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Exploring Tensions Between Presidents and the Media

Jeffrey Brown speaks with media experts about the ongoing feud between the White House and Fox News channel.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And we take a closer look now with Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research organization, and Jane Hall, a media professor at American University. She was, until recently, a contributor to a weekly media watch program on FOX News.

    Welcome to both you.

    Tom, you have been watching this relationship for a long time go from bad to worse. What's going on? What do you see?

    TOM ROSENSTIEL, director, Project for Excellence in Journalism: Well, this is not what without precedent. The Bush administration hit pretty hard against, of all things, The New York Times, particularly in the first term of the administration.

    I think part of what's going on here is a sincere feeling on the part of people — some people in the White House that FOX is — operates by a different M.O. than at least than CNN. And a part of it is that I think they want to peel away some of the people who watch FOX.

    When they say that it's an arm or a wing of the Republican Party, we have to remember that more than 30 percent of the American public now identifies themselves as independent.

    And the Republican Party itself is not as big a magnet as it once was. And if you can peel some of those independent voters away from believing FOX and — and — and disparage FOX, that may have some political benefit for the White House, at a time when its numbers are dropping.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Jane Hall, I referred to Michael Clemente at FOX claiming that the White House is confusing the opinion from the news division.

    FOX has, though, defined itself and grown through these talk show hosts, correct?

  • JANE HALL, American University:

    Yes, it has.

    And, you know, I was on "Bill O'Reilly" for a long time. I was on our media show for many years. I think that you do need to differentiate between Major Garrett, who is a White House reporter, and Chris Wallace, who has a Sunday show, and Glenn Beck and Hannity.

    I think, personally, if I were advising the White House, that you call out Glenn Beck, I think reasonably, for saying Obama's a racist, for saying Obama is going to take away your freedoms. I personally believe that's dangerous talk, and they should be called out. He should be called out.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That's crossing the line, you're saying?

  • JANE HALL:

    That, to my mind, crosses a line.

    But I think Obama did himself good by going on "O'Reilly" before the election. I think that they — they also — I think Obama runs the risk, they run the risk of looking small, of looking as if they care that much.

    And all it's going to do is drive up the ratings for talk show hosts, because they have a cadre of people who believe what they're saying. Glenn Beck has a strong cadre. So, when he does that whole shtick, that doesn't help Obama. I don't think it gets more independents. It only helps FOX News' pundits drive up their ratings. I don't think it accomplishes much.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And, yet, Tom, you said there might be a reasonable sense at the White House that they have to do something.

  • TOM ROSENSTIEL:

    Well, their numbers are dropping. And you want to change the environment. You want to change the landscape.

    You also have a situation where you have had a few stories that sort of had their origins or first got voice on FOX, the Van Jones story, where — in which a White House official ultimately had to step down, the ACORN story. And I think they wanted to try and put a stop to that.

    The other thing here is that, you know, you have got various constituencies when you're the White House that you're trying to pummel and refs that you're trying to work. The other media are one of them. Casual viewers of FOX are another one.

    Presumably, part of their calculation is that the people who are die-hard fans of O'Reilly or Hannity are not going to be won over by the Obama White House, and you don't need to worry about them.