DAVIS: White House vs. Fox make sense?

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On the other hand, the White House clearly crossed a line and created a backlash even among Fox’s competitors when, late last week, it attempted to exclude a Fox reporter from participating in a shared “pool” interview with executive compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg. The result was a threat by all the other competitor TV news organizations to boycott the interview unless the decision to exclude Fox was reversed. (It quickly was.)

This sympathy generated for Fox as a result of the White House’s error reminded me of the famous sarcastic line from the movie about the Watergate scandal, “All the President’s Men.” Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein when they misreported an accusation about H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s widely despised White House chief of staff: “You guys certainly did it: You found a way to create sympathy in this town for Haldeman.”

On the other hand, I also don’t quite understand the overheated reaction of Fox News hosts and guests to the criticisms by the Obama White House. They can dish it out pretty good; you would think they wouldn’t have such thin skin when they got some of their own medicine back.

Nor could I take seriously the criticism by Fox hosts and guests that President Obama chose to meet with liberal MSNBC talk-show hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich, and other liberal pundits. The hypocrisy is too laughable. There was certainly no criticism from Fox hosts when President Bush invited conservative talk-show hosts - including a leading Fox host - to meet in the Oval Office.

On the other hand, I question the wisdom of the White House’s decision to skip “Fox News Sunday” when the president went out to do all the other Sunday morning shows. Host Chris Wallace is a pro, and his show is a good platform with an influential, certain opinion-leader audience to help shape Monday morning headlines. (On the other hand, I did find Mr. Wallace’s interview of former President Clinton to be overly provocative and unfair; maybe that was a factor in the decision.)

Nor does it makes sense to me that the White House boycotts all of the Fox evening shows. Fox has by far the largest audience in the evenings - larger than MSNBC and CNN combined. The demographics show that the Fox audience contains substantial numbers of Democrats and independents.

I see no advantage in not trying to speak to this audience. Most of them are what pollsters call “persuadables.” I am a liberal Democrat and a strong supporter of Mr. Obama and his policies on these shows. When I choose to accept an invitation to be on Fox (I was briefly a paid Fox contributor during both conventions, but now appear as a volunteer), I am always given a chance to present my point of view. I hope I am persuading those watching who have open minds.

It is a fact that at least the Olbermann and Maddow shows on MSNBC are not only openly liberal and pro-Obama (which is fine with me), but unfortunately, they rarely if ever invite conservative Republicans on to present an opposing viewpoint. Even I don’t get invited onto Mr. Olbermann’s and Ms. Maddow’s shows, although I agree with their views 90 percent of the time and Mr. Olbermann is an old friend from Clinton Wars days.

On the other hand, unlike the aberrant slice of the American population who live and breathe politics 24/7 and thus watch cable TV political shows in the morning, at night and sometimes all day (such as your truly - I know, I am pathetic), I am guessing most Americans think this whole battle of the White House vs. Fox is irrelevant to their daily lives and to what they really care about - irrelevant to health care, unemployment, record deficits and public debt, the threat of global warming, two wars, the frightening danger of another terrorist attack, and the potential of Iran’s radical mullahs possessing a nuclear weapon.

These are just a few issues that most normal people think are far more important than the White House’s anger toward Fox, and Fox’s anger at the White House’s anger.

On the other hand …

There is no other hand.

• Lanny J. Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton, served as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics is Destroying America.” This piece is also published at http://pundits.thehill.com/ author/lanny-davis.

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