The Fox News official response to all this has evolved over the past couple weeks, and now serves in an interesting dual role.
The White House should expect a strong fight from the opinion hosts on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, who all made the White House battle the main story on their programs last night. But the White House hasn’t just been attacking these outspoken hosts – they’re cutting to the news core, downplaying FNC as a news organization as well.
The response has changed over time in statements, and yesterday FNC debuted a splashy new ad touting the news chops (on the next page). But let’s take a look at the statements first.
Fox News’ Senior Vice President for News Michael Clemente has been the main representative for the news department for this. His first response, to Time magazine early this month, was very diplomatic. “The fact that our numbers are up 30 plus in the news arena on basic cable I’d like to think is a sign that we are just putting what we believe to be the facts out on the table…In terms of the relationship, I think we are doing our job. And they [the White House] are doing their job,” he said.
Next, Clemente was driving home the point that news and opinion are separate at FNC after a direct attack from Anita Dunn: “An increasing number of viewers are relying on Fox News for both news and opinion. And the average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A section of a newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents.”
To the New York Times, after new attacks from Dunn, we started seeing a shift last week. “Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality,” said Clemente. “Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about.”
And finally, the most recent statement, put out in response to what Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod said on the Sunday shows: “Surprisingly, the White House continues to declare war on a news organization instead of focusing on the critical issues that Americans are concerned about like jobs, health care and two wars. The door remains open and we welcome a discussion about the facts behind the issues.”
This is a major shift from Clemente’s first statements. Clemente’s use of the word “instead” implies a judgment being made about the White House – and their lack of focus on “critical issues” like “jobs, health care and two wars.” No matter how you parse the words, this clearly shows the head of FNC’s news division making an opinionated statement about the Obama administration. Are we to believe that the Fox News official news division position is that the White House is focusing on Fox News while abandoning these other issues? That’s not something FNC wants to get into – it’s a point that is better suited for their opinion hosts.
The FNC news division position was only made more clear by a new, highly-produced ad that debuted yesterday, with the tagline “Hard News. Real Reporting.” It shows FNC reporters in war zones, natural disasters and more, and anchors touting the “fair and balanced” nature of the network. The point is clear – we do do news. And for anyone who is even a casual viewer of Fox News knows, this is 100% accurate. And that’s why the White House attacks seem so pointless – FNC does have a news department that covers real news. And they have people like Beck and Hannity that hammer the White House. Do you get a tougher interview if you’re a Democrat than if you’re a Republican during daytime hours? Probably. But you could make that argument the other way with MSNBC, where David Shuster, who fills in on Countdown, is seen as an “anchor.” It’s a continuous losing fight for the White House.
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