This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: There is breaking news in the White House war on Fox News. In case you thought it was only chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, presidential adviser David Axelrod and communications director Anita Dunn who conspired to take on Fox News, think again. It turns out President Obama knows all about it. Don't believe us? Listen to what President Obama had to say tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One other thing, this stir over Fox News -- well, let's use a sports metaphor because we're about to do an interview all about women, OK? Is this working the umps? Do you think it's appropriate for the White House to say what is and is not a news organization?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I think that, understandably, since you're in the news business, this is something that you're very interested in. I think the American people are a lot more interested on what we're doing to create jobs or how we're handling the situation in Afghanistan.
GUTHRIE: Fair enough, but your advisers raised this issue.
OBAMA: Well, no. The -- I think that what our advisers have simply said is, is that we are going to take media as it comes. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Meanwhile, Senator Lamar Alexander goes to the Senate floor with stern words for the president: Don't build an enemies list.
Earlier, Senator Alexander went "On the Record."
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, blunt words to the president today, warning him not to have an enemies list?
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R - TENN.: It was a suggestion. And I went back to my days 40 years ago, when I was on the Nixon White House staff, and I think I see some of the same early steps that I saw then.
VAN SUSTEREN: Like what? What prompted this?
ALEXANDER: Well, this classifying people who disagree with you as your enemies. I mean, a boycott of Fox News, threatening to take away the anti-trust exemption from insurance companies, "Politico" reported that the White House wants the neuter the United States Chamber of Commerce, calling out senators who object to the czars in the White House. The president himself said he was going to keep a list of bondholders who didn't agree to GM or Chrysler. I don't think that's an enemies list today, but I saw the road that it took the Nixon White House down. I don't want to see the Obama White administration to go that way.
VAN SUSTEREN: Now, Judd Gregg -- or Senator Gregg, rather, used the term "Nixified."
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think about that?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think -- and Senator Gregg was very clever. He was standing next to me when I made the speech. We've both been around enough to see this. I understand it. I mean, you're in the White House, people are -- you feel like people are after you, they're not being fair to you, so you've got to fight them back. And the result of that was John Dean, then Chuck Colson, presented this enemies list that had everybody from Daniel Schorr to The New York Times to people in business, and it ruined the Nixon administration.
I think the -- what I hope Obama -- the president will do is push all that street fighting out of the White House, back to the political consultants, focus his attention on truly presidential issues and work with Republicans, as well as Democrats. We respect him. He' doing some very courageous things in education, which I support. I'd like to see him do that, instead of all this calling people out.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, any thought of calling the White House and calling the president and Rahm Emanuel and saying, Hey, put the brakes on the possibility of an enemies list, rather than doing it on the floor, because of course, we seized upon that. And of course, we seized upon the "Nixified" (INAUDIBLE) you know, we -- those are the words that we in the media grab. Can you call them and talk to them?
ALEXANDER: Well, I could, but I think, you know, I'm a United States senator. I speak on the Senate floor. I said what I thought I should say, and I thought that was the appropriate place for me to say it. And I did it, I believe, in a respectful way. I suggested this. I did it with respect to the president. I pointed out the areas of cooperation.
For example, Senator McConnell has said, I'll work with you on Social Security solvency. I'll make sure you get more Republican votes than you gave George W. Bush when he tried to do the same thing. I'm helping on education. Others will help on other things. But right now, their idea of bipartisan work is like, you know, somebody attending a state fair and being at the shooting gallery. If they can just pick off one target, they think they've won the prize. That's not the way to do bipartisan work in the Senate.
VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the mechanics of working with this White House versus the last White House, or even any of the White Houses you've had experience with, is this more partisan? Is it more difficult, or is this just sort of the natural exchange between parties, between the Congress and the Senate and the White House?
ALEXANDER: I can't decide whether they don't want to be bipartisan or they don't know how. You know, 40 years ago, I remember in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson, president, had to pass a Civil Rights bill. Very difficult. He didn't have it written in the Democratic leader's office. He had a bigger Democratic majority then than President Obama does today. He had it written in the Republican leader's office. And over four or five weeks, people were streaming in and out of both parties. Dirksen, the Republican leader, got some credit. President Johnson got the Civil Rights bill, and the country had confidence in it because it had that kind of bipartisan support in Congress.
VAN SUSTEREN: So why isn't -- why don't we have that now? What's different? Why -- why -- or why do we get the sense that this is -- you know, that the line is drawn in the sand?
ALEXANDER: Well, maybe people don't have long memories. It's very tempting when you have big majorities to think we can just ram things through. And technically, maybe they can. But they won't build the kind of broad and lasting support in the country that you need for a big change, like on how do we deal with climate change, how do we change financial regulation, how do we change the health care system, how do we pass the Civil Rights law?
People out in the country get afraid when they see one group ramming things through without checks and balances. And it helped President Johnson to have Senator Dirksen, the Republican leader, for four or five weeks saying, This is being done in my office, everybody come in and out. It was a very tough issue at the time, 1968.
VAN SUSTEREN: People had varying reactions to the White House, President Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Axelrod's statements about Fox News. What's your sort of reaction to all this?
ALEXANDER: Well, my reaction is, it's the same kind of thing I heard in 1969 and '70, when I began to hear Vice President Agnew talk about "nattering nabobs of negativism." I think Bill Safire probably wrote that, the late Bill Safire. And that sort of the back-and-forth of politics. But after a while, The New York Times and The Washington Post were on the enemies list. And I don't think President Obama wants to put a major network on the enemies list, and I don't think a major network should want to be there.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you, sir.
VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us is Susan Estrich, Fox News political analyst and former campaign manager for Governor Michael Dukakis and professor at USC and a whole bunch of other things -- author, everything else.
Anyway, all right, Susan, what do you think about what President Obama said tonight when -- I mean, he knows about this -- this dispute, obviously, between his advisers -- sounds like he knows a lot about it -- and Fox News?
SUSAN ESTRICH, FOX POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER DUKAKIS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Oh, sure. She he knows about it, Greta. He's got to know about it. And you know, he said the right thing, I'm not losing sleep about it.
I think there are two problems. First of all, you know, you and I both know there are some shows on Fox News, just like there are some shows on MSNBC, that are like talk radio and have very opinionated hosts. But we also do a lot of news reporting.
And my concern is twofold. First of all, you know, my Democratic friends in marginal districts, my Democratic friends in Virginia and New Jersey, with elections coming up, they need the votes of people who watch Fox News. So you know, this attack on Fox News is great for Sean's ratings and Glenn's ratings and Bill's ratings. But I don't know that it's going to help Democrats in marginal districts who need independent voters, need swing voters, need people who watch you.
The other thing I don't get is why the mainstream media, which, frankly, would go absolutely nuts if George Bush had singled out MSNBC and said, you know, Nobody follow them, they're not really a news organization, and we're going to boycott -- I mean, all my friends in the 1st Amendment crowd would be up in arms, saying, you know, the government shouldn't be dictating to news organizations. And I've been a little stunned, frankly, by the silence from the press.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, when I practiced law, I represented people on the 1st Amendment, people I agree with, people I didn't agree with. And I must say I'm a little bit surprised. Where is The New York Times? Where is The "Washington Post? Where are many other news organizations? You know, where are they? I mean...
ESTRICH: You know what happens is -- I mean, every president I've ever known and every political leader I've ever known -- you know, I used to go visit Bill Clinton, and he would show me the day's clips and say, Why is this one doing this to me? And why is this one doing this to me? And finally, I'd say to him, Hey, how about we cure cancer instead? Every political leader hates the press they get, as Senator Alexander was saying. But you know -- and they all play favorites. You know, the Bush administration...
VAN SUSTEREN: But this is a little different.
ESTRICH: ... had their favorites...
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan...
ESTRICH: But this is worse.
VAN SUSTEREN: But Susan...
VAN SUSTEREN: They're saying this isn't a news organization, and they indicted the entire news organization, and you know...
ESTRICH: I know.
VAN SUSTEREN: ... they went out after everybody. And they sent out the big leaders on -- you know, their big spokespeople on Sunday morning to the morning talk shows!
ESTRICH: I agree!
VAN SUSTEREN: Even the president seems so thin-skinned about this, like, he doesn't like criticism! You can't criticize the president!
ESTRICH: Well, I mean, you know, the thing is, what troubled me the most, when a couple of people were on the Sunday shows, and they basically said, Look, we don't want these other networks following Fox, so if Fox breaks a news story like ACORN or Van Jones or something like that, we want the message to go out that if you follow Fox News, presumably, you're going to be off our favorites list.
Now, what I would have expected is for the press in that kind of frontal attack to say, Hey, wait a minute. In a free society, the government doesn't tell us what stories we can cover and what news we can broadcast. And I just think, in the short run, all these reporters may be worried that, you know, they want to be inside and they want to get the good sources. But this isn't good for a free press. And frankly, I don't see how it's good for Democrats in the long run. I mean, the base may be happy today. You know, Hey, we hate Fox News. Great. But in the long run, you know, you need swing voters!
VAN SUSTEREN: The thing that's surprising is that if we don't want the media to want to be popular and to -- and to be friends. And that's the thing.
VAN SUSTEREN: If the media's running from this one because they think they will be unpopular, that's a problem.
ESTRICH: Big problem. I mean, you and I both know that the whole idea of the 1st Amendment is that the government stays out of press coverage. The press is independent. It's critical. Everybody who's in office always hates it, and they hate it most sometimes when you're doing your job well.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, always nice to see you. Thank you.
ESTRICH: Wonderful to see you, Greta. Keep at it!
VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, I will. It's never dull.Content and Programming Copyright 2009 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC, which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, LLC'S and CQ Transcriptions, LLC's copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.