Reporters Demand CNN on Air Force One

The White House press corps last night complained about having to watch Fox News on Air Force One.

During a briefing led by White House spokesman Scott McClellan as President Bush was traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana, the Washington Post’s Jim VandeHei asked why the White House televisions always seemed to be tuned to Fox News and if it was possible to have them tuned instead to CNN. “It’s come to my attention that there’s been requests — this is a serious question — to turn these TVs onto a station other than Fox, and that those have been denied,” VandeHei told McClellan, who is soon to be replaced by former Fox anchor and self-described conservative Tony Snow. “My question would be, is there a White House policy that all government TVs have to be tuned to Fox?” VandeHei asked.

“Never heard of any such thing,” McClellan responded. “My TVs are on four different channels at all times.”

VandeHei noted that McClellan has four televisions in his office, and clarified that he was referring to the ones that reporters can see. “They’re always turned to Fox, which a lot of people consider a Republican-leaning network.” VandeHei noted that the televisions are paid for with taxpayer dollars. “And my understanding is that you guys have to watch Fox on Air Force One. Is that true?”

McClellan said it was the first he had heard such a claim, and that it was not true. “In fact, I’ve watched other channels on here,” he said. “I’ve never known anyone that’s raised a complaint about a request from back here to watch a different channel,” McClellan added.

VandeHei replied, “I’m officially raising it, and officially complaining about it.”

McClellan then asked whether VandeHei had tried to have the change made.

“I was told — the quote was, ‘No,’ when I asked for CNN,” the reporter said.

McClellan asked him with whom he had spoken, but VandeHei said he did not know. “Well, the magic people at the other end off the phone … I was told, ‘We don’t watch CNN here, you can only watch Fox,’ ” VandeHei said.

McClellan said he found the question “quite amusing,” and left to see about making the change. Eighteen minutes after VandeHei raised the issue, McClellan had resolved it. “We just called up. They’re going to be changing it, at your all’s request, to the channel that you requested, which is CNN — from the press corps.”

This is rather amusing because one would think the press corps would have more important things to do on Air Force One than watch television, let alone complaining about what channel is on. And, frankly, while the televisions are indeed paid for by the taxpayers, it doesn’t follow that individual taxpayers have a say in the program choices. After all, Air Force One is owned by the taxpayers, too, but reporters don’t get to vote on travel destinations.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    I would think that reporters would want to have the news on the TV during the long flights on AF1. They’re news junkies and want to see what’s going on 24/7.

  2. Bithead says:

    So, in that light, why on earth would anyone want CNN?

  3. craig henry says:

    Why wouldn’t the press corps want to watch the news channel with the largest audience?

    Although, there is probably a good case to be made for rotating among the four nes channels.

  4. Mark says:

    Well, a lot of these reporters are on some cable network news shows to begin with as guests (think Howard Fineman on Hardball), so perhaps VandeHei did a CNN segment that was scheduled to air and wanted to make sure his hair looked good for the cameras. You know, vanity and all…

  5. Steven Plunk says:

    When I am a guest at someones house or visiting in their office I always demand what channel to put on TV and what radio station should be tuned in. Doesn’t everyone?

  6. shingles says:

    I didn’t realize that VandeHei was more than one person.

    But I guess that’s typical – referring to VandeHei as “the press corps” fits in perfectly with the tendency to refer to the actions of a single jackass as that of “the left”.

    Consistent, if not entirely accurate.

  7. matt says:

    Uh, reporters watch the news, it’s part of their job. A real grownup would know that.

  8. Christopher says:

    Vandeei says some people think FOX tilts to the right. Um, excuse me…have you watched CNN? MSNBC? Talk about leaning. To the left!

    I wonder if they realize that more people watch FOX not because there are more republicans, but because it is more FAIR & BALANCED so all sorts of people WANT to watch it!

  9. Aeon says:

    Perhaps the most obvious political effect of controlled news is the advantage it gives powerful people in getting their issues on the political agenda and

    defining those issues in ways likely to influence their resolution.”: W. Lance Bennett – Author, professor at University of Washington Source: News: The Politics of Illusion, 1983

    When the politicians complain that TV turns the proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained. – Edward R. Murrow

  10. James Joyner says:

    Shingles: It was clear from the conversation that Vandehei was speaking for the group, not just his own viewing preferences. Hence the “They�re going to be changing it, at your all�s request, to the channel that you requested, which is CNN � from the press corps.”

    Also, the AJC report indicates that

    As McClellan and VandeHei talked TV channels, Agence France Presse photographer Tim Sloan volunteered that he was the one who raised the issue.

    �I was the Fox victim,� he said, �and I was told, the quote was, �No,� when I asked for CNN. � I was told, �We don�t watch CNN here. You can only watch Fox.��

    Asked who told him that, Sloan said �the magic people at the other end of the phone� in the press cabin.

  11. Craig says:

    The right wing crybabies are so well explained by not having learned the lesson from kindergarten.

    In this case, common manners. The TV news is on as a service and courtesy for the press corps, so why wouldn’t they get to choose what they want to watch? The White House should not be in the business of having its own private news company forced on the reporters.

    Should they stop offering the reporters a choice of beverage as well?

    “Why wouldn�t the press corps want to watch the news channel with the largest audience?”

    I suppose they should start serving only McDonalds food, too, as the burger sold more than any other.

    The right wing is so often caught up in these petty issues involving a lack of manners or other basic social skills. Heck, not only do I remember the lies the incoming White House told in 2001 about the Clintonites ‘trashing the White House’, but I remember not one apology from the right.

    Today, you have the republicans in congress not telling democrats where meetings are being held for which the democrats are committee members, just shutting them out – because they can.

    The republican party needs a mother’s spanking. It just wasn’t raised right.

  12. madmatt says:

    Yes I would love to see the press corp grill Bush for 12 hours straight on an overseas flight…since they can’t do that what do you expect them to do with the trip? And for the comment from Christopher… CNN or MSNBC lean to the right(GE which makes bombs and jets loves war and owns NBC)just not as far right as your fair and balanced crap!

  13. Robert says:

    CNN and MSNBC lean to the left?

    On what planet is this?

  14. Christopher says:

    Wow, Craig-who is the real crybaby?

    Madmatt & Robert, you don’t think CNN and CNBC are liberal?!? What planet am I from? What UNIVERSE are you from! Stop listening to Jeannine Garofalo and Randi Rhodes (you and 3 other people are the only ones apparently from their dismal ratings), you might then actually learn something.

  15. Barry says:

    CNN and MSNBC are tilted to the left on the planet where Saddam Hussein had vast stockpiles of WMD’s, and ties to Al Qaida. On the planet where Bush’s policies weren’t skewed overwhelmingly towards the rich. On the planet where Bush is a Christian, and an honorable man. On the planet where anybody who lied about a Vietnam vet for political gain would be ostracized by Republicans, even if those Republicans didn’t like the Vietnam Vet’s policies or actions. On a planet where the NYT did not carry the administration’s lies about Iraq.

  16. Christopher says:

    Hey Bari, try not to hold anything back, ok?

  17. Maimonides says:

    There’s an interesting item — given the tiny drivel of crap this administration calls “transparency” you still think that the Press should have something to do on Air Force One. Like what, repeat RNC talking points to one another? Like have you ever taken a flight?

    I usually try not to flame the owner of a site, but you sir are just plain stupid. I mean really, Bush’s approval ratings are tanking, Iran is threatening to start a nuclear program, and you want to bitch about a change from Faux News on AF1? What a moron.

  18. Maimonides says:

    “CNN and MSNBC are tilted to the left on the planet where Saddam Hussein had vast stockpiles of WMDâ??s, and ties to Al Qaida. On the planet where Bushâ??s policies werenâ??t skewed overwhelmingly towards the rich. On the planet where Bush is a Christian, and an honorable man. On the planet where anybody who lied about a Vietnam vet for political gain would be ostracized by Republicans, even if those Republicans didnâ??t like the Vietnam Vetâ??s policies or actions. On a planet where the NYT did not carry the administrationâ??s lies about Iraq.

    Posted by: Barry at April 28, 2006 13:45”

    Barry, you are freaking hilarious!


  19. shingles says:

    You forgot “on the planet where conservatives who used to believe in smaller, accountable, and honest government, alongside civil liberties and the concept of personal responsibility, no longer do because 1) now they’re in power and 2) damnit, 9/11 changed everything!”

  20. Christopher says:


    Have you seen the economy and how well things are going? Look-Bush will start bringing some of the troops home this summer, prompting liberals to complain that not enough American soldiers are dying to further the left’s political agenda. The voters (the people that actually bother to vote, esp. in mid-term elections, and who are mostly Republicans) will approve of Bush in larger numbers, and we will carry the mid-term elections.

    What will be really funny is to listen to you liberals cry and cryyyy when that happens! LOL! Liberals are such LOSERS!

  21. McGehee says:

    Is it just me, or does this thread seem like it’s been dominated, maturity-wise, by members of the White House press corps?

  22. Robert says:

    CNBC is owned by General Electric.

    I hear its practically a hippie commune at GE.

  23. BillB says:

    They do NOT have anything better to do than watch television. They are not journalists. They are stenographers for the administration. If they say anything embarassing to the administration, they lose their access. So, I imagine watching a little television is a great way to pass the time.

  24. BillB says:

    Christopher, liberals have been calling for troops to come home for quite some time now, so the first part of your post doesn’t make any sense. As far as mid-term elections go, we’ll see, but right now, things don’t look too swell for republicans. When confronted by their democratic opponents with questions like “why did you vote to give Oil Corpoartions tax givaways?” or “why did you vote to make it illegal to bargain for lower drug prices?” what will the average republican candidate say? On the economy, your belief is exactly what I hope republicans say on the stump: “the economy is great!” Unprecidented corporate profits may pump up economic numbers the way they are analyzed by some, but most Americans see no benefit in huge corporate profits.

  25. KC says:

    For God’s sake, there are 4 TVs available, and from what I read, they were all tuned to Fox. Is it too much to ask to be able to have ONE of them tuned to CNN?
    I don’t dictate programming and music at friends’ houses, but I’m sure they’d let me check my email on their computers. Look at it that way – they’re checking up on their own damn job.
    Reich Wing crybabies have nothing else to blog about today, I guess.

  26. Roger says:

    And the best repsonse award goes to Barry . . . Good job.

  27. Roderick says:

    Well I work for the DoD in central FL and my office is located within a defense contractor’s facility. Everyday the station is tuned to FOX. Of course I have no beef with it because this is a private company although it is heavily funded with taxpayer dollars.

    When I had to go to the local air force base to update my government identification the station in the waiting area was tuned to FOX. I’m sure this isn’t a mistake. There were many other civilians there soaking up the brainwashing. So it’s not just Air Force One.

  28. James Joyner says:

    Roderick: I work in a DoD facility. The televisions are all turned to the same channel, controlled centrally. When it’s not local propaganda (security awareness and the like) it’s on a news channel. It seems to rotate pretty regularly between Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. It may be a daily rotation, although I haven’t tracked it.

  29. Craig says:

    On the flip side, I recall an Air America radio host, Ed Schultz (sp?), who the Pentagon blocked from being included on the Armed Forces network that included Rush Limbaugh. (I don’t know what finally happened with that).

  30. Jim says:

    Fox has the biggest audience of the cable news channels. Any network news broadast, withered as they are, are watched by far more than watch the cable channels combined. And the McNeil News Hour on PBS is watched by a lot more people than ever watch O’Reilly.

  31. Roger says:

    Besides, Fox “news” is an entertainment program, not an actual news reporting operation.

  32. Railroad Stone says:

    It isn’t strange to want the television in front of you turned to a station which doesn’t decrease your intellect.

    What is abnormal is hiding from other points of view. Fox loves Bush and agrees with him and generally strokes his ego whenever possible.

    Do you really think he granted them exclusivity for any other reason?

  33. eddie says:

    Your statements regarding taxpayers’ rights so completely misses the point. The point is that the United States as a government should not be dictating what news sources are available and which are not in a governmental facility. Period.

    The fact that Limbaugh is provided to the troops but equal time for an opposing view is equally unacceptable in a democracy.

    There are two viable and fair remedies:

    In the case of the televisions, the point should be to simply turn them off. You so much as imply that there must be something better for these jokers to do on the plane than watch the same cable news stories over and over.

    In the case of Limbaugh, I think it makes more sense to simply get rid of opinion on air forces radio, except to the extent provided by members of the troupes themselves. But for Limbaugh to be saying anything substantive to our troupes is a travesty: Drug dependent do-nothing bloviators do not present anything of value to those individuals who at least are putting there lives on the line for their country. Let them speak their minds.