The White House’s feud with Fox News has been a hot topic recently , and reached a new low yesterday when it denied Fox access to executive pay czar Kenneth Feinberg (while leaving it open to the other members of the press pool: NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN.) In a heartening display of solidarity, the other networks refused the interview unless Fox was also allowed – and the White House relented. Moe Lane at Red State has a good write-up of the incident.

The networks should be commended for their defense of a colleague; however, the administration’s war on the media is highly disturbing. After all, there are a few other things that the government might want to devote its attention to (two wars, a faltering economy, and unemployment spring to mind, for example), as opposed to attacking a news outlet’s programming choices. Of course, the Fox owners are laughing all the way to the bank – ratings are way up, and every time White House staffers launch into another anti-Fox diatribe, viewers tune in to see what all the fuss is about.

But the elephant in the room needs to be addressed: the government is devoting (taxpayer-funded) resources and time trying to de-legitimize the efforts of its critics – and as far as I’m aware, a free press is an essential element of a functioning democracy (pretty sure the Founding Fathers thought so too, since it’s in the First Amendment.) Presidential advisor David Axelrod said Fox was not a “real news organization,” and told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way.” Chilling advice, indeed.

As the government debates bailouts for newspapers, it’s important to remember that he who pays the piper calls the tune – and that when Uncle Sam is paying newspaper salaries, their “suggestions” will hold a lot more weight. At that point, solidarity from other outlets will make a lot less of an impact.