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Here's a relationship that is not so cozy: the White House and the nation's top-rated cable news station.

As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the White House is taking direct aim at Fox.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The White House has put the Fox News Channel into the doghouse after what it says is one too many distortions. The administration will still deal with Fox's reporters, but don't expect to see President Obama or other senior officials on Fox News shows.

Mr. MICHAEL CLEMENTE (Fox Senior Vice President for News): We'll continue to just be the journalists that we are, and I disagree completely with that concept, but I get it.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox Senior Vice President for News Michael Clemente says other news outlets have based(ph) the president in a positive glow and that Fox News stands alone in asking tough questions.

Mr. CLEMENTE: You know, Michael Jordan used to do the same thing. He'd yell at the refs a bunch at the beginning of the game on a simple foul that he may have called and it just sort of brushed him back a little bit. That's fine.

FOLKENFLIK: Listen to the White House and the Fox News cycle works like this: When a presidential nomination arises, for example, Fox's opinion shows devour it.

Here's Fox's Glenn Beck last month on Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Glenn Beck")

Mr. GLENN BECK (Television Host, Fox News Channel): A man that believes that you should not be able to remove rats from your home if it causes them any pain.

FOLKENFLIK: Sunstein's allies say his beliefs are a bit more nuanced than that. But Republicans were making related claims, and Fox News reporter James Rosen's story appeared the next hour.

Mr. JAMES ROSEN (Reporter, Fox News Channel): Rats could attack us in the sewer and court systems if all of Cass Sunstein's writings became law. The Harvard law professor…

FOLKENFLIK: White House Communications Director Anita Dunn says that dynamic is all too familiar.

Ms. ANITA DUNN (Communications Director, White House): We see Fox right now as the source and the outlet for Republican Party talking points.

FOLKENFLIK: Dunn argues it's not just Beck, nor Sean Hannity, nor Bill O'Reilly. She says the supposed wall between Fox's news programs and its sprawling opinion shows has become extremely porous.

Ms. DUNN: And it's fine if that's, you know, how they want to build their business model, and we understand that. And it's working for them and we understand that, as well. But we don't think we need to treat them as though they are a news organization the way other news organizations here are treated.

FOLKENFLIK: President Obama gave interviews on the same day last month to five Sunday morning political talk shows, but pointedly not to Fox.

"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace objected.

Mr. CHRIS WALLACE (Host, "Fox News Sunday"): These guys, everything is personal. I've got to tell you, Bill, they are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.

Unidentified Man: And I can't…

Mr. WALLACE: They constantly are on the phone or emailing me complaining.

FOLKENFLIK: Mr. Obama faces a changed media landscape with Fox News and now MSNBC, says John Harwood of The New York Times and CNBC. In newspapers, Harwood says, the hard news divisions determine the agenda; not the editorial page.

Mr. JOHN HARWOOD (Reporter, The New York Times, CNBC): But in cable television, the editorial page drives the train. That is where the power and the attention come from. And in Fox, you've got a network that is self-consciously set out to correct what it sees as the leftward bias of the rest of the media. And you're guaranteed to have a Democratic White House feeling the heat and feeling some frustration about it.

FOLKENFLIK: Dee Dee Myers asks: Does it makes sense to take on a cable channel whose top shows attract two to three million viewers, nearly half of whom are Independents? Myers was press secretary for President Clinton.

Ms. DEE DEE MYERS (Political Analyst): I think it feels good for people inside the White House more than it actually accomplishes everything they want to accomplish. You do get tired of being on the receiving end of a lot of critical media.

FOLKENFLIK: Dan Schnur was communications director of Republican Senator John McCain's presidential campaign in 2000. And he says attacking the media can be a distraction.

Mr. DAN SCHNUR (Former Communications Director): There's only so much of a window of opportunity for even the president of the United States or the White House to talk to voters. And every minute that they spend talking about Fox News is a minute that they're not being heard on health care or Afghanistan or the other policy priorities.

FOLKENFLIK: The White House says its message will get out and that the president will even appear on Fox sometime in the future, but that it's not willing to play ball - at least not right now.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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