CNN: White House Attacks On Fox Help Its Ratings, Hurt Democrats

October 11th, 2009 10:32 PM

UPDATE AT END OF POST: Fox officials agree that all this attention is helping ratings.

Three days before Howard Kurtz talked with White House communications director Anita Dunn about the Obama administration's attacks on the Fox News Channel, a number of CNN contributors pointed out how this strategy is helping FNC's ratings while hurting Democrats.

Such was discussed on Thursday's "Situation Room" by a panel consisting of CNN's Gloria Berger, David Gergen, and John King, as well as Politico's Nia-Malika Henderson and Republican strategist Tony Blankley.

Makes you wonder why Kurtz on Sunday didn't ask Dunn about the following tremendously relevant conversation that happened on his own network a few days earlier (video embedded below the fold with partial transcript, h/t Mediaite): 

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: The White House is taking a more aggressive tone in its media strategy, at least where one news outlet is concerned.

We want to talk about that and more with the best political team on television. Joining us, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Republican strategist Tony Blankley, our chief national correspondent, John king, Nia-Malika Henderson, White House correspondent for Politico, and our senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, and "TIME" magazine, in an article entitled "Calling Them Out: The White House Takes on the Press," she says this of FOX News. She says: "It's opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience, but that doesn't mean we are going to sit back."

You once dealt with communications at the White House for Bill Clinton. Is this a smart strategy?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a very risky strategy, Wolf. It's not one that I would advocate.

I understand why Anita Dunn, for whom I have a great deal of respect, and her colleagues in this White House are angry and frustrated by some of the coverage they have gotten. It's gotten pretty contentious out there, as you know, and part of that is showing up in cable news and elsewhere. So I understand why they are frustrated.

Wolf, I have -- if you're going to get very personal against the media, you are going to find that the animosities are just going to deepen and you're going to find that you give -- you sort of almost draw viewers and readers to the people you are attacking. You build them up in some ways. You give them stature.

If you are going to get into this kind of thing, I think it's -- you know, the press always has the last barrel of ink, it has long been said.

(LAUGHTER) GERGEN: And you often find yourselves not winning that. And I just keep wondering, if they are going to do this, why don't they take this over to the DNC, over to the Democratic National Committee, and have their struggles like that fought out over there, and not out of the White House? I have real questions about that strategy.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think they are going to do that as well, David.

But I think the feeling over there, from talking to folks, is -- and you know this -- the first rule of campaigning is, don't let your opponent define who you are. And I think there was a sense that maybe they were sitting back too much, particularly over the summer, and letting their opponents define them, the talk of death panels and all the kind of stuff about health care.

And there was a sense that maybe they weren't aggressive enough in protecting their president and defining -- and defining the issues. Now, that may have been a problem with health care because we weren't quite sure where the president was on it. So, that was a big part of their problem. So, I think a strategy to fight back.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I mean, it's correct that they probably weren't as assertive as they should have been on the issues.

But going after a news organization, in my experience is, is always a loser.

BLITZER: You used to do it when you worked for Newt Gingrich?

BLANKLEY: On occasion, not because I really wanted to, but...

BORGER: Because the boss wanted you to.

BLANKLEY: Newt got angry at "The Atlanta Constitution." And for a number of months -- it was his hometown paper -- justified -- their reporting at the time was I thought terribly unfair, but it ended up being a cause celebre. They reported anyway, because you can always report around the newsperson by talking to every -- all their enemies around town.

And they have a big audience. And FOX has an audience, not just conservatives. They have got liberals and moderates who watch, too. They have got Obama supporters who are watching. So, it's a temptation for politicians, but it needs to be resisted.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And David Axelrod had coffee with Roger Ailes, the head of FOX News, in New York during the United Nations General Assembly.

And if that was an attempt at detente, Anita Dunn's quotes are going to, shall we say, blow up any peace talks. It is a -- it is a difficult moment. In your travels, Wolf -- I travel quite a bit -- and in your travels you do get this polarization, and that is what the White House is worried about.

But David and Tony know this better than me and Gloria from campaigns. The environment is polarized. And if they further polarize it by getting into a fight with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly and others at FOX News, it is the congressional Democrats on the ballot next year who will be at risk in this polarized environment.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes. Obama has been only a boon to their ratings. And I don't understand how this kind of escalation of rhetoric and kind of taking them on one-on-one would do anything other than escalate their ratings even more.

BLANKLEY: It does something else. It lowers the prestige. I mean, if you're president or speaker, at a certain level, you don't want to be seen to be engaging that kind of petty bickering.

You know, if you are just a congressman, maybe you can do it, but at that level, I think...


Interesting points coming from both sides of the political aisle there.

Yet Kurtz didn't ask Dunn if the Administration's strategy might be hurting her own Party while encouraging more people to turn on FNC.


Exit question: How often has a panel on CNN unanimously agreed the Obama administration is making a mistake? 

*****Update: New York Times media analyst Brian Stelter wrote about this strategy late Sunday evening...

"Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality," Michael Clemente, the channel's senior vice president for news, said in a statement on Sunday. "Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about."

Fox's senior vice president for programming, Bill Shine, says of the criticism from the White House, "Every time they do it, our ratings go up." Mr. Obama's first year is on track to be the Fox News Channel's highest rated.

One Fox executive said that the jabs by the White House could solidify the network's audience base and recalled that Mr. Ailes had remarked internally: "Don't pick a fight with people who like to fight." The executive asked not to be named while discussing internal conversations.