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Obama Aide: Fox News Our 'Opponent'

By John Rossomando   |   Monday, 12 Oct 2009 12:40 PM

Fox News seems to enjoy being on the White House's enemies list.

A festering enmity between the Obama administration and the cable network boiled over Sunday when The New York Times quoted White House communications director Anita Dunn as saying of Fox: “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent.”

Fox Senior Vice President for News Michael Clemente fired back at what he called the White House’s “attack mentality.”

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“Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues we are worried about,” Clemente said in a statement the network issued.

If Fox’s ratings are any clue, the administration’s attacks seem to be having the opposite of their desired effects. As of last week, the network has averaged 1.2 million viewers throughout the year, up from around 1 million viewers a year ago. This surpasses the network’s previous viewership record of 1.1 million viewers, which was set in 2003, the year the war began in Iraq.

In June, President Obama attacked Fox without mentioning it by name, saying it was devoted entirely to attacking his administration and that its coverage of his actions were all negative.

“Every time they [attack], our ratings go up,” Bill Shine, Fox’s senior vice president for programming, told the Times.

A Fox executive who declined to be identified said the attacks could solidify the network’s base. He quoted Fox Chairman Roger Ailes as having said: “Don’t pick a fight with those who like to fight.”

Paul Rittenberg, the network’s top ad executive, said, “People who watch Fox News believe it is the home team,” but Democrats don’t see it that way because of its critical coverage of the president and his political agenda.

Dunn’s comments followed press reports that Ailes had met with top Obama adviser David Axelrod for coffee in New York in what Politico called “a Fox summit.”

The White House communications director also took aim at controversial comments various Fox hosts have made against the administration.

These have included comments by immensely popular host Glenn Beck, whose 5 p.m. show has become a “cultural phenomenon,” with 3 million viewers, according to Shine.

Beck was credited with forcing the resignation of former green jobs czar Van Jones, whom he described as a “communist-anarchist radical.”

Weeks earlier, Beck came under attack from the Color of Change, a group Jones helped found, after he called the president “racist” during a Fox and Friends segment, which prompted several advertisers to pull their spots from his program.

Rittenberg, however, says the boycott has had no impact on Fox’s revenue because the advertising has been shifted to other parts of the day.

The administration also bristles about certain hosts' advocacy of the Tea Party movement.

Fox recently bolstered its Fox Business unit by hiring libertarian journalist John Stossel away from ABC, and it reportedly is trying to woo administration critic Lou Dobbs away from CNN. Dobbs met with Ailes last month over dinner, the Times reported.

“As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that is the way legitimate news agencies behave,” Dunn said.

Last month, the president appeared on all of the major networks’ Sunday talk shows except for Fox News Sunday, which the White House called an “ideological outlet.” This prompted Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace to call the administration “the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.”

Dunn dismissed Wallace’s comments as juvenile and said the administration would talk with Fox but said the White House would not "legitimize them as a news organization.”

The network defends its presentation of the news as objective during its news hours of 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m., including the anchor Shepard Smith's evening newscasts. Dunn even acknowledged that Fox reporter Major Garrett, its chief White House correspondent, is fair.

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