Both of the comments sent by White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates referenced the advanced age of Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old chair of Fox News’ parent company and a co-founder of the cable news channel.
The piece in question was a more-than-1,500-word compilation of attacks from conservative media figures and political strategists in both parties, which connected Biden’s recent fall at the Air Force Academy commencement ceremony to comments he previously made confirming his fitness for office. In November, Biden told anyone who might have concerns about his age to “watch me.”
Before the article was published, Bates emailed a reporter offering a White House comment for inclusion in the piece, if a somewhat snarky one: “We take inspiration from the 92 year-old owner of Fox News, and send our best regards on your accurate coverage of extreme MAGA Freedom Caucus complaining that President Biden outsmarted them on the budget as he continued the unprecedented bipartisan winning streak that is central to the best legislative record in modern American history.”
The Fox News reporter replied in an email asking for a comment directly addressing the article’s thesis. Bates responded with another testy comment.
“I go back and forth on whether these stories are born out of Fox News executives trying to send a signal to y’all’s 92 year-old chairman, or that 92 year-old chairman’s frustrations with the political successes of a younger man running an exponentially more complex operation,” Bates responded.
Neither comment made it into the story. It’s typical in journalism to include a comment from the subject of any piece, though these often are edited to remove extraneous language or attempts to mislead readers.
The emails provide a glimpse into the obviously testy relationship between the White House, which is openly frustrated with the media focus on the age and acuity of the 80-year-old president, and the troubled conservative news operation, which just agreed to pay $787 million to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a lawsuit alleging it lied about the results of the 2020 election and Dominion’s role. The company is facing further lawsuits related to its embrace of former President Donald Trump’s election falsehoods.
The final paragraphs of the Fox News article do include a quote from Biden’s reelection campaign launch video, though not one that references his age or the story’s thesis.
Nonetheless, the story found space to quote conservative talk radio hosts in Seattle and Salt Lake City, three Fox News contributors and Joe Trippi, a top adviser to the Lincoln Project.
Quotes from Trippi and Fox News contributor Jessica Tarlov offer defenses of Biden. Mark Penn, a Fox News contributor and Democratic pollster, offered both criticism and praise for Biden. (Penn is married to Nancy Jacobson, a top official at the centrist group No Labels, which is attempting to mount a third-party bid for the presidency that has alarmed top Democrats.)
Worries about Biden’s age and mental fitness extend across the American electorate, according to public opinion surveys, dragging down his underwater approval rating and enthusiasm for his reelection bid. Most surveys of the 2024 presidential race show potentially tight contests between Biden and either former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Bates, the top rapid-response press aide in the White House, has a history of providing snarky or tongue-in-cheek comments to Fox News. When the conservative outlet ran a June 2021 story noting relatives of Biden White House officials had received jobs elsewhere in the administration, he pointed to Fox News’ own White House coverage. The cable network’s lead reporter, Peter Doocy, is the son of longtime “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy.
“As Fox News can attest from firsthand experience, there is nothing wrong with hiring people who have strong credentials and qualifications and happen to be relatives of other staffers,” Bates said at the time.
Fox News did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. If they do, HuffPost will run it.