Some of the nation’s top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today’s question:

The White House and Fox News have recently traded barbs over the network’s coverage. President Obama recently snubbed Fox when granting interviews on healthcare reform. Has the White House handled this deftly or spent too much energy criticizing Fox News?

Michelle D. Bernard, president & CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum, said:

It was counterproductive for the White House to attack Fox News, which at this time, boasts the largest audience of any of the news networks.

Neither the White House nor its allies has produced evidence that Fox News has actually mislead its audience or is more slanted than any of the other networks, which also feature numerous opinion commentators and journalists with former political ties. Journalists like Brit Hume, Major Garrett, and Shep Smith have unassailable records as newsman of the highest order and one would suspect that this is the reason that so many Independents watch Fox News in addition to, or to the exclusion of others news networks.

Particularly on an issue like health care, you would think that the White House would be eager to try to reach Fox’s audience, which, skewing right, will be important in influencing many moderate and conservative democrat legislators and many independents.

Anyone who believes in the importance of a free and vigilant press will question why the White House chose this battle when there are others of much more significance.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said:

I’ve only heard there is a controversy from the media. I don’t know a thing about it personally, I haven’t seen it, nobody’s talked to me about it, and this is the first time anyone’s asked me about it.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said:

They are arrogant down at the White House. And I think they’re counting on the vast bulk of the media to back them or to at least not find any fault with them. If I was even on the liberal side of the media, which is the vast part of it, I would be very offended by this type of heavy-handed conduct. Frankly, they’re throwing their weight around and it’s not just here, it’s in a lot of other issues. I think what they’re doing is arrogant and stupid. Frankly, it’s typical of people that get too much power and think they should control everything. And on the other hand, what are they doing about late night MSNBC? I enjoy watching them so I can see what the enemy has to say. They’re outrageous in their comments about Republicans, conservatives and President Bush. Yet they [White House] think that’s just fine.

Sen. Pat Rogers (R-Kan.) said:

Obviously Fox has a very distinct point of view and it has been critical of the administration, and the administration doesn’t like that and is pushing back. I’ve always ignored heavy criticism; it probably makes the person giving the criticism more angry if you ignore it than it does if you make a fuss. Fox definitely has very obvious points of view but if you take that out of the equation and just look at their reporting of the news, I think its pretty balanced. You could say that CNBC and NBC and others are just as far the other way. I just think you should take them with a grain of salt and go on down the road. I think you’re asking for more trouble in the long run if you get in a fuss with the media.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said:

I think Fox is getting too much attention. Why talk about cable news? I want the pen and pad to reign supreme — you guys are an embattled species right now. There is some information on Fox that is packaged as news that is opinion. The nice thing about newspapers is that there is an opinion page and a news page. But that line is blurry when it comes to cable TV. So I think the more networks can do to draw the line between their news and their commentary the better, and I think that’s probably what’s frustrating the White House.

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of FRC Action, said:

During the campaign President Obama implied he would sit down and meet with ruthless dictators, but now he appears to be afraid of Fox News. Perhaps Chris Wallace just needs to change his portfolio.

It is not unusual for a President to try to control the news but this Administration makes it into an art form. Lobbying owners of networks, throwing off the record parties for reporters who are supposed to be unbiased or calling on designated reporters during supposedly unscripted press conferences are par for the course with this Administration. Now they declare war on a news network for taking them to task? It is ok for CNN to fact check a Saturday Night Live skit but it is out of bounds for Fox News to fact check an Administration official? All of this on the heels of a White House led crusade against Rush Limbaugh. It would seem one reason the Obama Justice Department eased restrictions on prosecuting marijuana use is because they didn’t want to throw their own press office in jail – for only a bunch of stoners could come up with the idea of taking on the press as the enemy is a great pr strategy.

When even liberal White House press corps icon Helen Thomas criticizes you for stupidity it might be time to wave the white flag and concentrate on something more productive.

John Hostettler, former Indiana GOP congressman (1995-2007), said:

This reminds me of that phenomenon that takes place in sports: when the game is going badly, the coach yells at the referee. I recall that when vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin complained of what she perceived as harsh and unfair treatment from press as well as broadcast and cable television outlets, she was pilloried by the press and her complaints were aired and are still aired today in an attempt to portray a public figure with thin skin. The leader of the free world has problems with one cable news channel who covers the president between “Balloon boy” and “Jon and Kate” stories and he and his subordinates seem to be going a little off the deep end. Who is showing the thin skin now?

Glenn Reynolds, from Instapundit, said:

If the target is Fox News, then it’s been a waste of the White House’s time, energy, and credibility. If, on the other hand, as one of my blog-readers suggested, it’s really about making liberal editors in mainstream publications feel good about ignoring dirt on the Administration turned up by the center-right media, then perhaps it makes sense. These are people who want to be in the tank for the most part, they just need a bit of Fox-baiting in the background so they can feel good about themselves while they do it.

Of course, sooner or later someone might notice that Fox’s audiences keep going up, while their own keep going down, which might undercut this strategy. But politics-over-profit has been the approach of most “mainstream” media for the last several years, to that would require a significant shift in attitude.

Grover Norquist, director of Americans for Tax Reform, said:

Obama “snubbed” Fox when granting interviews is one way to put lipstick on this pig. Obama granted interviews to media outlets that won’t ask difficult questions–like how much will this really cost, why are there tax hikes on middle class Americans when you promised you wouldn’t allow that, and why is there additional spending not compensated for by spending reductions elsewhere as promised in the debate with McCain. Obama hid from reporters and news outlets like Fox that would ask real questions that he cannot answer.

A politician who has to have a teleprompter to speak to small and friendly groups is not likely to allow serious questions from the press.

When a politician begins to lash out against the press–Nixon, Agnew– you know he is losing it and blaming others for his failures. Obama is falling into this lashing-out sooner than most presidents.