The senior White House adviser David Axelrod and Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of Fox News, met in an empty Palm steakhouse late last month. A neutral ground was secured for a secret tête-à-tête.
Mr. Ailes, who had reached out to Mr. Axelrod to address rising tensions between the network and the White House, told him that Fox’s reporters were fair, if tough, and should be considered separate from the Fox commentators who were skewering President Obama nightly, according to people briefed on the meeting. Mr. Axelrod said it was the view of the White House that Fox News had blurred the line between news and anti-Obama advocacy.
What both men took to be the start of a frank but productive dialogue proved, in retrospect, more akin to the round of pre-Pearl Harbor peace talks between the United States and Japan.
By the following weekend, officials at the White House had decided that if anything, it was time to take the relationship to an even more confrontational level. The spur: Executives at other news organizations, including The New York Times, had publicly said that their newsrooms had not been fast enough in following stories that Fox News, to the administration’s chagrin, had been heavily covering through the summer and early fall — namely, past statements and affiliations of the White House adviser Van Jones that ultimately led to his resignation and questions surrounding the community activist group Acorn., The New York Times reports.
It was also reported, thursday, the Obama administration escalated its war with Fox News by trying to bar the cable channel's White House correspondent from a press pool event. To their credit, the four other members of the pool -- ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN -- told the White House if Fox were barred none of them would participate in the interview session, Baltimore Sun reports.
News agencies also report, the Obama administration has taken a fair amount of grief for its campaign to marginalize Fox News, saying the cable network is “not a news organization” but rather “the communications arm of the Republican Party.”
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, not a fire-breathing conservative, calls it “dumb on multiple levels” – a distraction from policy messages, a boost to Fox ratings, and, she writes, “it deprives the White House, to the extent it refuses to provide administration officials to appear on the cable network, of access to an audience that is, in fact, broader than hardcore Obama-haters.”
Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar on White House press relations going back decades, says, “It makes them in the White House look terribly political, and political means petty in our lexicon.”
The White House has also opened itself up to charges that it is creating an “enemies list,” à la President Richard Nixon – a charge made on the Senate floor Wednesday by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate with a reputation for collegiality. He also cited recent administration criticism of the US Chamber of Commerce, the insurance industry, and the insurance company Humana, among others, Christian Science Monitor reports.