Meaning? If Fox runs a story critical of the administration - from exposing White House czar Van Jones as a loony 9/11 "truther," to exhaustively examining the mathematical chicanery and hidden loopholes in proposed health-care legislation - the other news organizations should think twice before following the lead.
The signal to corporations is equally clear: You might have dealings with a federal behemoth that not only disburses more than $3 trillion every year but is extending its reach ever deeper into private industry - finance, autos, soon health care, and energy. Think twice before you run an ad on Fox.
The well-patted media lapdogs have been mostly quiet. "The direct attacks, if leveled at another news outlet or by another White House," note Politico's Josh Gerstein and Mike Allen, "might have aroused a torrent of criticism, but the flow of outrage from the Washington journalistic set has been more like a trickle."
A few have been critical on the grounds that the attempted intimidation will backfire on President Obama. Which it will. But that's just tactics. The principled argument needs to be made that while government can and should debate and criticize opposition voices, the White House goes beyond that. It wants to delegitimize any significant dissent. The objective is no secret. White House aides openly told Politico that they're engaged in a deliberate campaign to marginalize and ostracize recalcitrants, from Fox to health insurers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
There's nothing illegal about such search-and-destroy tactics. Nor unconstitutional. But our politics are defined not just by limits of legality or constitutionality. We have norms, Madisonian norms.
Madison argued that the safety of a great republic, its defense against tyranny, requires the contest between factions or interests. His insight was to understand "the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties." They would help guarantee liberty by checking and balancing and restraining each other - and an otherwise imperious government.
Factions should compete, but also recognize the legitimacy of other factions and, indeed, their necessity for a vigorous self-regulating democracy. Seeking to deliberately undermine, delegitimize, and destroy is not Madisonian. It is Nixonian.
But didn't Teddy Roosevelt try to destroy the trusts? Of course, but what he took down was monopoly power that was extinguishing smaller independent competing interests. Fox News is no monopoly. It is a singular minority in a sea of liberal media. ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR, CNN, MSNBC vs. Fox. The lineup is so unbalanced as to be comical - and that doesn't even include the other commanding heights of the culture that are firmly, flagrantly liberal: Hollywood, the foundations, the universities, the elite newspapers.
Fox and its viewers (numbering more than CNN's and MSNBC's combined) need no defense. Defend Fox compared to whom? To CNN - which recently unleashed its fact-checkers on a Saturday Night Live skit mildly critical of Obama, but did no checking of a grotesquely racist remark CNN falsely attributed to Rush Limbaugh?
Defend Fox from whom? Fox's flagship 6 o'clock evening news out of Washington (hosted by Bret Baier) is the best hour of news on television. (Definitive evidence: My mother watches it even on the odd night when I'm not on.) Defend Fox from the likes of Anita Dunn? She's been attacked for extolling Mao's political philosophy in a speech at a high school graduation.
But the critics miss the surpassing stupidity of her larger point: She was invoking Mao as support and authority for her impassioned plea for individuality and trusting one's own choices. Mao as champion of individuality? Mao, the greatest imposer of mass uniformity in modern history, creator of a slave society of a near-billion worker bees wearing Mao suits and waving the Little Red Book?
The White House communications director cannot be trusted to address high schoolers without uttering inanities. She and her cohorts are now to instruct the country on truth and objectivity?
Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.