This seems so obviously correct that I feel embarrassed for not having figured it out sooner.

The rationale of the White House offensive against Fox News has been a topic of much puzzlement lately. Is this just the White House lashing out? Are they trying to rally the base?

But I think Mike Allen and Josh Gerstein nail the real explanation in their story today: The White House is working to prevent stories born on Fox from crossing over into more widely-viewed media. Most Americans still haven’t heard of Van Jones, for instance; and the strategy is now all about containment…

Allen and Gerstein:

“We’re doing what we think is important to make sure news is covered as fairly as possible,” a White House official told POLITICO, noting how the recent ACORN scandal story started because Fox covered it “breathlessly for weeks on end.”

“And then you had a couple days of breast-beating from The Washington Post and The New York Times about whether or not they were fast enough on the ACORN story,” the official said. “And it’s like: Wait a second, guys. Let’s make sure that we keep perspective on what are the most important stories, and what’s being driven by a network that has a perspective. Being able to make that point has been important.”…

“They’re not really a news station,” Axelrod told ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming if you watch, it’s really not news….The bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we’re not going to treat them that way. We’re going to appear on their shows. We’re going to participate, but understanding that they represent a point of view.”

“It’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective,” Emanuel said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “More importantly, is to not have the CNNs and the others in the world basically be led in following Fox, as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization.”

Both Politico and Mediaite note that the expected righteous indignation at being lectured by politicians on what they should consider news is strangely absent from most of the press corps — with the important exception of Jake Tapper. Go figure. Even the reliably liberal Ruth Marcus felt obliged to wonder what the reaction would have been had Dubya declared war on MSNBC and encouraged other news outlets to ignore the nightly spiel on “Countdown.” Olby would have duly clambered up onto the cross as a free-speech martyr — after a 40-minute special comment on freedom of the press and the “chill winds” of totalitarianism, natch — and the rest of the media would have gladly circled the wagons. Does anyone seriously think otherwise?

The irony of this story, though, is that the press was already happy to quarantine “wingnut” stories emanating from Fox, be it Van Jones or ACORN or the White House trying to politicize the NEA. Compare the first boldfaced quote in the blockquote above to this one from Chuck Todd more than a month ago. In fact, here’s what I wrote on September 4, while the Jones thing was roiling, on how Tapper — again — seemed to be the only non-Foxy willing to break the wider media embargo on covering what Fox News was covering.

That’s from Tapper, who to my knowledge remains the one and only reporter from big media pursuing this story. The Times, WaPo, broadcast news — it’s a complete blackout, at least as of early this afternoon. (NBC’s blog mentioned it in passing at the end of this morning’s news recap, in a sneering aside about the “conservative media machine.”) Why would they cede the field to Jake when he’s pulling big traffic from the righty blogosphere for covering this? I don’t think it’s simply to protect The One; they covered Geithner’s and Daschle’s tax problems and they’re much bigger fish. I think it’s that they know Glenn Beck’s been after Jones for weeks and it pains them too much to give him credence by following his lead. It’s analogous to the NYT refusing to review Michelle’s book even though she’s been number one on their own bestseller list for more than a month. Who cares if her thesis about Obama’s culture of corruption is correct and newsworthy and obviously of great public interest? They’re not going to help promote the work of someone whom they dislike. The state of the media, 2009. As for Tapper, his willingness to take up stories circulating in the righty blogosphere that other outlets try to suppress might give him a lot more influence as a reporter going forward. The White House can spin the Jones story as just another Fox News vendetta against the administration if it’s only FNC covering it; if ABC’s on it too, that becomes impossible and the story becomes “legitimate.” From now on, think of Tapper as the swing vote in the press pool, I guess.

Boldface added. That last part is truer now than it was then, before the ACORN story broke big and Beck’s ratings soared even higher. The White House must be panicking at the thought that the “legitimate” media will only ignore these stories for so long before the lure of bigger, Foxier ratings finally proves too much. Ideological solidarity only goes so far; as Axelrod himself acknowledged about FNC, ultimately the news nets are in business to make money. So here he and Emanuel are, leaning on them not only to ignore Fox but to ignore stories that Fox covers, as if the underlying facts are somehow tainted by association (“Let’s make sure that we keep perspective on what are the most important stories”). Creepy.