Back in October, the Obama administration set image of the presidency back at least fifty by taking on Fox News and losing. It started with then White House communications director Anita Dunn saying that Fox is “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” Patting rival networks on the head for their authenticity (White House code meaning in the Tank for Obama), David Axelrod declared Fox “not really a news station.” And Chief of Staff Emanuel told the other networks not to follow Fox.
It all ended when the White House tried to exclude Fox from an interview with pay czar Kenneth Feinberg and the “press pool.” The press pool is made up of the 5 major news organizations including CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. FOX has been a member of the White House press pool since 1997. Officials invited the entire press corps to the round robin interview process with the express exception of FOX News. The Washington Bureau Chiefs of all of the 5 major networks consulted. In a rare show of journalistic integrity, the group agreed that if FOX were not allowed to participate, that they would boycott the interview with Feinberg in protest.
After that, the President dropped the Fox News fight which was damaging his reputation. Or so we thought. It seems the White House is declaring the smack-down they received in the Fox Wars as “Just a Flesh Wound.” According to a report in The Hill, President Obama wants to re-start his game of “Wag The Fox.”
Leadership of the White House’s communication shop may have changed, but its new chief made clear on Monday he shares his predecessor’s concerns about Fox News.
The network is “not a traditional news organization,” director Dan Pfeiffer stressed, adding he agreed with former Director Anita Dunn’s take on the network.
“They have a point of view; that point of view pervades the entire network,” he told The New York Times in a sit-down interview.
“We don’t feel the obligation to treat them like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization, but there are times when we believe it makes sense to communicate with them,” he added, noting the White House’s decision to dispatch counter-terrorism chief John Brennan to Fox News Sunday after the Flight 253 attack was one example of that exception.
The White House and Fox News have long traded barbs over the network’s approach to news. The Obama administration has derided its coverage as unabashedly partisan, while Fox pundits have lambasted the White House for trying to stamp out dissent.
That fight grew most intense last October when Dunn, then the White House’s communications director, charged the network was actually a “wing of the Republican Party.”
Dunn eventually left her post in November — a departure she planned long before the Fox spat — but her most vocal critics still cheered her exit.
Still, Pfeiffer on Monday said Dunn’s approach remains in place, noting the White House would “interact with [the network] when it makes sense.” But the communications director also signaled the administration’s approach to Fox was part of a larger strategy to “engage the discussion” between reporters, lawmakers and voters.
“We will correct the record, whether it’s an analyst on Fox, whether its a member of Congress, whether its a reporter or expert…,” Pfeiffer said.
[Update, 6:27 p.m.] A Fox News spokesperson took issue with Pfeiffer’s remarks on Monday.
“Obviously new to his position, Dan seems to be intent upon repeating the mistakes of his predecessor. .. and we all remember how well that turned out,” the spokesperson told The Hill.
The White House war on Fox News is beginning to look like this scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”