Monday, October 19, 2009

Artful dodgery

Watch the quotation marks carefully, because if you miss one, you'll get -- well, probably just the impression the Fair 'n' Balanced Network would like you to get.

Based on the evidence Fox provides, of course, that'd be a strikingly dishonest reading. So add this one to the list of things that distinguish Fox from real journalism, in case you'd forgotten it from the latter stages of the 2008 campaign: leading the page with disingenuous quote-mines from nine-month-old (or older) tapes.

Here's what she said, to hear Fox tell it:

"Very rarely did we communicate through the press anything that we didn't absolutely control," Dunn said, admitting that the strategy "did not always make us popular in the press."

What she seems to be saying is that the campaign, um, tried to control what it communicated:

"Whether it was a David Plouffe video or an Obama speech, a huge part of our press strategy was focused on making the media cover what Obama was actually saying as opposed to why the campaign was saying it," she said. "One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters. ... We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it."

Which sounds a lot like the virtue once known as "message discipline" -- the sort of trait that people admire among their own favorites as quickly as they disparage it in the opposing camp (I'm principled, you're stubborn). Business Week thought the 2004 Bush White House needed more of it:*

A White House that prides itself on meticulous planning and message discipline has lately been flailing. From the extra $140 billion that suddenly appeared in George W. Bush's Medicare drug bill to the forecast of 2.6 million jobs that quickly disappeared from the Economic Report of the President, Bush's political team seems less than sure-footed.

The foreigners were impressed in December 2002:

The spin doctors of Washington have been in awe of the White House's "message discipline".

When Fox itself reports on the matter, message discipline is an out-and-out compliment, however grudging:

"In one sense, Ari and Scott are remarkably similar," Koffler said. "They both have enormous message discipline. It's been nearly impossible during the briefings to get either of them to serve up news that they hadn't previously planned to give you."

So a reasonable reaction to the appearance of this story is: Why would this even have been news nine months ago? "Control the message" has all the innovative strategic brilliance of "go fast, turn left." Surely there's another missing mom somewhere, or another school where the kiddies have been barred from pledging allegiance to the flag, or something?

It's news now, of course, because it pushes so many buttons. The Anti-Fox War has become part of the generalized war on American values, so it helps to keep that front and center. There's a long-hidden tape to play on the Beck show (just like the one that got that czar fella). And, of course, there's the overriding theme of a craven media system controlled by the White House.

It hardly matters that she didn't say "we controlled the press." On Planet Fox, she might as well have.

* Astute readers will also note that Business Week doesn't even blink, earlier in the item, at the prospect of a "manufacturing czar."



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Wow. That "strategy of making the media control only what [the Obama campaign] wanted" - I kind of missed that. How did that work out for them?

2:20 PM, October 20, 2009  

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