The usually-cocksure Jay Carney has rarely appeared so uncomfortable.
“What I can tell you is that this president believes strongly in the First Amendment and is a strong defender of the First Amendment,” Carney insisted to a packed house of angry reporters last Tuesday afternoon.
The White House had just been freshly stung by news that the Department of Justice had secretly raided the phone records of up to 100 Associated Press reporters, looking to identify the news organization’s private sources.
“He believes strongly in the need for the press to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism,” Carney continued, contorting his face between looks of concern and annoyance as question after question highlighted the press corps’ newly discovered skepticism.
“How can it be unfettered if you’re worried about having your phones –,” started one reporter.
Carney quickly dodged.
“I am very understanding of the questions on this issue and appreciate the nature of the questions,” he offered.
While this full-frontal assault on the media — and more importantly, news consumers — may suddenly have the press rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, it’s far from the first time Obama and his allies have used the power of the office to try to silence their critics.
It began gently enough.
Back in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama traveled to Manhattan for a special mission: a personal sit-down with Fox News chief Roger Ailes. The goal of the meeting? Obama wanted Sean Hannity to ease up on the criticism.
Columnist and author Zev Chafets recently detailed the exchange for the first time in his book “Roger Ailes: Off Camera”:
“After some pleasantries, Obama got to the point. He was concerned about the way he was being portrayed on Fox, and his real issue wasn’t the news; it was Sean Hannity, who had been battering him every night at nine (and on his radio show, which Fox doesn’t own or control).”
Ailes, of course, wouldn’t change a thing about Hannity’s presentation, consoling the candidate with the reality that his supporters weren’t likely to be Hannity watchers. After a few more minutes, sensing a fruitless battle, Obama’s aide Robert Gibbs abruptly pulled the plug on the meeting.
Then, a single week into his presidency, Obama started what’s become a tradition for the president: blaming Rush Limbaugh.
“You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done,” he told a room full of Republican leaders at the White House while pushing his $787-billion stimulus plan.