Gini Dietrich

PR Implications of the Obama/FOX Feud

By: Gini Dietrich | October 25, 2009 | 

FOXMy husband, a Democrat adviser, joyfully recounted the Obama/FOX feud for me over drinks on Friday night. He hates FOX. So much so, that he changes my brother’s preset stations on both his TV and radio every time we’re in Denver. He won’t even stay in the Admiral’s Club while we’re traveling if the station is on. So you can imagine his glee when he heard the White House has denounced FOX as a media outlet.

I understand the true objective is to raise questions with other reporters so they’ll double-check anything they hear on FOX before they run with it. The White House wants to try to isolate and marginalize the voices at FOX. They want to cut off any influence FOX has before it gets to the rest of mainstream media.

The President defended his team while also noting that he didn’t spend much time thinking about FOX. So, why then, is there so much back and forth between the station and the White House?  Doesn’t the communication team at the White House know there is a time to engage and there is a time to let it lie? If they really don’t care, why do they continue firing, every time FOX launches another bomb into their camp?

All weekend I read/heard about new comments FOX made about the White House. And, every time, the Obama administration responded.

Shouldn’t the White House just ignore the bullies? This is not a Republican vs. Democrat discussion; this is a crisis communication discussion. It’s a 201 class – don’t engage with the detractors, after you’ve said your peace.

What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I agree with your point of view and ask about the unintended consequences of the administration’s decision. What good does it do for the president to call out the Fox Network? How do independent voters react? And what has this done to Fox’s ratings? If they’re up, how does that help the Obama administration achieve it’s legislative objectives?

  • Mike – you’re exactly right. This also reminds me of the Kanye West comment the President made and then asked for it to be off the record. Although it’s the flip side of the equation, the reporter who released the soundbyte is likely forever banned from White House proceedings. We keep going at this pace and no one will be reporting facts and news.

  • Jon Plummer

    I think the “control” this administration is seeking in the media and beyond is going to produce unwanted results for them. I would take your advice if I were them.

  • Courtney

    Gini – interesting post. I agree with Mike – you are blogging about it, and we are responding and commenting on it. Fox is winning every time the White House responds as their ratings are increasing and they continue to gain publicity because we are talking about it. I also agree with you that the White House can’t control the message. We need opposing sides in the media otherwise there will be no fact in the news only one-sided opinions.

  • Lon

    Obama is a media savvy person. There is an end game here, OR, they are incredibly arrogant and naive. Or maybe they figure Fox & the right are so far “out there” that the normal person will agree with them.

    Either way it’s a risky business. As a former newspaper reporter, I can’t stand to listen to Fox because it’s so obviously slanted and full of half truths that border on propaganda. But a lot of people really thrive on Fox, so it is a force.

  • I agree with your point, but there is one potential area we may be overlooking. That is that everytime FOX and Obama are metnioned together, base of the Democratic Party unites in opposition (and fundraising goes up). Keep in mine that this “war on FOX” really began to heat up as the more liberal blogs began to take issue with Obama for not sticking to his promises. While the FOX noise has increased, the noise from the battle within his own party has decreased.

    That brings a question that I’d love to know your opinion on. If my theory is anywhere near accurate – is it smart? Does the philosophy of the enemy of my enemy is my friend make sense in PR today?

  • I’ll never forget something my first PR professor told me: Never pick a fight with a person who buys ink by the barrel. The more the White House comments on FOX, the more FOX is going to throw it back to them even harder. You’re right – they should address the situation and leave it alone.

  • Patti Knight

    When you engage in back and forth – especiallhy with the media – the point you try to make gets lost. State your point once and don’t be coxed by the oppisition in engaging in the back and forth.

  • If you’re losing an argument, change the conversation.

    Fox was killing the White House on Healthcare reform – so the White House just changed the conversation from ‘Healthcare’ to ‘The War on Fox News.’
    And reporters everywhere took the bait.

    Now, every minute Fox devotes to direct arguments with the white house is a minute they can’t spend bashing healthcare reform.
    Every blog is about the War on Fox News instead of healthcare.
    Other news outlets are following suit, too.

    So the White House is losing on an irrelevant front while advancing on one that matters.
    That’s smart.

  • David S.

    Or… maybe the administration is so thin skinned that any voice that questions their policies is causing bad decisions to be made (like going after the number one news channel in North America.)

    Just to put this P.R. discussion in perspective: The alphabet networks and the major newspapers (minus the WSJ Opinion page) were cheerleading the administration and not asking any tough questions since Obama announced his candidacy. Now, that tough questions are being asked, Pelosi, Reed, Obama would like nothing more than to envoke their own version of the fairness doctrine to suppress the dissent that is growing across the U.S. People are scared to death about the $10 trillion national debt, and the increased size and scope of gov’t and the total and complete lack of transparency.

    Troy and Gentry made good points. Real Journalists (if there any left) should be focusing their attention to this ground swell of anger and fear that is sweeping the nation… not the petty tit-for-tat that both Fox and the administration are promoting for their own self interest.

  • Good post. I have always watched FOX and MSNBC hoping I can decipher the true story as being somewhere in the middle.

    It pains me to think that in the US, where we are to have freedom of the press, that the goverment is participating in this sort of conversation.

  • I can see your point Gini, but you of all people know it’s about ratings. Regardless of whether its good bad or indifferent it’s still news and about ratings. Personally I try to watch as little of TV news as possible. It seems to always take on a life of it’s own. I personally don’t like CNN, MSNBC, or Fox. So where do I get my news from? The Washington post, New York times and believe it or not the BBC. Granted they are all going to be skewed in one aspect but since we are “smart” people we can usually decipher the truth.

  • I agree Gini – if you want to marginalize FOX or your detractors say your piece and then move on. The more you respond the more you legitimize their message. I tend to ignore FOX altogether as they are about as balanced as the national deficit – but to continue to answer their salvos all the White House is going to do is boost ratings.


  • Troy makes an excellent point. Are we to believe that Obama and his administration don’t know pointless it is for the White House to play he said/she said with a media outlet that opposes everything they try to do? As long as we’re talking about some silly feud (and it is silly, what’s with this “them against us” mentality?), and as long as Fox News – and others – are devoting hours to covering it, they’ll be talking less about the very reasons why they started this thing in the first place. Misdirection works, even if it is making both sides look like children.

  • Gini, I was going to comment about the Fox News/White House kerfuffle, but the post above mine speaks volumes about how clueless or careless companies can be. Where in the world did that post come from?


  • A couple years ago, there was this guy who had a cable news show mired in mediocrity and struggling in the ratings. He then started a fight with FOX and, specifically, Bill O’Reilly. Called him names, made fun of him, etc. Would have gone unnoticed, except Bill O’Reilly responded — thus bringing this guy (Keith Olbermann) and his network (MSNBC) out of the duldrums.

    The White House is much larger and has much more control over the media than FOX, but, silly enough, they are letting FOX steal Olbermann’s playbook and are taking the bait.

    This is dripping with so much irony that it’s almost scary.

  • Hey Gini,
    As always I appreciate how you approach topics that evoke strong opinions. My PR background has me leaning to the old school method of not brining more attention to a situation you want folks to quit talking about. Common Sense 101 might suggest that it’s counterproductive to call attention to that thing you want to quietly fade away. Fox’s love affair with the White House was just as hot and heavy when George W. was running things. It’s just back then it seemed more like a honeymoon kind of love affair, and what’s going on now is still a love affair, but its more like the 18 year old marriage where neither partner actually likes the other, and you’re wondering when they are gonna wise up and just leave the other. But I digress.

    I actually wanted to share when I was in Memphis this past week, one of the speakers at a Marketing Summit actually said “Obama won the election because he was a social media guru.” I was surprised to hear that statement because of course I don’t agree with it from the idea that Twitter drove election results, to the idea that Obama is a guru. But that’s the beauty of Fox and Obama dancing the dance. Folks get a tiny snippet, hear this or that, and walk away with something in the middle.

    When we get all of our news from a resource that offers 140 characters and is user generated, and a media outlet that has a strong opinion and therefore editorializes its content to some degree…I’m wondering if the facts lay somewhere in the middle?
    Anyway, you keep ’em talking my friend!

  • wish I’d written something so succinct. I Tweeted congrats on the first shot back from the White House, but that seems like a year ago. When the media outlets begin sponsoring opposition events, etc., time to stop feeding the monster and allow others to expose the mixed business/editorial stripes of the “media” outlet. I don’t see this ending well, since all rightists believe “The Mainstream Media” carry the water for the leftists (Stossel says it’s so…kinda, in Rush interview). What ever happened to journalism? Why are we accepting entertainment as a substitute? Yechhhh!

  • Doug – Your theory is probably right on target, but I’m trying to focus this conversation on the PR implications, not the political reasons behind it. To Troy’s point, unfortunately, the idea that administrations change the focus of discussion in order to further an agenda are not new and this might very well be what they’re doing.

    Lorri, David, Michael, and Gentry – Perhaps one of the reasons mainstream media is dying? There are no “real” journalists left who separate church and state? As PR pros, we know how often reporters tell us they’ll write a story on our client if we buy ad space. That’s not journalism. That’s bribery. But that’s a different conversation.

    Van de Walle (even though I’m not speaking to you) – I hate to admit this is right because I LOVE Olberman. But then, I’m trying to keep this about PR and not politics (I hate you).

    Zoey – you’re absolutely right and when people tell me the Obama campaign are social media gurus, I’m always shocked. But it’s evident there is something in the middle. And most of the commenters here know where the middle lies.

    So no one thinks Bob is imagining things…the comment above his was spam and I deleted it. I should have left it, because it was pretty funny in the light of the conversation.

  • Apparently, I am no longer on a first-name basis with Gini. Bummer.

  • Gini,

    I do have a PR implication question. Even if my theory is correct is it good PR? While it may work in the short-term, isn’t PR’s job to manage the short and the long term? Does taking such a polarizing position, even if it works in the short-term, cause more harm in the long term (winning the battle vs. the war)? Just wondering.

  • If your theory is correct and they are trying to focus mainstream media and liberal bloggers on something else, I think it’s a pretty sound strategy (if, in fact, that’s what you’re saying because Mr. D thinks you’re saying something else). But, unless the White House is able to address the concerns that he’s “not sticking to his promises” while everyone is focused on the FOX issue, they are winning a battle and not the war.

    The idea that my enemy is my enemy is my friend is ludicrous in this day and age. We’re now in a society of full transparency and honesty. Should you keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Yes. Should I make my enemies focus on my enemies so they’re my friends? Sure…if you can win the chess match. My guess is you cannot.

    This brings up an entirely different conversation that gets me pretty heated, but you’ll have to buy me a glass of wine to hear it.

  • That can be arranged.

  • Perhaps the Obama administration sees that if they respond, FOX has to commit airtime to running the response instead of showing their pundits shouting, “The White House refused to comment!” in accusatory tones.

  • Terrence today has a good article about this today: “Fox News Obama’s Only Friend”. The author makes a great point.

  • Mr. D

    As the husband of the author, I rarely weigh in on this blog (although I am an avid reader.)

    However, I am most impressed that a majority of this conversation has stayed on track as a strategy discussion and not devolved into a political argument. I will do my best not derail this success.

    For full disclosure, I am biased on this issue. I am a Democratic political consultant and Gini has already accurately described my feelings regarding FOX. With the exception of The Daily Show and Colbert Report, I find most cable and radio political news shows of either political persuasion annoying altogether.

    I do want to take exception to the post above from Terrence. Obviously, I don’t agree with arguments made in the article, but that’s not the point. The article’s argument is founded on differences in policy and political belief, not public relations strategy.

    Whether or not you agree with what the President is doing is irrelevant to this discussion.

    I did not agree with 99% of the previous Bush administration’s actions, but I was constantly impressed with their message discipline.

    The focus of this discussion is: Is Obama effective in his public relations strategy?

    To understand Obama’s actions, I would argue we need to know the end goal. If he is playing chess, to borrow from a previous post, it will several months before we know who wins.

    This whole discussion does highlight a topic Gini and I have discussed considerably. Is there a difference between political and corporate PR?

    Interested to hear your thoughts.