On a recent visit to New York, White House adviser David Axelrod met over coffee with Roger Ailes, the president of the Fox News network, which President Obama has described as a “television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration.”
According to accounts from both the White House and Fox News, the meeting was cordial. “I’ve known Roger for a long time,” Axelrod told TIME in an email on Monday. “We chatted from time to time during the campaign. I was going to be in NY, so we got together for a cup of coffee.”
Both Axelrod and a spokeswoman for Ailes declined to further discuss the contents of the conversation, which was first reported by Politico on Tuesday.
It was not the first time that Obama aides, who have been highly critical of Ailes’ network, have reached out. In mid-2008, Obama himself met with Ailes and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch in a Waldorf-Astoria hotel suite. “I just wanted to know if I’m going to get a fair shake from Fox News Channel,” Ailes recalled Obama saying, in an interview with the Washington Post.
Suffice it to say, the meeting did not cool tensions between the Obama camp and Fox, which has been enjoying a large increase in ratings this year as it has positioned itself as a major source of criticism of Obama and his policies.
“The fact that our numbers are up 30 plus in the news arena on basic cable I’d like to think is a sign that we are just putting what we believe to be the facts out on the table,” said Michael Clemente, Fox’s senior vice president for news, in an interview on Tuesday. “In terms of the relationship, I think we are doing our job. And they [the White House] are doing their job.”
In recent weeks, the White House has stepped up its criticism of the network, posting a blog post last week describing “Fox lies,” including a misstatement of fact by Fox host Glenn Beck and another by morning show host Steve Doocy. Clemente said that White House aides, in their increasingly vocal criticism, were failing to distinguish between Fox News’s journalism, and its pundits and opinion voices, like Beck, who he likened to the op-ed page of the New York Times. Clemente said that the morning show, Fox and Friends, where Doocy appears, is an “entertainment show that does some news,” like NBC’s Today Show or ABC’s Good Morning America.
As for Fox’s journalism, Clemente said the White House criticism was typical of other administrations who have been critical of certain reporters. “It reminds me a little bit about what happened to Sam Donaldson when he was covering the White House,” said Clemente. “The Reagan White House thought he was enemy number one. He had the same relationship with the Carter White House. They thought he was enemy number one. He thought he was doing his job.”
But attitude towards Fox at the White House has been souring for months. On a recent Sunday, President Obama pointedly declined to appear on Fox News Sunday, prompting host Chris Wallace to call Obama aides, “the biggest bunch of cry babies.”
Though White House aides are hesitant to criticize the network on the record, their disdain for the programming–including Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck–is clearly evident. “They are the paid political programming for a party, and occasionally a couple of news stories break out in the midst of 23 hours and 45 minutes of political rantings and opinion,” said one senior administration official. “Everything about it is one-sided political opinion directed at a base. Period.”