The White House has gone on the offensive against its critics in the press, singling out Fox News and going so far as to accuse the Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
-owned network of waging a “war against Barack Obama.”
White House Communications Director Anita Dunn has led the charge, appearing on CNN television and conducting interviews with Time magazine and The New York Times in recent days to make her case.
Read what Fox News has to say about the move.
The unusual White House campaign comes as President Obama faces mounting opposition to his health care reforms, growing concern over the situation in Afghanistan and a continuing general economic malaise.
The president also suffered a setback recently when his personal effort to win approval for Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics was rejected and his Nobel Peace Prize has met with more barbs than bouquets.
Speaking of media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, Dunn told the Times in an interview published Monday: “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent.
“As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organisations behave,” she said.
In comments just days earlier to Time magazine, Dunn, a veteran Democratic Party communications strategist who joined the White House in May, denounced Fox as “opinion journalism masquerading as news.”
“They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back,” she said.
Appearing on CNN on Sunday, Dunn said “the reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.”
Dunn said the White House would not be a “passive bystander” as opponents try to “tear down the president and his presidency.”
“We will push back,” she said.
Obama ‘is racist’
The push back has included a blog post on WhiteHouse.gov in which the White House denounced what it called “Fox lies” and “an attempt to smear the administration’s efforts to win the Olympics for the United States.”
The White House blog singled out Glenn Beck, a conservative talk show host on Fox, for criticism, saying his program “has shown that nothing is worthy of respect if it can be used as part of a partisan attack to boost ratings.”
Beck has been a relentless critic of the Obama administration and labelled the president a “racist” in a July appearance on another Fox program.
“This guy is, I believe, a racist,” Beck said, adding that Obama, America’s first black president, has a “deep-seated hatred for white people.”
Larry Sabato, director of the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the White House may be lashing out at Fox “because the Democratic base is starting to be more critical of Obama.
“The world was expected to be transformed in approximately a month and it just didn’t quite happen that way,” Sabato said. “So if you’re in that position and you need to rally your base, you need to find a common enemy.
“They’re going on the offensive to rally the base and the base will rally to them because they hate the ‘right-wing noise machine’ too,” he said. “Everyone needs an enemy in politics. Everyone needs a devil figure.”
The White House offensive against Fox comes despite a reported meeting last month between senior Obama adviser David Axelrod and Fox News chairman and chief executive officer Roger Ailes.
Political news website Politico said Axelrod and Ailes met to discuss news coverage and the relationship between the White House and the network.
Fox, asked by AFP for a reaction to the White House criticisms, pointed to statements made by senior Fox executives to the Times and CNN.
“Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality,” said Michael Clemente, senior vice president for news at the Fox News Channel.
“Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about,” he said.
Clemente also noted that Fox programming is a mixture of news and opinion.
“So, with all due respect to anyone who still might be confused about the difference between news reporting and vibrant opinion, my suggestion would be to talk about the stories and the facts rather than attack the messenger … which over time, has never worked,” he said.