WASHINGTON — White House advisers have stepped up their attacks on Fox News, claiming the cable television network is a Republican mouthpiece whose programming "is geared toward making money."
Several critics questioned the wisdom of the move while one of President Barack Obama's top adviser pledged Sunday that administration officials would still appear on the top-rated cable news network.
Last week, White House communications director Anita Dunn said Fox News operates "almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party."
On Sunday, Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama's chief of staff, said, "It is not a news organization so much as it has a perspective."
In response to the criticism, Fox News executive Michael Clemente on Sunday accused the White House of continuing to "declare war on a news organization" rather than focusing on issues such as jobs and health care.
"The door remains open and we welcome a discussion about the facts behind the issues," said Clemente, senior vice president of news, in a written statement.
Tough looks at the administration
Fox News commentators Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have been strong Obama critics, and Bill O'Reilly has taken tough looks at the administration. Obama avoided "Fox News Sunday" when he visited five Sunday morning news shows last month; three aides carried the administration's message on Afghanistan, health care and the economy this Sunday to ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, but not Fox; and a recent White House blog post accused Beck of lying. Beck has called Obama a racist.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft Corp. and NBC Universal, owner of NBC News and the MSNBC cable news network.)
Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor and former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, said the Obama administration is trying to demonize Fox News for asking questions officials do not like. He compared Obama's approach to that of President Richard Nixon, who included journalists on an "enemies list."
"This is a White House engaging in its own version of the media enemies list," Rove said. "And it's unhelpful for the country and undignified for the president of the United States to so do."
Appearing on ABC television's "This Week," senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said Fox News shouldn't be treated as a news organization. "And the bigger thing is that other news organizations, like yours, ought not to treat them that way, and we're not going to treat them that way," he said.
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Still, Axelrod said administration officials would appear on the channel. He shrugged off News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch's remark to shareholders last Friday that since the White House began criticizing Fox News commentators their ratings have risen.
"You know, I'm not concerned. Mr. Murdoch has a talent for making money, and I understand that their programming is geared toward making money," Axelrod said. "The only argument Anita was making is that they're not really a news station. ... It's not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming. It's really not news. It's pushing a point of view."
Emanuel appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and Rove on "Fox News Sunday."
Several critics have questioned the wisdom of Obama's approach.
"Whether or not you like Fox News, all of us in the press need to be concerned about the administration of President Barack Obama trying to `punish' the cable news channel for its point of view," wrote television critic David Zurawik in the Baltimore Sun.
"I would think that what this reflects is a pent-up frustration or rage at the coverage they get, not only from Fox but elsewhere," said David Gergen, a CNN commentator and former White House aide.
Gergen said he understands the temptation to go on the attack — he's done it himself — but it frequently turns out to be a mistake.
"My experience has been when the White House engages in personal or organizational attacks, it elevates the other side to virtually the same level of the White House, which is not their intent," he said. "It's going to spike Fox's ratings," which are already high this year.
If the White House wants to fight back, it's better to let surrogates do the work, he said.
Among grass-roots Democrats, many think it was important for the president to put his foot down, said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist. Many strongly believe that the president and his staff should have nothing to do with Fox, she said.
But research has shown that Fox has independents and moderates in its audience that the president shouldn't ignore, she said.
"There is room for a more nuanced strategy," she said: Stay away from Beck or the morning "Fox & Friends," she suggested, but an interview with Wallace could be beneficial.
Dunn said the administration still deals with Fox reporters such as Major Garrett in the White House. Obama "has appeared on Fox shows in the past (and) he certainly will appear on them in the future," she said.
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