribly dissimilar from what some on Team Trump have said about CNN:
Calling Fox News "a wing of the Republican Party," the Obama administration on Sunday escalated its war of words against the channel, even as observers questioned the wisdom of a White House war on a news organization. "What I think is fair to say about Fox -- and certainly it's the way we view it -- is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party," said Anita Dunn, White House communications director, on CNN. "They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that's fine. But let's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is."
This approach came to a head when the Obama White House sought to freeze out Fox News from a round of interviews with a senior administration official, prompting a revolt among Fox's press peers:
The White House attempted to block Fox News from a round of interviews with “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg Thursday, but the Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV networks included in the White House pool refused to interview Feinberg unless Fox News was included. Fox News says that the White House “failed in its attempt to manipulate other news networks into isolating and excluding Fox News.” The attempt to shut Fox News out was the latest move in the administration’s ongoing battle against the cable news channel, which several senior administration officials have claimed is not a legitimate news organization. The decision by the network bureau chiefs to stand with Fox News is one of the first instances of the mainstream media defending Fox News against the White House’s claims.
Yesterday, the Trump White House barred CNN journalist Kaitlan Collins from an open press event -- an exceedingly rare move -- supposedly because she'd previously persisted in shouting "inappropriate" questions at Trump at the conclusion of an Oval Office press avail, at which she was acting as the TV 'pool' reporter on behalf of all networks. As my colleagues Ed Morrissey and Allahpundit have each noted, Collins (a Daily Caller alum and hardly a serial blowhard like, ahem, certain others), didn't appear to have crossed any bright lines with her conduct:
The questions she shouted at Trump that got her banned were anodyne, just news-of-the-day material about Michael Cohen and the tapes that any reporter would ask. It’s rude to shout questions at someone but it’s standard industry practice. And Trump sometimes answers them.
A newly-hired White House Communications official, longtime Fox News executive Bill Shine (disclosure: for whom I worked, and with whom I always got along), suggested earlier today that Collins hadn't necessarily been 'banned' per se, and that she was told other reporters from her network would have been welcome to attend. Nevertheless, the decision to specifically exclude her gave off a fairly strong whiff of petty retribution -- and given the president's ongoing feud with her employer, it's a real stretch to assume that factor didn't come into play. Even if this episode can be chalked up to small flare-up and a misunderstanding (which is how Obama's team tried to backtrack in the face of an united front), the reaction from the current White House press team was at least overbearing and heavy-handed. Repaying the solidarity afforded to their own network in 2009, a number of major figures from Fox's news division spoke out on behalf of CNN and against the White House's action:
“We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press.”— Shepard Smith (@ShepNewsTeam) July 25, 2018
President, FOX News
Baier emphasized his point on the air, as well, even as other commentators from the network's opinion side espoused a different view. The 2009 and 2018 incidents may not be perfectly analogous, but no matter what one may believe about media bias, it's important for the White House press corps to stick together in pushing back against apparent attempts by any administration to isolate or punish outlets deemed to be 'unfriendly.' It's true that Team Obama had more than its share of problems on this front, from spying on journalists to root out leakers, to thumbing its nose at transparency, to the anti-Fox scheme mentioned above, to booting correspondents from targeted outlets off a campaign plane. Those actions were bad and deserved criticism. They also do not justify overreach or demagoguery from Trump's team or the president himself. I'll leave you with my short Twitter thread fact-checking a viral, pro-Trump series of Tweets aimed at shaming Baier and using Obama-era controversies to excuse what happened yesterday:
Lotta RT’s for this thread, which is chock full of false equivalencies. Team Obama had all sorts of problems on transparency & press relations — but nearly all of these “counterpoints” are whataboutist distortions that aren’t comparable to what happened yesterday. https://t.co/oSY1OlSBkp— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) July 26, 2018
Obama’s administration was routinely blasted for opacity & flouting transparency. They spied on journos to try to catch leakers. They attempted to freeze out Fox. All of that won them criticism from usually-friendly (read: nearly all) outlets. None of it excuses Trump WH actions.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) July 26, 2018
On a tangentially related note, Twitter owes its right-leaning users a further explanation and more transparency as it responds to credible allegations that its algorithms disproportionately targeted right-wing figures on the imposition of so-called 'shadow bans.' The president sounded off about this issue earlier ("illegal" is a huge stretch); it's certainly not unreasonable for conservatives to be suspicious of the ideological leanings and potential discriminatory actions of Big Tech.
UPDATE - Here's the video of the actions and questions over which the White House apparently put Collins in the penalty box. Really? This is not extraordinary stuff. Weak move, Team Trump: