White House

White House Targeted Fox News

Despite denials at the time, e-mails show the administration boasted about an attempt to exclude the network from a round-robin interview.

07.14.11 7:20 PM ET

The Obama administration made a deliberate effort to exclude Fox News from a press pool during the height of its war with the network, newly released documents show.

At the time, in the fall of 2009, the administration dismissed the matter as simply a mistake. “There was no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. But internal e-mails obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch show that the attempted exclusion from an interview with federal pay czar Ken Feinberg was part of a deliberate strategy. The attempt failed when the other networks refused to go along unless Fox was included.

On Oct. 22, 2009, Dag Vega, the White House director of broadcast media, wrote to a Treasury official that “we’d prefer if you skip Fox please.” Deputy White House communications director Jennifer Psaki wrote the official, Jenni LeCompte, and other colleagues about a report by Fox anchor Bret Baier on the network’s exclusion that “brett baier just did a stupid piece on it -- but he is a lunatic.”

The next day, Psaki wrote: “I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause.” And deputy press secretary Josh Earnest wrote LeCompte that day: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…”

Asked about the matter by Fox correspondent Mike Emanuel at Thursday’s briefing, press secretary Jay Carney did not directly address the e-mails: “It is well known that at the time there was a dispute between Fox News and its coverage and the White House and its feelings about the coverage. I mean, that was then and you know we obviously deal with Fox News regularly, I call on you regularly, we give interviews to Fox News, including to Bill O’Reilly and so beyond that I don’t really know much about it.”

Pressed about the exclusion of one network from a press pool, Carney said: “I feel like I’m getting caught in trick question and since I wasn’t here for that part of it, I’ll have to examine that.”

Michael Clemente, Fox’s senior vice president for news, took the high road, saying: “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.”

But Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said in a statement that the correspondence shows “a pervasive anti-Fox bias” and that “the juvenile Mafioso-talk in these emails has no place in any White House.”