It appears that the Obama Administration’s effort to undercut the popular influence of Fox News is actually having the opposite effect. Weighing in on critical comments made by top White House officials, Chase Carey, deputy chairman, president and COO of News Corp., said last week, “It’s probably been PR and marketing we couldn’t have bought.” This certainly appears to be correct as the White House-Fox News feud was a top news story last week. According to the Pew PEJ News Coverage Index, White House vs. Fox was the fifth most reported story from October 19-25. It fell just behind Swine Flu.
During an appearance last Tuesday on “The O’Reilly Factor,” veteran political analyst Brit Hume described the White House attacks as an effort to “quarantine Fox News.” In the past weeks, though, Fox has been very much out in the open as the network not only experienced a major amount of media coverage but it also saw a significant ratings boost. “If there’s one thing nearly everyone agrees on, it’s that conflicts like this only drive Fox’s ratings up,” TIME’s TV critic James Poniewozik noted recently as the network has leveraged the conflict to increase its dominance in the cable news ratings.
In the days after White House Communications Director Anita Dunn appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” and referred to Fox News as “the communications arm of the Republican Party” (October 10-23), Fox News saw its audience increase significantly. According to Nielsen Media Research, Fox saw a 9% increase for P2+, total day, and a 14% increase for A25-54, total day, during a period in which the network was criticized by Dunn as well as the President’s Senior Advisor, David Axelrod, and Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. (Chart here).
As Fox News celebrates what may end up being the best year in the network’s history, the White House continues to criticize the network. During an interview on Tuesday, CNN’s Campbell Brown asked White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett if she thought that Fox News was biased. “Of course they’re biased,” Jarrett replied with a laugh. Following up, Brown asked Jarrett if she thought that MSNBC was also biased. Jarrett dodged the question. For MSNBC, maybe it would have been better if she had answered critically.