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At this morning's press conference, Donald Trump bluntly dismissed CNN reporter Jim Acosta by telling him, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!” He also referred to BuzzFeed as a ”failing pile of garbage."
Before there's any left-wing hand-wringing over Trump's attack on CNN, let's take a quick walk down memory lane - remember how the Obama White House treated Fox News?
Back in 2009, in the nascent days of the Obama White House, the press team had clearly set its sites on one news network in particular: Fox News Channel.
In the Obama team's eyes, Fox News was a right-wing propaganda machine. As Anita Dunn, the White House communications director at the time, put it in an appearance on CNN:
“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. 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.”
Ouch. (An early version of the “fake news” attack?)
That wasn't all. The White House used its official blog to publicly call out what it labeled “Fox lies.” Politico referred to the sharp attack from the executive branch on a news organization as “unusual.” The White House also deliberately excluded Fox News from a round robin of presidential interviews in September 2009.
Dan Pffeifer, the White House deputy communications director, defended the administration's stance towards Fox this way:
“We simply decided to stop abiding by the fiction, which is aided and abetted by the mainstream press, that Fox is a traditional news organization."
The New York Times wrote an entire piece about the war between the government and the network. In fact, this attitude was so prevalent, and was escalated with such ferocity, that the White House press pool (the five-network rotation that shares the costs and duties of daily coverage) finally united behind Fox News and put an end to it:
The Treasury Department on Thursday tried to make “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg available for interviews to every member of the network pool except Fox News....
But the Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV networks consulted and decided that none of their reporters would interview Feinberg unless Fox News was included.
That didn't stop President Obama from airing his disdain for Fox News Channel. In 2010, he said in an interview that Fox News was “destructive.” In 2013, he made a joke in a speech to students at Fox News' expense. In 2014 he told Bill O'Reilly that the network was “unfair” to him. And most recently, last year, he blamed Fox News and its viewers for Hillary Clinton's loss.
The lesson here? If Trump actively tries to deny CNN access to its administration that it gives to other outlets, he may be stepping too far.
But in the meantime, let's not pretend that the incoming administration taking an openly hostile approach to a cable news network is some sort of unprecedented breach of democracy. Obama might have set a precedent for it.