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TCA: Karl Rove reveals a weakness over his Fox News gig

July 14, 2008 |  4:28 pm

Newseason_tourtalk_2

Wait, did Karl Rove just admit that he was scared?

“I was never nervous going on television before,” the longtime Bush consigliore told television critics today. But when he started contributing to Fox News this year, he said, he experienced an unfamiliar feeling.

“I gotta tell you, the first night I sat there with Chris [Wallace] and Brit [Hume], I was really nervous,” Rove said. “It was sort of like flying without any instructions.”

Both Rove and Howard Wolfson, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s former strategist and Fox News’ latest hire, said they see their role on the cable news network as analysts, not as partisan operators.

“I want Barack Obama to be our next president,” Wolfson said. “Having said that, if I’m just offering the talking points of the day, that’s just boring television.”

Rove said that he’s not working with Sen. John McCain’s campaign in any formal capacity but admitted that he has regular contact with people involved in the effort.

“I’ve donated to McCain. I have very good friends on the campaign,” said the veteran Bush strategist. “I do talk to people in politics all across the country, some of whom are very active in the campaign. I play no official role, no ongoing role, but yeah, I do get phone calls.”

“I intend to stay married,” he added. “I’ve done this twice. If I was going to play a role in the presidential campaign like I played before, I’d be divorced very quickly.”

John Moody, executive vice president of news editorial, dismissed questions about whether Rove’s political connections create a conflict with his role on Fox News, adding that the network gets its information about McCain’s campaign from its correspondent covering the beat, not Rove.

“I don’t think Karl would cross an ethical line like that,” said Moody, triggering some skeptical laughter in the room.

Fox News still holds the crown as the top-rated cable news network but has experienced more of a ratings challenge than usual this year from rivals CNN and MSNBC, whose audiences ballooned during the presidential primary race.

“Well, there’s been tightening, obviously,” Moody said in a rare admission. “We’ve certainly been tested in the last year. And I think we’ve emerged from it. I think we’ve gotten past the worst of the test.”

“We don’t ever ignore it, we don’t every say that it doesn’t matter, because it very much does matter,” he added. “But we think we’ve come through a period of testing pretty well.”

The Fox News team was pressed about recent on-air controversies, such as the caricatures of New York Times staffers that recently ran on the morning show “Fox & Friends.”

“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace said he was not aware of the images until he read about them.

“My own feeling is news organizations ought to run regular pictures of people and not doctor them,” he said.

Moody called the morning program “an entertainment show that does some news,” adding that “some of the humor gets edgy.”

“Sometimes people don’t think it’s humorous,” he added. “But that’s the nature of humor.”

As for an anchor’s recent description of a “terrorist fist jab” between Obama and his wife, Moody called it “regrettable.”

“I wish it hadn’t happened,” he said, adding that the network’s anchors are not told what to say. “There’s a certain amount of freedom, and sometimes freedom include the freedom to make a mistake.”

Wallace took umbrage at the amount of criticism that Fox News fields.

“I think sometimes there’s a double standard here,” he said. “I think that MSNBC in its coverage of this campaign went so far over the line in terms of being in the tank for Barack Obama that it lost a lot of credibility. And for all the criticism that we sometimes get for allowing our politics to infuse our journalism, the fact is, there’s something of a firewall on Fox.”

“There’s a reason –- as much as I love and respect them and think that they’re a valuable part of Fox News -- why Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity don’t anchor the election coverage on Fox," he added. "Our feeling is the opinion makers should deliver their opinions, and the journalists should cover the news.”

-- Matea Gold

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