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White House Steps Up Criticism of Fox News Channel

October 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Jeffrey Brown reports on the escalating war of words between Fox News and the Obama White House, which recently referred to the conservative leaning channel as a "wing of the Republican party."
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight: The Obama administration takes on FOX News.

Jeffrey Brown has our media story.

JEFFREY BROWN: In recent days, a simmering feud between the White House and FOX News has become an all-out war of words. A week ago, appearing on a CNN media watch program, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn made news, when she characterized FOX as a “wing of the Republican Party.”

ANITA DUNN, White House communications director: I mean, the reality of it is that FOX News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.

JEFFREY BROWN: In “TIME” magazine, she made a similar claim, saying: “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience, but that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.”

Dunn’s words came after months of pounding and harsh rhetoric from FOX talk show hosts like Glenn Beck…

GLENN BECK, host, “Glenn Beck”: The woman on the tape is Anita Dunn.

JEFFREY BROWN: … taking the Obama administration to task on everything from its health care proposal to the president’s involvement in Chicago’s bid for the Olympics.

This week, Beck referred to Dunn as “a woman who is trying to crush freedom of speech” and mockingly said he had installed a red phone to take her call any time.

GLENN BECK: We used to have a red phone at the White House where, if Russia did something, you know, they could pick it up, and the president could say: “What are you doing? We’re going to bomb you.” And then they would talk things out.

Well, we have installed this telephone, the only people that have it, the people now in Anita Dunn’s office in the White House.

JEFFREY BROWN: One FOX News official, Michael Clemente, has accused the White House of unfairly conflating the network’s reporters with its pundits, whom he likens to the op-ed page of a newspaper.

The sparring goes back at least to June, when the president himself weighed in on an interview on CNBC.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration. I mean, you know, that’s a pretty…

JOHN HARWOOD, chief Washington correspondent, CNBC: I assume you’re talking about FOX.

BARACK OBAMA: Well, that’s a pretty big megaphone. And you would be hard-pressed, if you watched the entire day, to find a positive story about me on that front.

I think that, ultimately, my responsibility is to provide the best possible decision-making on behalf of the American people, at a time where we have got a lot of big problems.

JEFFREY BROWN: In September, the president did a sweep of Sunday morning talk shows, everyone except FOX, which led to this from FOX anchor Chris Wallace.

CHRIS WALLACE, host, “FOX News Sunday”: They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel weighed in with this.

RAHM EMANUEL, White House chief of staff: Oh, no, it’s not so much a conflict with FOX News. But, unlike — I suppose, the way to look at it and the way the president looks at it and the way we look at it, is, it’s not a news organization, so much as it has a perspective. And that’s a different take.

And more importantly is not have the CNNs and the others in the world basically be led and following FOX, as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization, in the sense of both sides and the sense of a valued opinion.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the 24-hour news cycle, no detente seems to be in sight.