October 2009 Email from White House Undermines Claim There Was No Attempt to Exclude Fox News from Interview Pool

Jul 14, 2011 3:15pm

The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch, using the Freedom of Information Act, has obtained a series of emails back and forth between White House officials and Treasury Department officials regarding the original exclusion of Fox News from an October 22, 2009 series of round-robin interviews with TARP Special Master Kenneth Feinberg.  

Fox News’ Major Garrett ultimately interviewed Feinberg that day because the bureau chiefs of the four other networks – ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC – agreed to boycott the interviews, which were being coordinated through the cooperative “pool” arrangements, unless Fox News, part of the pool, was included.

At the time, Treasury officials claimed that there was no “plot” to exclude Fox News. In a January 2010 New Yorker magazine story, then-press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporter Ken Auletta: “This started over at Treasury, and when it got to the White House it was fixed."

That does not seem to be an accurate claim, given the paper trail. Indeed, it seems that Treasury Department officials wanted to include Fox News and the White House didn’t want the cable outlet included.

At 10:33 a.m. that morning Treasury Department official Jenni Lecompte emailed other Treasury officials with a plan for Feinberg to grant interviews to ABC, CBS, NBC and NPR. Treasury official Andrew Williams asked for time to fit in CNN and Bloomberg.

Lecompte emailed White House official Dag Vega at 11:10 a.m. noting that Treasury was trying to add more interviews for Feinberg to the schedule. She asked: “If we did do Fox in the mix, is that an issue? (understand you would not but if we do is that a problem on your end?)”

Vega wrote to her: “we’d prefer if you skip Fox please.”

Following that comes an eruption of emails after media writers heard that there was an attempt to exclude Fox News. White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki joked about “putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause” and criticized a story on the ensuing kerfuffle by Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier saying “brett baier just did a stupid piece on it — but he is a lunatic”.

(Psaki also noted that I asked about the issue “probably because Major tried to rile him up.” Not true, for what it’s worth.)

Asked by Fox News Channel’s Mike Emanuel about this today, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “first of all, let me address a serious matter here that I can say, having looked into this matter, that no one at the White House, either a current or former employee, ever placed a dead fish in the Fox News cubby hole, which I know is a suggestion.  I can also say that it is well known that at the time, there was a dispute between Fox News and its coverage, and the White House and its feelings about the coverage.  I mean, that was – that was then, and you know, we obviously deal with Fox News regularly.  I call on you regularly.  We give interviews to Fox News, including to Bill O'Reilly.  And so I — but beyond that, I don't really know much about it.”

Carney said “we regularly engage with every network and every news organization here, including Fox, and give interviews to Fox and, you know, respect the reporters at Fox who are — who are  reporters and do their job.”

-Jake Tapper

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