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New Emails Shed Light On 2009 Fox News, White House Spat

Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch says new emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request prove that "contrary to its repeated denials" the Obama administration "attempted to exclude the Fox News Channel (FNC) from a round of interviews with Treasury's 'Executive Pay Czar' Kenneth Feinberg."

If you need a refresher, the incident Judicial Watch is referring to occurred in 2009, when the Washington press corps decided that they would not take a pool interview with Feinberg unless the Treasury backed off their exclusion of Fox News. The White House backed down, but the Feinberg incident was just a part of a broader contentious relationship between the White House and Fox News. NPR's David Folkenflik reported on the dynamic here, and Mark rounded up the different episodes in this post.

Judicial Watch reports on the emails:

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 president's press secretary, Jay Carney, was asked about the emails by Mike Emanuel, Fox News' White House correspondent, and Carney responded with some humor at yesterday's press briefing.

"Well, Mike, 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 cubbyhole, which I know is a suggestion," Carney said.

Then he added: "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 then, and we obviously deal with FOX News regularly. I call on you regularly. We give interviews to FOX News, including to Bill O'Reilly. But beyond that, I don't really know much about it."

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.