The White House escalated its offensive against Fox News on Sunday by urging other news organizations to stop “following Fox” and instead join the administration’s attempt to marginalize the channel.
Obama senior adviser David Axelrod went further by calling on media outlets to join the administration in declaring that Fox is “not a news organization.”
“Other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way,” Axelrod counseled ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “We’re not going to treat them that way.”
By urging other news outlets to side with the administration, Obama aides officials dramatically upped the ante in the war of words that began earlier this month, when White House communications director Anita Dunn branded Fox "opinion journalism masquerading as news."
On Sunday, Fox’s Chris Wallace retorted: “We wanted to ask Dunn about her criticism, but, as they've done every week since August, the White House refused to make any administration officials available to ‘FOX News Sunday’ to talk about this or anything else.”
The White House stopped providing guests to ‘Fox News Sunday’ after Wallace fact-checked controversial assertions made by Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, in August. Dunn said fact-checking an administration official was “something I’ve never seen a Sunday show do.”
“She criticized ‘FOX News Sunday’ last week for fact-checking -- fact-checking -- an administration official,” Wallace said Sunday. “They didn't say that our fact-checking was wrong. They just said that we had dared to fact-check.”
“Let's fact-check Anita Dunn, because last Sunday she said that Fox ignores Republican scandals, and she specifically mentioned the scandal involving Nevada senator John Ensign,” Wallace added. “A number of Fox News shows have run stories about Senator Ensign. Anita Dunn's facts were just plain wrong.”
Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente said: “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.”
Observers on both sides of the political aisle questioned the White House’s decision to continue waging war on a news organization, saying the move carried significant political risks.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said on CNN: “I don't always agree with the White House. And on this one here I would disagree.”
David Gergen, who has worked for Democratic and Republican presidents, said: “I totally agree with Donna Brazile.” Gergen added that White House officials have “gotten themselves into a fight they don't necessarily want to be in. I don't think it's in their best interest.”
“The faster they can get this behind them, the more they can treat Fox like one other organization, the easier they can get back to governing, and then put some people out on Fox,” Gergen said on CNN. “I mean, for goodness sakes -- you know, you engage in the debate. What Americans want is a robust competition of ideas, and they ought to be willing to go out there and mix it up with some strong conservatives on Fox, just as there are strong conservatives on CNN like Bill Bennett.”
Bennett expressed outrage that Dunn told an audience of high school students this year that Mao Tse-tung, the founder of communist China, was one of “my favorite political philosophers.”
“Having the spokesman do this, attack Fox, who says that Mao Zedong is one of the most influential figures in her life, was not…a small thing; it's a big thing,” Bennett said on CNN. “When she stands up, in a speech to high school kids, says she's deeply influenced by Mao Zedong, that -- I mean, that is crazy.”
Fox News contributor Karl Rove, who was the top political strategist to former President George W. Bush, said: “This is an administration that's getting very arrogant and slippery in its dealings with people. And if you dare to oppose them, they're going to come hard at you and they're going to cut your legs off.”
“This is a White House engaging in its own version of the media enemies list. And it's unhelpful for the country and undignified for the president of the United States to so do,” Rove added. “That is over- the-top language. We heard that before from Richard Nixon.”
Media columnist David Carr of the New York Times warned that the White House war on Fox “may present a genuine problem for Mr. Obama, who took great pains during the campaign to depict himself as being above the fray of over-heated partisan squabbling.”
“While there is undoubtedly a visceral thrill in finally setting out after your antagonists, the history of administrations that have successfully taken on the media and won is shorter than this sentence,” Carr wrote over the weekend. “So far, the only winner in this latest dispute seems to be Fox News. Ratings are up 20 percent this year.”
He added: “The administration, by deploying official resources against a troublesome media organization, seems to have brought a knife to a gunfight.”