Forget Fox: White House vs Treasury Department

“Of course we requested an interview.”
Fox News Senior Vice
President Michael Clemente

Over the last few days there has been an explosion of stories regarding a Fox News report that claimed Fox was, initially, deliberately snubbed by the Treasury Department. Only after other networks in the press pool objected to the exclusion was Fox added to the list of participants, with Major Garrett eventually conducting the interview in question. From Fox:

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.

Pushback on the story was immediate. The contrary narrative was that in no way was Fox ever deliberately excluded from anything, and by no means did the “real” networks ever defend Fox. From Talking Points Memo:

The network pool crew noticed Fox wasn’t on the list, was told that they hadn’t asked and the crew said they needed to be included. Treasury called the White House and asked top Obama adviser Anita Dunn. Dunn said yes and Fox’s Major Garrett was among the correspondents to interview Feinberg last night.

The story included a statement from the Treasury department that said there was “no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing.”

After Talking Points Memo and other outlets began to question the details of Fox News’ initial report, the online left in blogs and on Twitter seized on this as an example of dishonesty on the part of Fox. Salon.com editor Joan Walsh went so far as to refer to it as a “hoax” on her twitter feed, a sentiment in common with some at DailyKos. Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog declared “Fox News surely knows that this ‘controversy’ is not what it appears to be, but the network pushed it anyway, hoping to score some cheap points and desperate to position itself as a victim.”

The most popular quote, though, was from White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who told TPM that “this White House has demonstrated our willingness to exclude Fox News from newsmaking interviews, but yesterday we did not.”

“Simple as that,” said Talking Points Memo. Only it turns out, not quite.

Today Fox News provided more details on the sequence of events to the Huffington Post.

“Of course we requested an interview,” Fox News Senior Vice President Michael Clemente told the Huffington Post.

This directly contradicts reports by the Associated Press and Talking Points Memo, both of which reported that the White House had excluded Fox News because it did not request an interview.

It certainly does. Although as HuffPo points out, this shouldn’t matter anyway, as it was a pool interview so all pool members are to be included. Interestingly, Clemente indicated to HuffPo that not only was Fox explicitly excluded, but they were to be replaced by Bloomberg News. The real kicker, though, is the following:

Clemente added that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged to Fox News’ White House Correspondent Major Garrett that a low level Treasury staffer made a mistake in attempting to exclude Fox from the pool interviews.

In all reported versions of events, at that point when the pool insisted Fox be included, Treasury contacted Anita Dunn to make sure it was OK. Dunn, you’ll recall, is Obama’s Fox War Czar. In response to several calls and emails to the Treasury Dept asking why, if this was just a simple misunderstanding and oversight, would they need to ask Dunn for permission to correct it, the same canned “ado about nothing” response was sent. However, one Treasury source said something very interesting: “We typically coordinate high profile TV interviews with the White House, just as most Administrations do.”

Well of course they do. That’s the point, isn’t it? Fox was claiming that this was a deliberate snub in keeping with Dunn’s policy toward Fox. It is the White House who claimed to have clean hands, by telling TPM that this wasn’t a salvo in their war on Fox. The whole point is that Fox claims this was part of a coordinated administration policy. So by pointing out something so simple, Treasury is confirming.

Treasury has not, at the time of posting, responded to follow-up questions. Was Dunn part of the initial decision not to include Fox? If not, then why was she only contacted about the supposed “high profile” interview in “typical” fashion only after it was clear the pool required Fox’s participation? Asked for comment on Clemente’s new revelations, no response was given.

If Gibbs apologized for a staffer at Treasury that would doubly contradict their public statements. It would directly contradict the canned line that there was no “ado” due. It would also indicate that the White House is blaming Treasury alone, not in “coordination” with them.

Regardless of whether Anita Dunn was party to an initial, explicit snub of Fox News, it should be abundantly obvious that Treasury contacting her to clear their “correction” is a direct result of her being the Fox war czar. Furthermore, can there be any doubt that a decision to exclude Fox would be a direct result of two weeks of the administration advising everyone and their network to do that very thing?

Dunn, Gibbs, and the administration generally have done nothing to hide their contempt for Fox, their opinion that it is not a news organization, or their belief that Fox should not be treated as real news. So I admit to no small amount of remaining curiosity regarding their reluctance to own this from the start. I can only assume it is because they were met with backlash from the other networks, whom the administration obviously wants to keep in their pocket. That backlash was real, despite TPMs critically flawed reporting. Chip Reid reports the networks all agreed this crossed the line, and HuffPo quotes one network bureau chief characterizing their solidarity as “all for one and one for all.”

There is a clear disconnect between what Fox is reporting the administration said, what White House spokesman Josh Earnest said to TPM, and what Treasury spokespersons are saying to the media. If the Huffington Post and the widespread quotes attributed to White House are correct, I’m pretty sure the administration is essentially calling the Treasury department incompetent liars. Over Fox News being excluded from an interview. Per the administration’s stated preferences. Yeah.