Late last month, the senior White House adviser David Axelrod and Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of Fox News, met in an empty Midtown Manhattan steakhouse before it opened for the day, neutral ground secured for a secret tete-a-tete.
Ailes, who had reached out to Axelrod to address rising tensions between the network and the White House, told him that Fox’s reporters were fair, if tough, and should be considered separate from the Fox commentators’ skewering the president nightly, according to people briefed on the meeting. Axelrod said it was the view of the White House that Fox News had blurred the line between news and anti-Obama advocacy.
By the following weekend, officials at the White House had decided that if anything, it was time to take the relationship to an even more confrontational level. The spur: Executives at other news organizations, including The New York Times, had publicly said that their newsrooms had not been fast enough in following stories Fox News had been heavily covering through the summer and fall, to the White House’s chagrin — namely, the focus on past statements and affiliations of the White House adviser Van Jones that ultimately led to his resignation and questions surrounding the community activist group Acorn.
At the same time, Fox News had continued a stream of reports that rankled White House officials and liberal groups that monitor its programming for bias.
Those reports included a critical segment on the schools safety official Kevin Jennings, with the on-screen headline “School Czar’s Past May Be Too Radical”; urgent news coverage of a video showing schoolchildren “singing the praises, quite literally, of the president,” which the Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson later called “pure Khmer Rouge stuff”; and the daily anti-Obama salvos from Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.