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Losing: Helen Thomas, NYT, and The Nation Object to White House Fight With Fox News

1:01 PM, Oct 19, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Well, it's not the first time the Grande Liberal Dame of the press corps has had words for the Obama White House, but today Helen Thomas is voicing more unlikely sentiments by telling the White House attack dogs to heel in the Fox News fight.

In an interview with MSNBC, the columnist -- who is promoting her new book on presidents and their campaigns -- also stressed the White House ought to "stay out of these fights."

"They can only take you down. You can't kill the messenger," said Thomas, who has covered every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.

The New York Times also joined the chorus of folks telling the White House to chill this weekend. The Grey Lady may be in danger of being labeled a "wing of the Republican Party," for using such uncharacteristically sharp language in criticizing the president, but I'm sure they'll scrub the offending parts when the White House rings. In the meantime, enjoy:

Even though almost all the critiques contained a kernel of truth, in each instance the folks who had the barrels of ink, and now pixels, seemed to come out ahead. So far, the only winner in this latest dispute seems to be Fox News. Ratings are up 20 percent this year, and the network basked for a week in the antagonism of a sitting president. ...

It could all be written off as a sideshow, but it may present a genuine problem for Mr. Obama, who took great pains during the campaign to depict himself as being above the fray of over-heated partisan squabbling. In his victory speech he promised, "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree."

Or not. ...

Tactics aside, something more fundamental is at risk. Even the president's most avid critics admit he exudes a certain cool confidence. The public impression of him is that if anyone were to, say, talk trash on the basketball court with Mr. Obama, he would not find much space for rent in Mr. Obama's head. ...

People who work in political communications have pointed out that it is a principle of power dynamics to "punch up " - that is, to take on bigger foes, not smaller ones. A blog on the White House Web site that uses a "truth-o-meter" against a particular cable news network would not seem to qualify. As it is, Reality Check sounds a bit like the blog of some unemployed guy living in his parents' basement, not an official communiqué from Pennsylvania Avenue.

The American presidency was conceived as a corrective to the royals, but trading punches with cable shouters seems a bit too common. Perhaps it's time to restore a little imperiousness to the relationship.

When you've got the Helen Thomas, the NYT, and The Nation lining up against you, it's time to admit defeat, boys. But alas, Axelrod and Emanuel can't help themselves.