Barack Obama

The Obama administration says it's treating Fox News Channel as a political opponent, and executives at the top-rated cable news network are responding that the White House can't tell straight reporting from opinion.

White House communications director Anita Dunn recently told Time magazine that she thinks the channel offers "opinion journalism masquerading as news," and kept up the criticism on CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday and in The New York Times Monday.

Fox's senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, issued a statement Monday, saying:  "It's astounding the White House can't distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part."

And Fox's senior vice president for programming, Bill Shine, told the Times every time the White House criticizes the network, "our ratings go up."

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Fox has drawn a record number of viewers this year, averaging 1.2 million viewers, up from 1 million viewers last year. It's previous high came in 2003, the year the Iraq war started, when it had nearly 1.1 million viewers.

While Clemente maintained that the White House unfairly mixes its perception of the network's reporters and its pundits — whom he compares to "the op-ed page of a newspaper" — Dunn says she does indeed differentiate between White House correspondent Major Garrett and "the opinion guys" such as Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. "I'm talking about the overall programming," she explains.

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The Times reported that the White House recently limited administration members' appearances on Fox News Channel. Last month, when President Barack Obama himself made the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows, he skipped Fox. That provoked Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace to call the administration "the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington."

Dunn says people from the administration would still talk to Fox and that Obama was likely to be interviewed on the network in the future. But, she says: "We're not going to legitimize them as a news organization."

On Monday, Fox did a comprehensive report about the battle and harkened back to when President Richard Nixon wanted to freeze out The New York Times.

When his program came on later, Beck averred: "They're more worried about the war on Fox than the actual war in Afghanistan."