Murdoch vs the President – Fox accused of faith slur campaign

Obama adviser says US TV network is set on damaging character 'assassination'

An evangelical pastor described as Barack Obama's spiritual adviser has accused Rupert Murdoch's Fox News network of launching a calculated attempt to "religiously assassinate" the president.

Rev Jim Wallis, who has known the president for a decade, said some of the views expressed on the network made no attempt to stick to "truth and civility". He also warned the opinions expressed on the channel were the reason nearly one in five Americans believed President Obama was a Muslim.

"Fox News has been planting a seed of doubt in their mind 24/7," he told The Independent, adding that such moves were part of a "very calculated attempt" by the right-wing media to undermine Obama and the White House.

"The Murdoch/Fox News channel is trying to religiously assassinate Barack Obama," he said. "Let's have a robust debate, but attacking character, patriotism and even faith, should not be acceptable." Though Mr Wallis said he was "speaking for himself" in making the comments, he added President Obama "thinks [Fox] is inaccurate".

He added that the right-wing Tea Party movement, whose support has snowballed since Obama entered the White House, only existed because the president was black.

White House officials have made it clear for a long time that they disagree with Fox's approach, describing it variously as "opinion journalism masquerading as news" and "clearly biased". President Obama himself said recently that he saw the broadcaster as "part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view".

Mr Wallis, who is visiting Britain, said Fox News and one of its highest-profile hosts, Glenn Beck, had helped "create a reality" in which people wrongly believed Obama had been born abroad and was not a Christian. "There's nothing wrong with being a Muslim, but he's a Christian," he said.

"They [Fox] don't seem to care about data and facts. Fox say they are fair and balanced. But that motto has become a joke," Mr Wallis added.

Last night, Mr Wallis' opponents on the right said it was unsurprising that President Obama's staunchest defender in the religious community would accuse the network of bias.

"Jim Wallis is probably the foremost spokesman for the religious and the evangelical left in America," said Mark Tooley, president of the conservative Institute of Religion and Democracy in Washington. He also disagreed that the Tea Party was a racist movement.

"He never seems to identify any particular evidence," he said. "He seems to be saying that because they are offended by his policies and positions, therefore they are offended by his race."

He added that Mr Wallis received funding for his work from the Open Society Institute, owned by billionaire financier and liberal, George Soros.

Mr Beck has also criticised the link with Mr Soros. He said on air: "George Soros, an atheist, dumping a whole bunch of money into a Christian organisation. That almost doesn't make sense. It kind of makes you question the motives, doesn't it? It doesn't take long to see that his attraction to Jim Wallis is because he's a big government progressive. The solution is not with the people and the churches, it is get everybody into the government. He's infiltrating the churches. You see how it works?"

Fox News would not comment on Mr Wallis' remarks last night. However, last year, the network's spokesman, Michael Clemente, accused Obama's team of deciding to "declare war on a news organisation instead of focusing on the critical issues that Americans are concerned about".