White House Attacks on Fox News Reminiscent of Nixon’s Enemies List, Senator Who Served in Nixon White House Says
“If the president and his top aides treat people with different views as enemies instead of listening to what they have to say, they’re likely to end up with a narrow view and a feeling that the whole world is out to get them,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a speech on the Senate floor.
“As those of us who served in the Nixon administration know, that can get you into a lot of trouble,” said Alexander, who served in the Nixon White House in 1969 and 1970 when he was 29.
In recent weeks, Obama and White House officials have questioned the legitimacy of Fox News, calling it an arm of the Republican Party; they have denounced the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its opposition to Democrats’ health care reform legislation; and they sent a warning letter tantamount to a gag order to a health insurance firm.
“I want to make what I hope will be taken as a friendly suggestion to President Obama and his White House: don’t create an enemies list,” Alexander said.
Nixon’s famous list of 20 ideological opponents included CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr; Washington Star columnist Mary McGrory; Leonard Woodcock, head of the United Auto Workers union; Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.); Edwin Guthman, managing editor of the Los Angeles Times; Howard Stein of the Dreyfus Corporation; Arnold Picker, vice president of United Artists; as well as The New York Times and the Washington Post.
The list was later expanded to include NFL star Joe Namath, the Beatles’ John Lennon, singer and actress Carol Channing, actor Gregory Peck, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Congressional Black Caucus and Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
Politico reported this week that the White House plans to “neuter the United States Chamber of Congress ... by going around the group and dealing directly with the CEOs of major U.S. corporations.” The business lobby opposes a number of Obama's legislative priorities, including health care reform as written by Democrats.
After the insurance company Humana sent materials to its clients about Medicare cuts in the health care legislation, the Department of Health and Human Services warned the company against engaging in political activity. The gag order was lifted after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Tenn.) shed light on it.
“Using the full weight of the federal government’s enforcement powers to stifle free speech should trouble all Americans — and all of us — even more,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. “We cannot allow government officials to target individuals or companies because they do not like what they have to say.”
White House Communications Director Anita Dunn recently called Fox News part of the opposition: “Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party,” Dunn told CNN.
Later, she told The New York Times, “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.''
On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor David Axelrod said that Fox News was not a legitimate news organization, but in an interview with NBC News this week, President Obama said he isn’t focusing on his administration’s Fox News boycott.
"I think that what our advisers simply said is, is that we are going to take media as it comes," Obama told NBC. "And if media is operating, basically, as a talk radio format, then that's one thing, and if it's operating as a news outlet, then that's another, but it's not something I'm losing a lot of sleep over."
Alexander said even members of Congress have found themselves in the White House crosshairs: Alexander noted that the assistant Republican leader, Sen. John Kyl of Arizona, recently told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that the stimulus plan isn't working.
"The White House wrote to the governor of Arizona and said, ‘If you don’t want the money, we won’t send it.’ Sen. (John) McCain said that this could be perceived as a threat to the people of Arizona,” he said.
“Even the president, in his address to Congress on health care, threatened to ‘call out’ members of Congress who disagreed with him,” Alexander said. “This behavior is typical of street brawls and political campaign consultants. It is a mistake for the president of the United States and the White House staff.”
Alexander said he understands how the Obama administration might “feel oppressed by those with whom they disagree, how they feel besieged by some of the media,” but he stressed that presidents going back to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson have dealt with similar frustrations.
“The only thing new is that there are today multiple media outlets reporting and encouraging the insults 24 hours a day,” Alexander said. “As any veteran of the Nixon White House can attest, we’ve been down this road before and it won’t end well. An enemies list only denigrates the presidency and the republic itself.”