The Obama administration on Thursday failed in its attempt to exclude Fox News from participating in an interview of an administration official, as Republicans on Capitol Hill stepped up their criticism of the hardball tactics employed by the White House.
The Treasury Department on Thursday tried to make "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg available for interviews to every member of the network pool except Fox News. The pool is the five-network rotation that for decades has shared the costs and duties of daily coverage of the presidency and other Washington institutions.
But the Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV networks consulted and decided that none of their reporters would interview Feinberg unless Fox News was included. The pool informed Treasury that Fox News, as a member of the network pool, could not be excluded from such interviews under the rules of the pool.
The administration relented, making Feinberg available for all five pool members and Bloomberg TV.
The pushback came after White House senior adviser David Axelrod told ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday that Fox News is not a real news organization and other news networks "ought not to treat them that way."
Media analysts cheered the decision to boycott the Feinberg interview unless Fox News was included, saying the administration's gambit was taking its feud with Fox News too far. President Obama has already declined to go on "Fox News Sunday," even while appearing on the other Sunday shows.
"I'm really cheered by the other members saying "No, if Fox can't be part of it, we won't be part of it,'" said Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik, calling the move to limit Feinberg's availability "outrageous."
"What it's really about to me is the Executive Branch of the government trying to tell the press how it should behave. I mean, this democracy -- we know this -- only works with a free and unfettered press to provide information," he said.
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 and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC; Eugene Robinson and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post; Ron Brownstein of the National Journal; John Dickerson of Slate; Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and Bob Herbert of the New York Times; Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, Gloria Borger of CNN and U.S. News and World Report, and Gwen Ifill of PBS.
House Republican leaders rushed to the defense of conservative commentators Thursday after the president's comments.
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."