Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has uncovered documents from the Obama Department of Treasury showing that the Obama administration, contrary to its repeated denials, attempted to exclude the Fox News Channel (FNC) from a round of interviews with Treasury’s “Executive Pay Czar” Kenneth Feinberg. The documents, which include email exchanges within the Department of the Treasury and between Treasury and White House staff, also provide colorful evidence of an anti-Fox News bias within the Obama White House.
The documents, obtained last week by Judicial Watch pursuant to an October, 28, 2009, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, concern a series of interviews with Feinberg, who served as the Special Master for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) Executive Compensation, on October 22, 2009, organized by the Treasury Department. According to press reports, the Fox News Channel was specifically excluded from joining the pool of reporters which precipitated a backlash among the networks and a reversal by the Obama Treasury Department.
According to The New York Times: “Fox’s television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Thursday [October 22, 2009] to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a ‘pool’ camera crew…”. Fox News Channel’s James Rosen reported this backlash forced the Obama administration to reconsider its position on the matter: “The Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV news network consulted and decided that none of them would interview Feinberg unless Fox was included, and the administration relented…,” reported Rosen. Ultimately, after other media representatives objected, Fox News Channel was allowed to participate in the interviews.
The Treasury Department’s official response, as detailed in back-and-forth emails uncovered by Judicial Watch, included a clear denial of any such plot to exclude Fox News from the interviews: “There was no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing.” Moreover, in an October 23, 2009 email to New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg, Jake Siewart, Counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, repeated the denial that there was an effort to exclude Fox News Channel: “Call me today on your Fox-Treasury report,” Siewart wrote. “Not true that there was an ‘effort to exclude’ Fox.”
However, despite this public position, internal Obama administration emails obtained by Judicial Watch provide evidence that FNC was specifically singled out for exclusion. According to one October 22, 2009, email exchange between Dag Vega, Director of Broadcast Media on the White House staff, to Jenni LeCompte, then-Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the Treasury Department, Vega informs LeCompte that “…we’d prefer if you skip Fox please.”
Regarding general anti-FNC bias within the Obama White House in an October 23, 2009, email exchange between Jennifer Psaki, Deputy White House Communications Director and LeCompte, Psaki writes, “I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause”. In an email on the night of October 22, 2009, commenting on a report by Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier noting the exclusion of the network from the pool, Psaki writes to Compte and fellow White House colleagues, “…brett baier just did a stupid piece on it -- but he is a lunatic”.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest bluntly described the White House’s position on Fox News Channel in an October 23, 2009, email to LeCompte: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…”
The Treasury Department blacked out a key email regarding its refusal to make available Treasury Secretary Geithner for an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.
“The Obama administration seems to have lied about its attempt to exclude Fox News Channel from access to an interview with the ‘pay czar.’ These documents show there is a pervasive anti-Fox bias in the Obama White House,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The juvenile Mafioso-talk in these emails has no place in any White House. For the Obama administration to purposely exclude a major news organization from access to information has troubling First Amendment implications.”
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