Skin and hair has been flying in a bout of door-stop fisticuffs between a couple of American heavyweight media bovver boys.

In the blue corner, weighing in with Barack Obama’s “road to socialism“, is the White House. In the red corner, weighing in with a cabal of right-wing shock jocks, is Fox News.

In light of the pummelling being received by the White House from Fox News’ Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly et al, they decided to pull their advertising and opted to view the Murdoch-owned channel like “an opposition party.”

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” said Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, in a telephone interview on Sunday.

“As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organisations behave.”

That seemed to hit the channel where it hurt, prompting Fox News chairman Roger Ailes to meet with White House adviser David Axelrod and discuss terms last month. Influential political gumshoe website Politico broke the story on the meeting and what was said between the two faction spokesmen.

The two discussed news coverage and the relationship between the organisations. Ailes and Axelrod had a “cordial conversation,” over coffee while the president was in town. White House officials have expressed pique with what they consider heavy coverage of Obama critics by opinion shows on the news channel.

Obama aides showed their displeasure by omitting Fox News Sunday when the President granted interviews last month to the other Sunday shows, reports Politico.

The furore then went mainstream, with the “cup of coffee” becoming perhaps the most eagerly mulled over supped brew in history. Time magazine said: “We chatted from time to time during the campaign. I was going to be in NY, so we got together for a cup of coffee.”

The New York Times reported: “A Fox press representative confirmed that the two men met over a cup of coffee last month during Obama’s visit to the United Nations. The representative called it a cordial conversation. Details of the conversation have not dribbled out yet.”

And then in a clarifying article published a week later, the Times identified the major flashpoints that necessitated the “cup of coffee” as being; “Tea parties”, the airing of far-fetched health care theories and the ranting of Glenn Beck:

Until this point, the conflict had been mostly a one-sided affair, with Fox News hosts promoting tax day “tea parties” that focused protest on the new President, and more recently bringing down the presidential adviser Van Jones through rugged coverage that caught the administration and other news organisations off guard. During the health care debate, Fox News has put a megaphone to opponents, some of whom have advanced far-fetched theories about the impact of reform.

And even farther out on the edge, the network’s most visible star of the moment, Glenn Beck, has said the President has “a deep-seated hatred for white people”.

Politico has kept the stoush bubbling, reporting that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs “singled out specific shows on the Fox News network for criticism”: Beck’s and fellow commentator Sean Hannity’s.

Then, in a bizarre about-face, his deputy Bill Burton seemed to try and calm things down with an incongruous attempt at mediation: “I caught some of the Glenn Beck show yesterday, but I don’t think anybody takes it — takes his attacks very seriously,” Burton said.

In a postscript to the”‘cup of coffee” summit, Fox News published this mildly positive story about Obama on its website yesterday morning, suggesting a split decision draw.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey