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Picking a fight: Obama vs Fox News
Updated: 2009-10-19 07:45

Picking a fight: Obama vs Fox News

In this May 23, 2008 file photo, Anita Dunn in her Washington office.[Agencies]

NEW YORK – President Barack Obama's communications director says it was Fox News Channel, not the White House, that picked a fight.

Yet it was Anita Dunn's words during a CNN interview last week, saying Fox is like "a wing of the Republican Party," that ignited one of the most unusual verbal volleys between a presidential administration and journalists since Vice President Spiro Agnew complained during the Nixon years about the "nattering nabobs of negativism."

Dunn's stance cheered many of the president's supporters who seethe over anti-Obama stories on Fox opinion shows, but has caused a backlash among some who say it exposed the administration as thin-skinned.

White House unhappiness had been building. The president himself said there is "one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration." Fox's coverage of health care demonstrations over the summer, former administration official Van Jones and the community activists ACORN clearly knocked the administration off stride.

The White House blog attacked Fox commentator Glenn Beck for "lies."

"The administration was being attacked, members of this administration were being attacked, policies of this administration were being misrepresented — and that's a generous interpretation of how they were being described," Dunn said. "The reality is that at some point, the administration has to defend itself."

Fox has fought back hard. Network executive Michael Clemente said it was "astounding" that administration critics couldn't distinguish between news and opinion programming.

"It seems self-serving on their part," he said.

Fox said network executives have been told that no one from the administration would appear on a Fox show as a guest through the end of the year. Dunn denied there was a White House ban on Fox appearances. "We haven't said that to them," she said.

Last week on his show, Beck placed a red phone on his desk, saying it was a hot line available to Dunn anytime she thought something untrue about Obama was being said on his show.

"I don't think the White House actually wants a dialogue," Beck said. "They want to smear, isolate and destroy."

Dunn on Beck: "He's always good for a laugh."

Beck uncovered a speech Dunn had given where she referred to Mother Teresa and Mao Tse-Tung as "two of my favorite political philosophers." He said it was "insanity" that she was quoting the late Chinese dictator; Dunn said she was being ironic and got the idea for the reference from GOP strategist Lee Atwater.

Dunn also criticized Fox's Chris Wallace for referring to the administration as filled with "crybabies." ("We kept ourselves from ... responding, `I am rubber, you are glue,'" Dunn said). But there was a specific provocation: The president appeared on five Sunday morning public affairs shows on Sept. 20, every one except Wallace's.

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