(CNN) - Washington Fox News executive Bill Sammon admitted in a newly released audio tape that in 2008 he repeatedly speculated about President Obama's support for socialism despite privately believing the idea was "far-fetched."
He made the comments before a group on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College. A recording of the audio from the event was obtained by MediaMatters.org, a well-funded, liberal media watchdog organization that says it is committed to exposing conservative bias in the media, especially from Fox News.
Discussing the 2008 campaign for the presidency, Sammon said, "I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched."
Sammon, the managing editor of Washington, D.C. coverage for Fox News, then listed reasons he believes the "far-fetched" premise to be real one year after Obama took office. Among them: the Obama administration's "sweeping expansion of government regulation," and "concerted efforts" to "nationalize health care" as well as "impose a cap and trade regime which will profoundly reorder the rest of our economy and mandate massive transfers of wealth."
Sammon said he was originally spurred to think about socialism by Obama's own comments on the 2008 campaign trail, "Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to quote, 'spread the wealth around."
Media Matters is now crying foul, claiming that Sammon pushed an Obama-as-socialist agenda with the knowledge that the idea was unlikely. The group released e-mails sent from Sammon to Fox News staffers that highlight "Obama's references to socialism" in his autobiography "Dreams from My Father," and cited the executive's comments on-air. During the health care debate Sammon also sent a memo to staffers that encouraged use of the phrase "government-run health insurance" instead of "public option."
Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, Sammon, who described Obama's remark to Joe the Plumber as "red meat" for conservatives, repeatedly linked Obama's "spread the wealth around" comment to socialism during his October 2008 Fox appearances, according to the group.
But in an interview with Howard Kurtz for The Daily Beast, Sammon regarded his reference to mischief as an "inartful way of saying, 'Can you believe how far this thing has come?'" And, without regret for raising the socialism question on-air repeatedly, Sammon said "It was a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media."
Kurtz hosts the program "Reliable Sources" on CNN.
When asked for comment on this story, Fox News referenced the Kurtz interview.