Published July 14, 2011
Newly released emails show the Obama administration communication team privately discussed whether to exclude Fox News from interviews in late 2009, despite claims at the time that the White House did not intend to snub the cable news channel.
The emails, obtained and released by watchdog Judicial Watch, pertain to a kerfluffle over whether the administration tried to lock Fox News out of a round of interviews with "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg, who was then responsible for reviewing compensation of Wall Street executives.
The perceived slight in October 2009 led to a confrontation with the press corps, not just Fox News -- afterward, the administration ultimately granted the interview to Fox News, along with other news outlets. Administration officials at the time rejected any suggestion that they had tried to exclude Fox News in the first place.
But the emails suggest the subject was at least discussed.
"The Obama administration seems to have lied about its attempt to exclude Fox News Channel from access to an interview with the 'pay czar,'" Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.
Fitton told Fox News the White House treatment was "something Hugo Chavez might do but it really has no place in modern-day America."
The emails cover dozens of conversations in late 2009. But in one email dated Oct. 22, 2009, White House media official Dag Vega wrote to Treasury spokeswoman Jenni LeCompte saying, "we'd prefer if you skip Fox please."
The guidance was in reference to a discussion about whether to make economic officials available. It's unclear whether they were referring at all to Feinberg -- who was, after a back-and-forth, offered up to Fox News for an interview later in the afternoon.
But administration aides showed frustration as they later saw media reports claiming Treasury tried to exclude Fox News at first. That frustration ended up being directed at Fox News itself.
The next morning, as other media coverage of the run-in popped up, Psaki wrote: "I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby -- just cause."
At the time of the dispute over access, the explanation offered by the administration was that there was no "effort to exclude" Fox News, and that the administration initially was only offering interviews to the big three networks. Officials claimed Fox News had not made a request, but that the administration eventually made time for other outlets including Fox News.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in one email, put it this way: "We've demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews -- but yesterday, we didn't."
But Fox News, back in 2009, refuted the claim that the cable channel did not request an interview.
Fitton said in a statement that the documents his group obtained show a "pervasive anti-Fox bias in the Obama White House."
But Michael Clemente, senior vice president of News for Fox News, said times have changed.
"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," Clemente said.
Asked Thursday about the emails, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he has respect for the reporters at Fox News.
"It is well known that at the time there was a dispute between Fox News ... and the White House and its feelings about the coverage. That was then, and you know, we obviously deal with Fox News regularly," Carney said.
He joked that nobody ever put fish in the Fox News cubby.