The Obama administration’s distaste for Fox News has been on display from the outset of the Obama presidency. But it reached a whole new level when reports appeared in the press that the White House attempted to boycott the network from a round of interviews organized by the Treasury Department with “Executive Pay Czar” Kenneth Feinberg on October 22, 2009.
The scandal ultimately led to a backlash from the other networks and a reversal by the Obama White House. Of course, the White House denied the charge that Fox was singled out for exclusion repeatedly, blaming the issue on a miscommunication. That’s when we got involved, filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Treasury Department.
Well recently, we obtained some documents in response to our request. And we once again caught the Obama gang in big fat lie.
Contrary to the administration’s repeated denials, these documents do, in fact, demonstrate that the Obama White House attempted to exclude Fox News Channel. But it gets worse than that. The documents, which include email exchanges within the Department of the Treasury and between Treasury and White House staff, also provide colorful evidence of a pervasive anti-Fox News bias within the Obama White House.
And when I say colorful, I mean colorful.
Now, when this scandal first erupted in the press back in 2009, it seemed everyone had an issue with the Obama administration’s handling of the interviews (except the Obama administration). Even the ultra-liberal New York Times: “Fox’s television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Thursday [October 22, 2009] to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a ‘pool’ camera crew,” the Times reported.
Fox News Channel’s James Rosen reported at the time that this backlash forced the Obama administration to reconsider its position on the matter: “The Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV news networks…consulted and decided that none of them would interview Feinberg unless Fox was included, and the administration relented,” reported Rosen. Ultimately, after other media representatives objected, Fox News Channel was allowed to participate in the interviews.
The Treasury Department’s official response, as detailed in back-and-forth emails uncovered by Judicial Watch, included a clear denial of any such plot to exclude Fox News from the interviews: “There was no plan to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing.”
Moreover, in an email to Jim Rutenberg on October 23, 2009, Jake Siewart, Counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, repeated the denial that there was an effort to exclude Fox News Channel: “Call me today on your Fox Treasury report,” Siewart wrote. “Not true that there was an ‘effort to exclude’ Fox.”
Then how does the White House explain this October 22, 2009, email exchange between Dag Vega, Director of Broadcast Media on the White House staff and Jenni LeCompte, then-Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the Treasury Department? When LeCompte asks Vega whether or not Fox should be included in the list of invited cable networks, Vega informs LeCompte “…we’d prefer if you skip Fox please.”
“We’d prefer if you skip Fox News,” seems like a very specific exclusion to me.
Regarding general anti-Fox News bias within the Obama White House in an October 23, 2009, email exchange between Deputy White House Communications Director Jennifer Psaki and LeCompte, Psaki writes, “I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause.” In an email on the night of October 22, 2009, commenting on a report by Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier that noted the exclusion of the network from the pool, Psaki wrote to LeCompte and fellow White House colleagues, “…brett baier just did a stupid piece on it — but he is a lunatic.”
Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest bluntly described the White House’s position on Fox News Channel in an October 23, 2009, email to LeCompte: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…”
(It is interesting to note that the Treasury Department blacked out a key email regarding its refusal to make available Treasury Secretary Geithner for an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. More evidence of an anti-Fox bias?)
So the bottom line here is that the Obama administration seems to have lied about its attempt to exclude Fox News Channel from access to an interview with the “pay czar.” And these documents show there is a pervasive anti-Fox bias in the Obama White House. Certainly the juvenile Mafioso-like talk in these emails has no place in any White House.
Even more importantly, the Obama administration’s attempt to purposely exclude a major news organization from access to information has troubling First Amendment implications – a point everyone seems to get except the Obama White House.
These emails made big news this week (you can see my Fox News Channel interview about it here and Bill O’Reilly’s coverage here). Even the White House was asked about Judicial Watch’s work at its daily press briefing yesterday. I’ll quote the exchange for you in full:
Q: Jay, I need to switch gears for a second. Judicial Watch, the watchdog group, has obtained some emails from the administration about an October 2009 incident about whether or not FOX News would get an interview with Ken Feinberg, then the executive pay czar. And publicly, the administration was saying that FOX was not excluded. The emails seemed to suggest that FOX was perhaps punished and was excluded. Has the administration concluded there was any inappropriate activity there?
MR. (JAY) CARNEY: Well, Mike, first of all, let me address a serious matter here, that I can say, having looked into this matter, that no one at the White House, either a current or former employee, ever placed a dead fish in the FOX News cubbyhole, which I know is a suggestion. (Laughter.) I can also say that it is well known that at the time there was a dispute between FOX News and its coverage and the White House and its feelings about the coverage. I mean, that was then, and we obviously deal with FOX News regularly. I call on you regularly. We give interviews to FOX News, including to Bill O’Reilly. But beyond that, I don’t really know much about it.
Q: As a matter of policy, if there’s a pool event, should it be open to all networks?
MR. CARNEY: As a matter of policy? I’ll have to look at — I didn’t read that part of the policy manual. Isn’t a pooled event when one network pools for the rest? I feel like I’m getting caught in a trick question. And since I wasn’t here for that part of it, I’ll have to examine that, Mike.
Q: Well, if you were going to arrange for a pooled interview with a senior administration official, would you assume that all the standard networks would be included?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’d have to look at what the policy standards are. But my point, Mike, is that we regularly engage with every network and every news organization here, including FOX, and give interviews to FOX, and respect the reporters at FOX who are reporters and do their job.
It is interesting to see the Obama White House run away from its inappropriate behavior! For its part, Fox News was in no mood to start a fight again. A top Fox official was quoted as saying, “On and off-the-air relations with this administration have come a long way since then, and if that unfortunate incident helped get things on a better track, then it served its purpose.”
I don’t believe that all is sweetness and light between the Obama gang and Fox. And the fact remains, we caught the Obama White House in a big lie and gained a glimpse of this administration’s Third World, banana republic approach to the media. I’ll leave you with a reaction quote from David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun media critic, who is no fan of Fox News:
Not since Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, have I see a White House with such contempt for the press — and disregard for the historic role a free press plays in this society.