EDITORIAL: Fox hunting

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Let’s face it. Fox News runs stories that the Obama administration would rather ignore - from the sleaziness and corruption in the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to the bizarre views and actions of senior presidential appointees such as Van Jones and Kevin Jennings.

Last weekend, the Obama administration declared war. “We’re going to treat [Fox News] the way we would treat an opponent,” said Anita Dunn, White House communications director. She claimed, “We don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” The administration has begun using a government blog to regularly attack what it calls “Fox lies.”

The administration already was boycotting the network. In late September, President Obama had time to answer questions from CBS’ “Face the Nation,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “This Week,” CNN’s “State of the Union” and Univision’s “Al Punto,” but not “Fox News Sunday.” There is irony in Miss Dunn complaining to the New York Times about Fox News being “an opponent” and that “people who watch Fox News believe it’s the home team.”

Although the Obama team doesn’t trust Fox News, a surprisingly large number of Democrats do. A new Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll released on Sept. 13 shows that Fox News is more trusted - even by Democrats - than the New York Times. While 43 percent of Democrats have a positive view of Fox News, 39 percent feel the same way about the Times. Among Republicans and independents, Fox News does have huge 56 and 26 percentage point leads.

As the survey indicates, Fox’s audience is not just composed of conservatives but includes plenty of liberals and moderates, too. This probably is because viewers appreciate hard-hitting news that is different from the administration line regurgitated everywhere else on TV. Its independence helps explain why Fox News regularly has more viewers than CNN, MSNBC and CNN Headline News combined.

Data illustrates that Fox is more evenhanded than its competitors. A Pew analysis showed that 40 percent of Fox News stories on Mr. Obama as well as 40 percent of those on Sen. John McCain were negative during the last six weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign. By contrast, CNN had a 22 percentage point gap and MSNBC a 59 percentage point spread in favor of Mr. Obama. The White House is so protected by soft-focus coverage that anything not tilted its way is considered an act of war.

With Democrats controlling both Congress and the presidency, the Obama administration is trying to squash dissent. The administration is not content with attacking critical press. It is boldly proceeding with plans for the Federal Communications Commission to meddle in conservative talk radio. It threatens insurance companies with not being able to participate in federal programs if those companies attempt mildly to warn customers about how new health care legislation will affect them.

Mr. Obama walks a dangerous trail famously taken by President Nixon when he attempted to freeze out The Washington Post. That strategy didn’t work so well.

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