There seems to be general agreement that the Obama White House's campaign against Fox News is actually directed at other news organizations — to “get other journalists to think twice before following [Fox's] stories in their own coverage,” according to an article in the Politico. Fox is beyond the pale, the White House is telling the press corps: You wouldn't want to have anything to do with that, would you?
But the White House campaign appears to be backfiring. A number of mainstream journalists are reacting badly to the attempt to declare a journalistic organization off-limits. Why the negative reaction? Is it because of solidarity among reporters? A reflexive defense of freedom of the press? Secret sympathy for Fox?
None of the above. The real reason the White House campaign is backfiring is that it offends journalistic self-esteem.
Most mainstream reporters are already ignoring stories critical of the Obama administration that Fox plays up. They famously stayed away from the Van Jones story, and the ACORN story, too, for as long as possible. They were doing exactly what the White House wanted, but they believed they were doing it for sound journalistic reasons, not as the result of any bias, and certainly not as the result of any directive from the White House.
Now, when the White House takes the too-obvious step of actually issuing them marching orders, they recoil. Such orders are an insult to their image of themselves as tough-but-fair journalists. Even if they were completely in the tank — remember when Obama told them, “Most of you covered me; all of you voted for me” — their most cherished image of themselves is of savvy, straight-shooting reporters, not taken in by the spin and talking points of the officials they cover.
The anti-Fox campaign offends that sense of self-esteem in the clumsiest way possible. That's why it's backfiring.