At least one Democratic political strategist has gotten a blunt warning from the White House to never appear on Fox News Channel, an outlet that presidential aides have depicted as not so much a news-gathering operation as a political opponent bent on damaging the Obama administration.
The Democratic strategist said that shortly after an appearance on Fox, he got a phone call from a White House official telling him not to be a guest on the show again. The call had an intimidating tone, he said.
The message was, “We better not see you on again,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to run afoul of the White House. An implicit suggestion, he said, was that “clients might stop using you if you continue.”
White House Communications Director Anita Dunn said that she had checked with colleagues who “deal with TV issues” and that they had not told people to avoid Fox. On the contrary, they had urged people to appear on the network, Dunn wrote in an e-mail.
But Patrick Caddell, a Fox News contributor and former pollster for President Carter, said he had spoken to Democratic consultants who said they were told by the White House to avoid appearances on Fox. He declined to give their names.
Caddell said he had not gotten that message himself from the White House.
He added: “I have heard that they’ve done that to others in not too subtle ways. I find it appalling. When the White House gets in the business of suppressing dissent and comment, particularly from its own party, it hurts itself.”
Some observers say White House officials might be urging consultants to spurn Fox to isolate the network and make it appear more partisan. A boycott by Democratic strategists could help drive the White House narrative that Fox is a fundamentally different creature than the other TV news networks.
White House officials appear on Fox News, but sporadically and with their “eyes wide open,” as one aide put it.
David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president, appeared on Fox News Channel last week to talk about the results of Tuesday’s off-year elections. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also appeared on the network last week.
Still, the White House has on occasion avoided or taken an adversarial position toward Fox. When President Obama appeared on five talk shows one Sunday in September, he avoided Fox.
Last month, Dunn told CNN that Fox has acted, in effect, as an “arm” of the Republican Party. “Let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is,” she said.
As the dust-up played out, Fox’s senior vice president of news, Michael Clemente, countered: “Surprisingly, the White House continues to declare war on a news organization instead of focusing on the critical issues that Americans are concerned about like jobs, healthcare and two wars.”
Fox’s commentators have been sharply critical of the Obama administration.
After the president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Sean Hannity, who has a prime-time show on Fox, said he got the award for “trashing America.”
Fox’s audience is by far the largest of the cable networks, with an average of more than 2.1 million viewers in prime time this year, according to the Nielsen Co. CNN is second, with 932,000 prime-time viewers.
The White House’s critical stance toward the network leaves some Democrats troubled.
Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, said in an interview: “This approach is out of sync with my conception of what the Obama administration stands for and what they’re trying to do.
“I think they’ll think better of it and this will be a passing phase.”