White House Spokesperson Dunn Steps Down

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Anita Dunn, the White House communications director who escalated the administration’s clash with Fox News, is stepping down. Dan Pfeiffer, her deputy will take over.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza broke the news this morning on The Fix.

Dunn will not sever all ties with the White House. Hired as an interim communications director when Ellen Moran left to take a job at the Commerce Department, Dunn will remain as a communications consultant to the White House. But she’ll return to her day job at Squier Knapp Dunn, the Washington consultancy where she is a principal.

In an appearance last month on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Dunn declared Fox News a “wing of the Republican party” and “opinion journalism masquerading as news,” statements that raised long-simmering tensions between the White House and the network to a full boil.

Dunn’s status was always temporary, writes Cillizza, but it gave the White House an out in the event the strategy backfired.

“A source inside the White House, who was not authorized to speak about strategy meetings, said at the time that Dunn went out front against Fox first and foremost because it was her job,” writes Cillizza, “But also because it potentially gave the administration the opportunity to distance itself from the flap with the Roger Ailes-led news channel once she leaves the communications job.”

Indeed, the administration’s attempt to de-legitimize Fox News has been met with almost unanimous criticism from the media. ABC News’ Jake Tapper pressed White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on the issue during a daily press briefing last month.

“I’m not talking about [Fox News’] opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports,” said Tapper. “I’m talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a ‘news organization’ - why is that appropriate for the White House to say?”

Writing in the New Yorker, Louis Menand noted: “The state may, and should, rebut opinions that it finds obnoxious, but it should not single out speakers for the purpose of intimidating them. At the end of the day, you do not want your opponents to be able to say that they could not be heard. It may be exasperating, but that is what the First Amendment is all about.”

Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist Thomas Frank argued that the White House had a right to push back at Fox News. But, he wrote: “Still, one wishes that the Obama administration had taken on Fox News with a little more skill. As cultural criticism goes, this was clumsy, plodding stuff. What the situation required was sarcasm, irony, a little humor. Simply feeding Fox a slice of raw denunciation was like dumping gasoline into a fire. It did nothing but furnish the network with a real-world validation of its long-running conspiracy theories-and a nice bump in its ratings.”

A Fox News spokesperson said, “We wish Anita well in her future endeavors.”

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