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The general in this war is Dunn, 51, a veteran campaign strategist who arrived at the White House in May. She has been a force in Democratic campaigns since the late 1980s and helmed Obama's rapid-response operation during his run. At the White House, she has become a devoted consumer of conservative-media reports and a fierce critic of Fox News, leading the Administration's effort to block officials, including Obama, from appearing on the network. "It's opinion journalism masquerading as news," Dunn says. "They are boosting their audience. But that doesn't mean we are going to sit back." Fox News's head of news, Michael Clemente, counters that the White House criticism unfairly conflates the network's reporters and its pundits, like Glenn Beck, whom he likens to "the op-ed page of a newspaper."
As a mother--who plans to transition to a new job later this year in order to spend more time with her 13-year-old son--Dunn is a rarity in the almost all-boys club that is Obama's inner circle. But her impact on the White House has been unmistakable. Since her arrival, the communications operation has been tightly refocused, with greater emphasis on planning ahead to shape the news cycle and controlling staff contacts with the press. In daily internal meetings, she points out where to strike back or admit error.
It is not hard to awaken her fiercer instincts. "Here in the White House, you are reluctant to feel like you have to go to that place," she says. "But we have to be more aggressive rather than just sit back and defend ourselves, because they will say anything. They will take any small thing and distort it." In other words, after eight months at the White House, the days of nonpartisan harmony are long gone--it's Us against Them. And the Obama Administration is playing to win.