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THE NATION

Guffaws About a Fox Guarding the White House

April 27, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The selection of Fox News host Tony Snow on Wednesday as the next White House press secretary reignited a debate about the network's political leanings.

The liberal blogosphere chortled about the choice. "Snow, like everybody else on the payroll at Fox, is already a White House spokesman," the blog Reclusive Leftist read, one of many liberal sites that mocked the move. "Is there really a need to give him an office in the West Wing and pay him a government salary?"

The Democratic National Committee took a swipe at the cable network as well, with spokeswoman Karen Finney calling Snow's hiring "an interdepartmental move from one part of the conservative infrastructure to another."

Fox News anchors responded to the chatter about the White House tapping one of the network's own.

"The joke has been all along, we've been hearing it all day on the radio and stuff, 'Tony's not really changing jobs; he's just changing buildings,' " Shepard Smith said on-air Wednesday afternoon. "The conspiracy theories abound. They're baseless, of course. I promise."

In the decade since Fox News Channel launched and then overtook CNN as the top-rated rated cable news network, it has contended with criticism that it leans to the right, despite its "fair and balanced" slogan.

Fox News vigorously rejects that notion, saying that its format mirrors that of many newspapers, which provide news stories as well as editorials. Though many of its best-known personalities such as Sean Hannity and Brit Hume -- to whom Snow gave his only television interview Wednesday -- offer outspoken conservative views, straight news programming dominates much of the network's daytime schedule.

Fox has taken pains to shield its news coverage from charges of bias. In 2000, network officials reprimanded Snow, then a political analyst and host of "Fox News Sunday," for speaking to a GOP youth group during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

But Snow's White House appointment reinforces for some the perception that Fox News is the go-to network for the administration, media observers said.

"Much of the public will say, 'Suspicions confirmed,' " said Robert Zelnick, chairman of Boston University's journalism department, adding that such sentiments understandably ruffle the network. "The essence of journalism is independence and not hewing to any particular line."

Fox News said in a statement, "We're proud of the work Tony did for Fox as a commentator, and we wish him all the best in his second stint at the White House." Snow previously was a speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush.

Network officials declined to comment further.

Snow's hiring comes as the cable channel, whose ratings overwhelmingly beat CNN and MSNBC, has sought to burnish its news credentials. For example, Smith recently spent two days in Jerusalem covering the Israeli elections, and anchor Bill Hemmer reported from Iraq for a week in March.

But it hasn't helped matters that Vice President Dick Cheney -- who in February gave Hume an exclusive interview about his accidental shooting of a hunting companion -- has indicated that Fox News is his favorite news outlet, a fact that he joked about at a recent Radio and Television Correspondents Assn. dinner.

Snow's selection to replace Scott McClellan only gives critics more fodder.

Weekly Standard editor and network analyst Bill Kristol acknowledged as much, joking to Smith that "Fox News will just take over the Bush White House now," and quipping that "On the Record's" Greta Van Susteren could be named White House counsel.

"This is what the world is going be saying, though," Smith replied. "You know, we're in bed with the White House, whatever."

Kristol said: "That will end quickly enough -- the moment we all criticize the White House and Tony's there defending it."

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