House Republican leaders rushed to the defense of conservative commentators Thursday after President Obama dismissed Fox News as "talk radio" -- part of the White House campaign to marginalize opposing viewpoints.
Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said conservative commentators speak more for Americans than the national media outlets that have targeted them for criticism.
"Goaded on by a White House increasingly intolerant of criticism, lately the national media has taken aim at conservative commentators in radio and television," the Indiana Republican said on the House floor. "Suggesting that they only speak for a small group of activists and even suggesting in one report today that Republicans in Washington are 'worried about their electoral effect.' Well, that's hogwash."
Pence said the hundreds of thousands who filled town hall meetings this summer to protest Obama's sweeping health care reform legislation and marched in Washington in September prove there is widespread worry "about liberal social policies and runaway federal spending, deficit and debt."
"So to my friends in the so-called 'mainstream media,' I say, 'conservative talk show shots may not speak for everybody, but they speak for more Americans than you do."
Several top White House advisers have appeared on other news channels to criticize Fox News' coverage of the administration, dismiss the network as the mouthpiece of the Republican Party and urge other news organizations not to treat Fox News as a legitimate news network.
On Wednesday, Obama, speaking publicly for the first time about his administration's portrayal of Fox News as illegitimate, said he's not "losing sleep" over the controversy.
"I think that what our advisers simply said is, is that we are going to take media as it comes," Obama said when asked about his advisers targeting the network openly. "And if media is operating, basically, as a talk radio format, then that's one thing. And if it's operating as a news outlet, then that's another. But it's not something I'm losing a lot of sleep over."
Obama's comments also came after he met Monday with political commentators Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, E.J. Dionne, Ron Brownstein, John Dickerson, Frank Rich, Jerry Seib, Maureen Dowd, Bob Herbert, Gloria Borger, and Gwen Ifill.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, derided White House criticism of Fox News as "Chicago-style politics."
"The White House and congressional Democrats know that their liberal special interest agenda is unpopular," he said at a news conference. "And now they are following a familiar pattern: when you can't win an argument based on facts, launch vicious political attacks.
"This is Chicago-style politics' shutting out the American people and demonizing their opponents," Boehner said. "Democrats are writing the health care bill in secret, despite the president's promise to do it on C-Span. Instead, Democrats are targeting those who don't fall in line immediately -- like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, doctors and Fox News. This administration promised to usher in an era of 'post-partisanship' in Washington, but what they are doing is flat-out despicable."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor called the White House criticism "nothing more than a distraction."
"Under fire for its management of a wave of problems, the Obama administration has reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out a new bogeyman: Fox News," he said.
"This episode is about much more than just Fox News," he added. "Today the administration's target is Fox; tomorrow it could be someone else. The administration apparently feels entitled to receive friendly (or what it subjectively deems 'balanced') news coverage at a time when it is making monumental decisions that will have sweeping consequences for years to come.
"Its heavy-handed treatment of Fox is unseemly in a democracy that depends on the free flow of information," he said.