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Obama argues for health care effort on Fox News

President Barack Obama speaks as vice president Joe Biden stands nearby during a St. Patrick's Day reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 17, 2010. President Barack Obama speaks as vice president Joe Biden stands nearby during a St. Patrick's Day reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
By Philip Elliott
Associated Press Writer / March 18, 2010

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WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama on Wednesday took to the Fox News Channel, derided by his White House as a wing of the Republican Party, to sell his embattled health care overhaul in an interview punctuated with interruptions from the host and chiding from the guest.

Obama sat down with "Special Report" anchor Bret Baier in the executive mansion's Blue Room to talk about a health care plan that is inching toward final passage. Several times Obama chided Baier for breaking into his lengthy answers with follow-up questions.

"Bret, you've got to let me finish my answers," Obama told Baier, the news channel's White House correspondent during the Bush administration.

"Sir," Baier responded, "I know you don't like to filibuster, but ..."

"Well," Obama said in cutting him off again, "I'm trying to answer your question and you keep on interrupting."

The tone was set early. Baier first asked about the latest efforts in the House to pass the bill, which elicited Obama's standard talking points about the benefits of the overhaul effort. Baier tried to bring Obama back to the question.

"Bret, let me finish," Obama said.

An unhappy Obama completed his answer, repeating his familiar reasons why lawmakers should pass legislation that would deliver the White House a victory on its top domestic priority during an election year when Democrats face tough prospects.

"Let me insert this," Baier said, trying to regain control of the conversation by citing some of the 18,000 questions Fox News viewers had sent to him ahead of the interview. The two he mentioned were critical of what they called bribery and trickery to pass a bill supposedly good for the country.

"Bret, I get 40,000 letters or e-mails a day," Obama said.

The White House has been strident in its criticism of Fox News. In October its then-communications director, Anita Dunn, called Fox News "either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party" and added, "Let's not pretend they're a news organization like CNN is."

Other White House officials, including press secretary Robert Gibbs, have been fervent in their opposition to the news channel.

"I have watched many stories on that network that I've found not to be true," Gibbs said from the White House podium in October.

Fox has faced withering criticism for its treatment of the Democratic White House. On Sunday, former New York Times editor Howell Raines decried the network and questioned why other news organizations lend it legitimacy.

"Why haven't America's old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration -- a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?" Raines wrote in a column for The Washington Post. Ailes was a prominent GOP media consultant before becoming a national TV news executive.

It seemed during the interview with Baier that Obama was familiar with the criticism. The president sought to avoid questions about the legislative process Democrats are weighing to pass the proposal.

"I've got to say to you, there are a lot more people who are concerned about the fact that they may be losing their house or going bankrupt because of health care," he said.

Baier acknowledged that he had spoken over the president many times.

"I don't want to interrupt you," he said, trying to get one last question into the interview and drawing a smile from Obama.

Baier wrapped up the interview by noting the tension.

"I apologize for interrupting you, sir," he said. "I tried to get the most for our buck here."