cable news catfights

Did the White House Lie About Trying to Exclude Fox News?

In the fall of 2009, back when the White House and Fox News were engaged in a bit of a flame war, the Treasury Department planned a pool interview with executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg. The initial group was just the three networks, then expanded to include Bloomberg and CNN, but not Fox. The other major television-pool outlets came to FNC’s defense and said they wouldn’t participate if Fox couldn’t. The Obama administration then alerted Major Garrett to the interviews, and he participated.

Today Judicial Watch — “a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law” — released e-mails they obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request that they say shows the Obama administration lying about trying to exclude Fox from the interview. The day after the Feinberg interview, when Fox’s complaints that they were being treated unfairly by the White House were getting increasing traction in the mainstream media, a White House spokesman said, “There was no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing.”

Judicial Watch says that’s just not true. They uncovered an e-mail from the White House broadcast-media liaison to the Treasury Department that said, “We’d prefer if you skipped Fox, please.”

Now, this was a time when Fox and the White House were openly at war. Much of the Judicial Watch report tries to prove “a pervasive anti-Fox bias in the White House.” And indeed, the e-mails show a distaste for FNC. Host Brett Baier is called a “lunatic” and someone at one point references “putting some dead fish in the fox cubby, just for fun.” But can you call the White House’s attitude toward Fox a “bias” when thirteen hours of the channel’s broadcast weekdays are occupied by opinion hosts who generally spew invective at the president? It seems like maybe it’s more of a “reaction.”

Nevertheless, none of this animosity was a secret. Obama had recently declined to sit down with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace on a day when he sat down with all of the other Sunday shows. His communications people had already drawn battle lines. What’s surprising is not that the White House would try to exclude Fox. It’s that they would lie about it.

Whether they did depends on what you call a “plot.” Anita Dunn, the then-communications director at the White House, quickly agreed to let Fox participate in the Feinberg interview, and the press operation went out of their way to pull FNC correspondent Major Garrett out of a briefing to do so. He got the interview, and from the paper records the only plotting is a one-line e-mail requesting Fox be left out. Does that make liars of the administration? The request was made, and Fox was initially excluded. But without knowing the real-life conversations that happened, it’s hard to tell how many people were involved.

The takeaway from this little tempest in a teapot is that if you work for the government, don’t send childish e-mail about major news organizations (or anyone, really). They might get leaked or FOIA’ed at any time. You can bet Fox is going to dine out on this for the rest of the week, and they should. Stooping to name-calling and vendetta-setting makes the Obama administration look petty, and it’s exactly the kind of behavior they should leave to others — like, for example, the opinion hosts at Fox.

Documents Show Obama White House Attacked, Excluded Fox News Channel [Judicial Watch]
Earlier: Why Declaring War on Fox News Could Be a Mistake for Obama

Did the White House Lie About Trying to Exclude Fox News?