Historically speaking, White House criticism of the media has often been unseemly and defensive, with the president's ire generally provoked by journalists who excel at their work -- by asking cheeky questions, exposing important things that the president would prefer be kept secret, holding the powerful accountable and playing host to a vibrant and informed exchange of a wide range of political opinions.
But in this case, the critique is something else entirely. The litmus test is that the Obama White House is not upset at news gatherers for doing their job. What Obama and his aides are correctly pointing out is that the people working at Fox News are doing another job altogether.
The White House "attack" on Fox is being derided as bad politics, as ineffective and as a distraction from more important issues -- all of which may be true. But doesn't it kind of matter that, when it comes to the substance of what Anita Dunn, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, and now even Obama himself have said, they're exactly right?
Obama on Wednesday told NBC's Savannah Guthrie: "I think that what our advisers have simply said is, is that we are going to take media as it comes. 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."
Fox News has, as my colleague Jason Linkins so effectively wrote earlier this week, well and truly left the fold of legitimate news outlets. The evidence is exhaustive. If you actually watch the network, it's not a close question. Indeed, as Josh Marshall writes, "as a product the straight news is almost more the stuff of parody than the talk shows which are at least more or less straightforward about what they are."
Pretending that Fox News is fair and balanced only serves the right wing, in the same way that it only served the Bush administration when traditional-media reporters pretended Bush didn't have a credibility problem -- and didn't call him out for his lies -- for fear of appearing partisan. It's self-muzzling, plain and simple.