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Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
A series of hoax anthrax letters are sent to Fox News commentators Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Hannity will later say he began receiving the letters in the winter of 2000 and then a second batch in August 2001. Most of them were sent from a postmark in Indianapolis, Indiana, but “one or two were from Trenton,” New Jersey, where the deadly anthrax letters will be sent from shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The FBI will later allow the New York Post to see copies of these letters, which have block handwriting sloping down to the right and other features remarkably similar to the later letters containing real anthrax. Hannity will later say: “When I saw the Tom Daschle envelope and the Tom Brokaw envelope, I immediately was stunned. It was the exact same handwriting that I had recognized.… When I saw it I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the same guy.’” (Weiss 11/1/2001; NewsMax 11/1/2001) The letters have yet to be made public.
The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” (Kettle 1/26/2001; NewsMax 1/26/2001) Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. (Curl 1/27/2001) The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). (Kettle 1/26/2001)
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” (NewsMax 1/26/2001; Kettle 1/26/2001; Allen 1/26/2001) The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001) CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001) Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001)
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. (Kettle 1/26/2001) On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001)
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. (Allen 1/26/2001)
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. (NewsMax 1/26/2001) Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001)
Conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly tells his listeners, “You know, I don’t take Saddam Hussein all that seriously anymore as far as a world threat. Maybe I’m wrong and naive here. Should we be very frightened of this guy?” (Hart 5/2003)
Former investigative reporter Jayna Davis, who once worked for KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, tells Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly she has amassed evidence that she says proves Osama bin Laden was behind the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Former Army soldier Timothy McVeigh is awaiting execution for carrying out the bombing (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Davis says that she attempted to give her evidence, comprised of court records, 24 witness statements, and reports from law enforcement, intelligence, and terror experts, to the FBI, which she says refused to accept the material. Davis says the FBI is involved in an elaborate conspiracy to conceal the existence of a Middle Eastern terror cell that carried out the bombing; law enforcement authorities have long dismissed the idea (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After) that the bombing was carried out by anyone other than McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). According to Davis’s version of events, a Middle Eastern terror cell was operating only blocks away from the Murrah Federal Building, the site of the bombing, and an Iraqi national who formerly served in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard was in contact with McVeigh on the day of the bombing. It was the Iraqi, not McVeigh, she says, who drove the Ryder truck containing the bomb to the federal building; he fled in a brown Chevrolet pickup truck. Davis says in the minutes after the bombing, an all-points bulletin was issued for the Iraqi, but it was inexplicably withdrawn shortly thereafter. Davis says the conspiracy consists of McVeigh, Nichols, and at least seven Middle Eastern men, with bin Laden masterminding the operation. “The evidence we have gathered definitely implicates McVeigh and Nichols,” she says. “I want to make that very clear. They were in it up to their eyeballs.” Of the FBI’s refusal to consider her evidence, she tells O’Reilly: “I was flabbergasted. I am unable to imagine any reason they would not accept it.” (WorldNetDaily 3/21/2001)
On December 6, 2002, conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly says about Saddam Hussein, “I can’t, in good conscience, tell the American people that I know for sure that he has smallpox or anthrax or he’s got nuclear or chemical and that he is ready to use that. I cannot say that as a journalist or an American.” O’Reilly is far more certain on February 7, 2003, when he tells his listeners, “According to the UN, he’s got anthrax, VX gas, ricin, and on and on.” On February 23, 2003, he says flatly, “This guy we know has anthrax and VX and all this stuff.” Then on March 18, 2003, just two days before the US invades Iraq, he says that he isn’t sure what kind of WMDs Saddam Hussein may possess: “Here’s the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world: Nobody knows for sure, all right? We don’t know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let’s see.” (Hart 5/2003)
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editor emeritus, Robert Bartley, acknowledges that Fox News’s slogan, “We report, you decide,” is a “pretense.” Bartley, a staunch conservative, writes: “Even more importantly, the amazing success of Roger Ailes at Fox News (see October 7, 1996) has provided a meaningful alternative to the Left-establishment slant of the major networks.… His news is no more tilted to the right than theirs has been on the left, and there’s no reason for him to drop his ‘we report, you decide’ pretense until they drop theirs” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 49) In May 2003, ABC News president David Westin will say: “I like ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a wonderful slogan. Too often, I don’t think that’s what’s going on at Fox. Too often, they step over the line and try and help people decide what is right and wrong.” Fox News pundit and host Bill O’Reilly will agree. Asked whether a more accurate tag line for Fox might be “We report. We decide,” he will reply, “Well, you’re probably right.” Todd Gitlin of the Columbia Journalism School will add: “I find it hard to believe many Fox viewers believe Bill O’Reilly is a ‘no-spin zone,’ or ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a joke. In Washington it reinforces the impression of ‘we happy few who are members of the club.’ It emboldens the right wing to feel justified and confident they can promote their policies.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
MSNBC, the cable news channel owned by NBC, cancels Phil Donahue’s nightly talk show. MSNBC cites “disappointing ratings” for “Donahue.” The show, originally conceived as a more liberal alternative for Fox News’s overtly conservative “O’Reilly Factor,” started very slow and never came close to challenging either O’Reilly’s ratings or CNN’s Connie Chung, whose show is also in the same time slot. But in recent weeks, Donahue’s ratings have steadily increased to the point where it is the top-rated show on the network, even beating MSNBC’s flagship political show, “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”
'Tired Left-Wing Liberal' - An internal report commissioned by the network’s executives, later obtained by media analyst Rick Ellis, calls Phil Donahue “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” The report says that Donahue’s show presents a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.… He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” If the show continues on the air, the report warns that it could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” As Donahue exits the lineup, MSNBC brings aboard former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough as commentators, and radical right-wing talk show host Michael Savage and libertarian Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, as hosts. Donahue’s time slot will be taken temporarily by the expansion of another show, “Countdown: Iraq,” to two hours. Nation columnist John Nichols writes: “Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting canceled is bad enough; getting canceled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003) In 2007, Donahue says he knew nothing of the internal memo at the time (see April 25, 2007). “I didn’t know about that till I read about it in the New York Times.” When asked: “What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?” Donahue will reply, “Well, not only unpatriotic, but it’s not good for business.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
MSNBC 'Tak[ing] the Coward's Road' - A source close to Donahue says that Donahue’s cancellation is “no coincidence.” The MSNBC executives are “scared,” the source says, “and they decided to take the coward’s road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watch Fox News.” Ellis, a veteran media analyst with strong connections in the TV news industry, writes that MSNBC, “[r]ather than building a unique voice, the news channel has opted to become a lesser alternative to the Fox News Channel.” Interestingly, the NBC report recommended against such a course: “The temptation is to chase the audience that is already out there and play to what seems to be working at Fox. But there is another road, and if we build our unique voices from within, we have a chance to develop a loyal and valuable audience.” Nichols writes, “[I]t is a pretty good bet that, now that ‘Donahue’ is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured [consumer advocate] Ralph Nader and [progressive columnist] Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees.” Nichols adds that while Donahue’s show may have been conceived as a liberal alternative to O’Reilly, it was never allowed to be such: “For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits. Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressure to clog his show’s arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin.” Only in its last few weeks did MSNBC allow Donahue to do what he does best—interview interesting guests in front of a live audience. The show’s ratings began climbing rapidly. Whether the show could have challenged O’Reilly or other conservative shows’ ratings can never be known.
Never Trusted the American Viewing Audience - Nichols concludes: “Now that ‘Donahue’ has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise—some of O’Reilly’s best shows feature feisty progressives like US [Representatives] Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do now, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue—or the American television viewing audience.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003)
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly delivers a threat to Americans who disagree with the administration’s war policies, telling viewers: “Anyone who hurts this country in a time like this—well, let’s just say you will be spotlighted.… I will call those who publicly criticize their country in a time of military crisis, which this is, bad Americans.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly tells his audience on Fox News: “Once the war against Saddam [Hussein] begins, we expect every American to support our military, and if they can’t do that, to shut up. Americans, and indeed our allies, who actively work against our military once the war is underway will be considered enemies of the state by me. Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand, and others who see the world as you do. I don’t want to demonize anyone, but anyone who hurts this country in a time like this, well. Let’s just say you will be spotlighted.” (Nimmo 3/3/2003; Hart 5/2003)
Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly says that those who oppose the Iraq war, such as actor Sean Penn and journalist Peter Arnett, are traitors. (Unger 2007, pp. 290)
Fox News political pundit Bill O’Reilly savages the journalists and commentators who question the official story of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003). O’Reilly characterizes the Los Angeles Times’s Robert Scheer (see April 10, 2003 and After and May 30, 2003) as a “radical columnist who [sic] many perceive to be a hater of [the] USA,” “despises President Bush,” and has “anti-American motives.” The Times itself is “extremely left-wing in its editorial presentation.” The BBC, which along with the Toronto Star was one of the first news organizations to question the official story (see May 4, 2003 and May 15, 2003), “was stridently against the war in Iraq and chastised by one of its own correspondents for slanting its reports.” O’Reilly says that while he “does not know the truth in this matter… we have no reason to doubt the mission’s original report. However, if it turns out that the US military is lying, it will be a terrible scandal.” (O'Reilly 5/27/2003) As far as can be ascertained, when the more accurate chain of events is reported, essentially validating the reports by the BBC and Scheer (see June 17, 2003), O’Reilly will not respond to or investigate what he calls the potential “terrible scandal.”
Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick’s uncle William Lawson sends an e-mail about the abuses and their documentation to the website of retired Col. David Hackworth, stating: “We have contacted the Red Cross, Congress both parties [sic], Bill O’Reilly [a Fox News Channel host] and many others. Nobody wants to touch this.” Within minutes, an associate of Hackworth calls him over the phone. Hackworth, who is described by the New York Times as “a muckraker who was always willing to take on the military establishment,” then puts Lawson in touch with the producers of the CBS news program “60 Minutes II,” who will eventually air the story on Abu Ghraib. Lawson’s efforts to publicize the abuses are motivated by his fear, and that of his brother-in-law, Frederick’s father, that Frederick will take the fall for what they believe involves higher ranking officers and officials. Seventeen members of Congress, however, ignored Lawson’s plea before he contacted Hackworth. “The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out…, but the Army decided to prosecute those six GI’s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case.” (Dao and Lichtblau 5/8/2004)
ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004; CNN 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004; Associated Press 5/1/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 125) Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004) Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. (Al Tompkins 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” (CNN 5/1/2004) Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004) “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” (Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, in her daily syndicated column, accuses Democrats and liberals of “racism” for criticizing African-American conservatives. Coulter’s column is partly in response to recent remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that other conservatives have characterized as racist (see December 5-8, 2004). Coulter expands her criticism well beyond Reid, to accuse African-American columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times of being a “black liberal” whose criticism of black conservatives is, in her view, racially motivated, and accuses white Times media critic Caryn James of “launching racist attacks on black conservatives” (Coulter mistakenly identifies James as African-American). Coulter begins by referring to comments by the recently deceased Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “a brillant and compelling extremist” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) “Scalia’s puppet.” According to Coulter, McGrory’s statement “is the kind of rhetoric liberals are reduced to when they just can’t bring themselves to use the N-word.” Referring to Reid’s characterization of Thomas as the author of “poorly written” Court opinions, Coulter writes, “You’d think Thomas’ opinions were written in ebonics.” She concludes by calling Herbert and James “Uncle Toms.” The same evening, Coulter continues her attacks on Fox News, appearing as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast. According to Coulter, liberals “feel like they have blacks on the plantation, they can say whatever they like. And, interestingly, you don’t even hear Hispanic conservatives attacked in the same way that people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are, and—and, I mean, just look at it. Look at what the Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate said this weekend. He praises Scalia as ‘Oh, he’s one smart guy, and his opinions, can’t dispute the logic, though I disagree with them,’ and then he says of Clarence Thomas ‘He’s an embarrassment. His opinions—they’re just poorly written.’” O’Reilly agrees, saying that Democrats who try to “demean people with whom [they] disagree with politically” are “loathsome.” Coulter says that Democrats are “enraged” about the 2004 elections, and in response “they’re lashing out at the blacks.” (Ann Coulter 12/8/2009; Media Matters 12/10/2009)
In an article examining the history and impact of the Fairness Doctrine (see 1949 and 1959), progressive communications law expert Steve Rendell writes that since the doctrine’s repeal (see 1987 and 1988), there has been far less coverage of controversial public issues on the nation’s airwaves. The Media Access Project (MAP) says, “Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine we have had much less coverage of issues,” with television news and public affairs programming decreasing both locally and nationally. Twenty-five percent of broadcast stations offer no local news or public affairs programming at all. Rendell writes: “The most extreme change has been in the immense volume of unanswered conservative opinion heard on the airwaves, especially on talk radio. Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talkshow hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly, and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talkshows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative ‘Hot Talk’ format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else.” A lawyer in Oregon, Edward Monks, found that his local stations broadcast 80 hours per week of Republican and conservative talk, and none whatsoever of Democratic or liberal/progressive talk. Monks wrote: “Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced, or democratic about it.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written, “The FCC [Federal Communications Commission]‘s pro-industry, anti-regulatory philosophy has effectively ended the right of access to broadcast television by any but the moneyed interests.” Rendell concludes that the nation “need[s] a Fairness Doctrine. It’s not a universal solution. It’s not a substitute for reform or for diversity of ownership. It’s simply a mechanism to address the most extreme kinds of broadcast abuse.” (Rendell 2/12/2005)
Three days before a group of military analysts are taken to Guantanamo by the Pentagon for an orchestrated “tour” (see June 24-25, 2005), one planning e-mail from Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence gives weight to the belief that the tour was arranged to prepare the analysts to deliver scripted talking points before the cameras (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Lawrence notes the importance of scheduling the Guantanamo trip to ensure that an analyst for the American Spectator, Jed Babbin, can participate: “He is hosting a number of radio shows this summer. I would have to think he would have every member of Congress on to talk about their trip together—a definite plus for us looking to expand the echo chamber.” Babbin will respond with a Spectator article lambasting Democratic critics of Guantanamo, and will be given an invitation to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News talk show. Pentagon public relations official Lawrence Di Rita is quite pleased by Babbin’s work, and in an e-mail to other Pentagon officials, says: “We really should try to help [Babbin]. He is consistently solid and helpful.” (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
Fourteen Marines die in Iraq. Hours after their deaths, William Cowan, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) who has grown increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call the Pentagon’s “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, telephones the Pentagon to advise officials that his upcoming comments on Fox “may not all be friendly.” He is then given a private briefing, quickly arranged by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s senior aides. But Cowan then tells Fox host Bill O’Reilly that it has been “a bad week” in Iraq, that many military officials he has talked to were “expressing a lot of dismay and disappointment at the way things are going,” and the US is “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq. The repercussions are almost immediate. According to Cowan, he is “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” Cowan later recalls: “Suddenly, boom, I never got another telephone call, I never got another e-mail from them.… I was just booted off the group. I was fired.” Cowan will say that he and other analysts were given special access only “as long as they thought I was serving their purposes.… I drink nobody’s Kool-Aid.” The next day, the other analysts take part in a conference call with General James Conway, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he urges them not to let the Marines’ deaths erode support for the war. Conway is blunt, saying directly that the US citizenry is the main target of Pentagon propaganda. “The strategic target remains our population,” he tells them. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.” An analyst chimes in, “General, I just made that point on the air.” Conway says, “Let’s work it together, guys.” (Barstow 4/20/2008; Kurtz 4/21/2008)
TV personality Rosie O’Donnell is heavily criticized after she raises questions about the 9/11 attacks and who was responsible for them. On ABC’s popular morning show The View, which she co-hosts, O’Donnell suggests that a recent confession by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, where he’d admitted responsibility for 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, was false and had been elicited by using torture. (WorldNetDaily 3/15/2007; Gibson 3/16/2007) In a March 15 posting on her Internet blog, she raises questions about World Trade Center Building 7, which collapsed late in the afternoon of 9/11, such as, “The fires in WTC 7 were not evenly distributed, so a perfect collapse was impossible,” and, “Molten steel and partially evaporated steel members were found in the debris.” She lists various official records that were supposedly destroyed when WTC 7 collapsed, including records of investigations of Enron and other companies. (WorldNetDaily 3/19/2007) Two weeks later, she says on The View, “I do believe… it is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved, World Trade Center 7.” Asked who she thinks was responsible, she replies, “I have no idea.” (Adubato 4/5/2007) O’Donnell is subsequently fiercely attacked by some commentators. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly accuses her of “spitting out the worst propaganda that is fed to [her] by far-left American haters on the net.” (Fox News 3/30/2007) MSNBC’s conservative host Joe Scarborough calls for her to be fired. Jonah Goldberg writes in the Los Angeles Times that O’Donnell “seems to think that [The View] is the perfect venue to audition as grand marshal for the next tinfoil hat parade.” (Goldberg 4/3/2007; Elfman 4/10/2007) At the end of April, O’Donnell announces she is leaving The View, reportedly because she has been unable to come up with a contractual agreement with ABC. (Nista 4/25/2007) She plans to address the collapse of WTC 7 in a special segment of the show before departing. (Nizza 5/16/2007) She also reportedly books the producers of the popular 9/11 conspiracy documentary Loose Change (see April 2005-January 2006) to appear on The View. (Johnson, Froelich, and Hoffman 5/27/2007) But neither of these plans transpires, and she last appears on the show late in May. (Bauder 5/25/2007) Brian Frons, the president of ABC’s daytime television group, says in a statement, “We had hoped that Rosie would be with us until the end of her contract three weeks from now, but Rosie has informed us that she would like an early leave.” (Fox News 5/25/2007; Steinberg 5/26/2007) In her defense, the Toronto Star writes that O’Donnell “had to go,” because she “messed up the pretty picture that the corporate media present.” (Zerbisias 5/1/2007)
On Fox News’s O’Reilly Factor, Christian activist and Republican strategist Christine O’Donnell says that scientists have succeeded in grafting functioning human brains onto mice. O’Donnell and medical researcher Dr. William Morrone are guests of host Bill O’Reilly, who discusses conservatives’ opposition to stem cell research. O’Reilly begins by noting that researchers in Oregon have succeeded in cloning monkey embryos, which he describes as the first step towards cloning human embryos for the harvesting of stem cells. Morrone favors cloning research because of “the pathology and… the pain” that people suffering from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments are forced to endure. Morrone is not in favor of cloning human embryos, but he is optimistic that cloning research might lead to new ways to harvest stem cells without destroying existing embryos. O’Donnell has a different view: she says that the Oregon researchers “proudly stated” their intention to clone human beings, and says that human cloning is the real, secretive goal of all such research. O’Reilly then states that human cloning is possible now: “They can clone humans now if they wanted to.… Everybody knows that scientists have enough knowledge to clone a human being if they wanted to,” a statement to which O’Donnell agrees. She then adds: “They are—they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they’re already into this experiment.” Morrone interjects, “That’s an exaggeration,” but his objections are overridden by O’Reilly asking him: “[D]o you understand her concern that there are people who are unethical who will do this kind of stuff for whatever reason? Do you understand her concern?” He gives O’Donnell the last word in his segment, and she concludes: “[I]t is inevitable. This really is about human cloning, about dignity versus commodity. And we already answered that question.” (Fox News 11/15/2007) O’Donnell’s assertions will receive little attention until almost three years later, when she wins the Republican primary for the US Senate in Delaware (see September 13, 2010) and the media begins recounting some of her less mainstream political and scientific views. That recounting will speculate that O’Donnell may be misremembering a 2005 report of scientists successfully growing human brain cells within mice; reporter Eric Kleefeld will write that it “is not the same as an actual functioning human brain, but a demonstration that human brain cells can be made from stem cells.” (Kleefeld 9/16/2007)
Fox News contributor John Kasich (R-OH), a former US representative and a current managing partner of the financial firm Lehman Brothers, announces that he intends to challenge Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) in the 2010 midterm elections. Basic journalist ethics require Fox News to terminate its contract with Kasich and treat him as a candidate for office in future broadcasts. Instead, Kasich remains a Fox News employee until June 1, 2009, when he formally launches his bid for governor of Ohio. He regularly promotes his candidacy on Fox broadcasts, most often on the highly rated O’Reilly Factor, where he is a frequent guest and sometime guest host. Fox News commentators frequently laud Kasich; on June 17, 2008, Republican political analyst and paid Fox contributor Frank Luntz says he is “hoping that Kasich runs for governor of Ohio. I think John would be an outstanding candidate.” On July 15, 2008, talk show host Sean Hannity tells Kasich: “I’m advocating that you run for governor one day. And you’re not.… You’re not going along at all.” Kasich will continue to appear as a regular guest on Fox News programming after he formally launches his bid and Fox terminates its contract with him. He will make frequent appearances on Hannity’s show, where Hannity calls him “governor” and “soon-to-be governor,” and holds a fundraiser for Kasich in October 2009. On The O’Reilly Factor, Fox will show the URL for Kasich’s campaign Web site. On July 8, 2009, Hannity will tell Kasich on air: “You do me a favor. Go get elected governor, although why you would ever want that job, you’re out of your mind, but good luck. And I’m supporting you in the effort.” Kasich will also receive two $10,000 contributions from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. (Columbus Dispatch 3/27/2008; Hananoki 9/24/2010) Kasich will narrowly defeat Strickland in the 2010 gubernatorial elections. (Associated Press 11/3/2010) After two months in office, his draconian budget cuts, insults to law enforcement officials and minorities, and heavy-handed attacks on unions will send his popularity plummeting and in April 2011 will spark a recall effort. (Somander 4/11/2011)
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and former Bush administration political director Karl Rove tell listeners that media journalists are “overstating” the current economic problems in order to help the incoming Obama administration. O’Reilly asks Rove, “All right, so you are agreeing with me then that there is a conscious effort on the part of the New York Times and other liberal media to basically paint as drastic a picture as possible, so that when Barack Obama takes office that anything is better than what we have now?” Rove’s response: “Yes.” O’Reilly says that the “plot” is to “blame everything on Bush for quite a long period of time.” Rove calls the economic reporting little more than “scare tactics.” O’Reilly concludes: “All I want is an honest press. I’m not hoping one way or the other.” Amanda Terkel of the Center for American Progress observes: “For years, in fact, the Bush administration has tried Rove and O’Reilly’s strategy of insisting that nothing is wrong. Although the United States has been in a recession since December 2007, the Bush administration has continued to insist that the economy was strong. The result? A government unprepared to deal with ‘the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.’” (Terkel 12/9/2008)
Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” (Conason 1/9/2009)
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says that he finds it “insulting” that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned with civilian casualties from US military strikes in his country. Karzai has criticized the US for a recent air strike that he says killed 16 Afghani civilians (see January 26, 2009). O’Reilly tells his listeners: “US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are risking their lives to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But President Karzai does not seem to get that. Once again, he has condemned American forces after a raid killed some civilians. In that raid, a top Taliban commander and some of his cronies were also killed, but apparently, Karzai doesn’t understand that in war, collateral damage is constantly present. US military is investigating the situation, but Check [a segment on O’Reilly’s show] believes Karzai is making a political grandstand play, and it is insulting. Without us, his head is on a stick.” (Powers 1/27/2009)
Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly writes an op-ed that claims, apparently sarcastically, that former Vice President Cheney would have had reporters assassinated if he really controlled a military assassination squad. Responding to the allegations by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that Cheney controlled an “executive assassination wing” (see March 10, 2009), O’Reilly writes: “The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House. I have but one simple observation: If Cheney really had such a crew, Hersh would have been dead a long time ago, and so would most everybody at MSNBC.” (O'Reilly 3/22/2009; Corley 3/22/2009)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, with former UN Ambassador John R. Bolton as his guest, says that the Obama administration is pushing for a “global currency.” The assertion is part of Beck’s larger claim that Obama wants to steer the US towards some sort of “one-world government.” Beck says: “Ambassador, everybody is calling for global currency. I think part of this is a game, but I think, also, part of it is a—I mean, now the UN is saying, you know what? We should have a global currency. It’s also a movement to tie the entire globe together into one big government. Am I wrong or right?” Beck adds later in the interview: “You’re known as a fighter. I mean, you are a guy in there, man, you were just taking the fight right to them. So, what does the average person do? I mean, the average person, they hear, you know, I might be losing my sovereignty.… What—who do—who’s on our side?” Bolton responds: “Well, you know, I think it’s important we understand what we mean by sovereignty. To Europeans and many left-wing intellectuals in this country, it’s just kind of an abstract concept that doesn’t mean much. But I think to most Americans, sovereignty means our control over our own government. It’s about self-government.” Beck later says: “Ambassador, when you say world government, it does sound nuts. And because everybody knows, nobody is for world government,” and Bolton responds: “That’s why they don’t call it world government anymore. And they’ll try and find these other phrases. But you have to look underneath of it. And it’s on a range of issues, not just the money supply, but gun control, the death penalty, abortion, all—global warming—all of which are issues we can and should debate in our—in our constitutional democratic framework. We don’t need to decide them internationally. But that’s what the agenda is of many people very close to the Obama administration.” (Media Matters 4/10/2009) Beck and Bolton are echoing claims made in the ‘90s and later by extremist militia groups, which warned that the US government intended to implement a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990) of a one-world government that would result in the confiscation of Americans’ guns, and a general replacement of democracy for tyranny (see 1994, January 1994, February 1995, July 4-11, 1997, October 20, 1999, April 14-15, 2009, January 21, 2010, and October 11, 2010), and that are echoed by Fox News pundits such as Glenn Beck (see March 17, 2009), Bill O’Reilly (see April 1-2, 2009), and others (see April 6, 2009).
Former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists, writes a Wall Street Journal op-ed that advocates a greater level of communication and cooperation between governments to address the global economic crisis. Rasmussen writes in part: “We must keep up the pressure by demanding a globalization that works for everyone, and forge new alliances and new lines of communication across national boundaries. We must develop new, progressive ways to achieve global justice.” He advocates the expansion of European “state health care, social housing, education, unemployment support, and other universal, tax-funded services” to “the developing world, where according to the World Health Organization between 200,000 and 400,000 additional children will die each year due to the global economic downturn.” He calls free-market capitalist ideology “simplistic” as “championed by Reagan, Thatcher, and their ideological heirs,” and a failure “on a momentous scale.” The next night, Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly attacks Rasmussen as advocating a Marxist solution, and espousing a “one-world” view. O’Reilly says: “Well, Karl Marx could not have said it better. Global justice requires that a one-world government seize private property and distribute it so that every human being has roughly the same amount of resources. The Denmark guy’s vision is nothing new, but it’s now being recycled as justice.” O’Reilly says that “[s]ome believe Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and President Obama himself are sympathetic to the one-world, global-justice view,” and concludes: “Key question: Where does Barack Obama stand? Are the right-wing pundits correct? Is he down with the global-justice jihad? There’s no hard evidence to suggest that he is, but he has not repudiated the false vision either. Until President Obama does, speculation will rage.” (Rasmussen 4/2/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009) O’Reilly is following recent, similar claims by Fox News guest Alex Jones (see March 18, 2009), Fox host Glenn Beck and his guests (see March 17, 2009 and March 24, 2009), and Fox News contributor Charles Payne (see March 24, 2009).
Dr. George Tiller, one of the handful of doctors in the USA willing to perform late-term abortions, is shot to death while attending services at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The 67-year-old doctor is slain in front of several witnesses by a single assailant in the foyer of his church while serving as an usher at about 10 a.m. Law enforcement officials say they believe the murder is “the act of an isolated individual,” but add that they are also looking into the suspected assailant’s “history, his family, his associates.” (Smith 5/31/2009; Stumpe and Davey 5/31/2009) Tiller’s murderer is eventually identified as anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder (see May 31, 2009).
Murder Caps Off Years of Violence, Harassment - Tiller’s murder comes after repeated harassment and violence against him, his clinic, and his patients. In 1986, the clinic was bombed, causing serious damage. In 1991, 2,000 protesters outside the clinic were arrested over the course of the summer. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms outside the clinic (see August 19, 1993). During a trial for performing illegal abortions, in which he was acquitted (see March 27, 2009), Tiller testified that he had spent years under the protection of federal agents after the FBI learned in 1994 that he was a top target on an anti-abortionist assassination list. (Agence France-Presse 5/31/2009) In recent months, Tiller had been targeted by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly referred to him as “Tiller the Killer.” Tiller’s clinic was defaced with a poster titled “Auschwichita,” that claimed Tiller was like Hitler because he espoused Christianity just as Hitler did. The poster also used the term “Tiller the Killer,” and called Tiller an “equal opportunity executioner.” (Sarah Jones 10/20/2010)
Responses from Family, President, Activists - Responding to Tiller’s murder, President Obama tells the nation, “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence” (see May 31, 2009). Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), says his organization has always sought “nonviolent” measures to challenge Tiller, including efforts in recent years to have him prosecuted for crimes or investigated by state health authorities. “Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, nonviolent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Newman says. “We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.” Newman says that Roeder may have posted on OR-hosted Web sites, but says of the suspect, “He is not a friend, not a contributor, not a volunteer.” The media will quickly unearth deeper ties between OR and Roeder than Newman initially acknowledges (see May 31, 2009). In a statement, the Tiller family says: “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father, and grandfather, and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.” (Stumpe and Davey 5/31/2009)
Progressive author and blogger David Neiwert compiles three years of video evidence that he says proves Fox News host Bill O’Reilly helped target murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). Since 2006, Neiwert writes, O’Reilly has targeted the man he called “Tiller the Killer” in recurrent episodes of his Fox television show, The O’Reilly Factor, and on his radio show, accusing Tiller of “executing babies” and recommending that “something” be done to stop Tiller from continuing his practice. In November 2006, O’Reilly told his audience: “If we as a society allow an undefined mental health exception in late-term abortions, then babies can be killed for almost any reason.… This is the kind of stuff that happened in Mao’s China and Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.… If we allow this, America will no longer be a noble nation.… If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue, we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody. What Tiller is doing is that bad.” In the same broadcast, he said: “I don’t care what you think. We have incontrovertible evidence that this man is executing babies about to be born because the woman is depressed… if you don’t believe me, I don’t care.… You are okay with Dr. Tiller executing babies about to be born because the mother says she’s depressed.” O’Reilly claimed that Tiller was a criminal and told his audience, “George Tiller will execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed.” O’Reilly has urged “massive” protests at Tiller’s clinic, once in January 2006, when he said, “There should be thousands of people protesting outside Tiller’s abortion clinic in Wichita.” According to Neiwert, the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), which regularly prints O’Reilly’s articles in its newsletter, answered O’Reilly’s call, and O’Reilly used information from Operation Rescue to further lambast Tiller on his shows. In May 2007, O’Reilly described Tiller with the following diatribe: “killer, murder, murderer, barbarian, barbaric procedure, disgrace.” Neiwert writes that O’Reilly is not legally culpable for Tiller’s murder, but he is “morally and ethically culpable.” (Neiwert 6/1/2009; Salon 6/1/2009)
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly provides harsh criticism towards CNN talk show host Lou Dobbs for promoting the “birther” conspiracy theory, which claims that President Obama is not a US citizen (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, and December 3, 2008). O’Reilly says he and his staff have investigated the claims and found them groundless. He questions Dobbs’s choice to continue promoting the idea on his show, but in an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Richard Cohen, defends Dobbs’s right to make the statements. O’Reilly says: “That theory has been around for a while. The Factor [O’Reilly’s talk show The O’Reilly Factor] investigated, found out it’s bogus. But Mr. Dobbs is still engaged.… Again, we found out that President Obama was born in Hawaii… we were sent the documents. And what are you gonna do? I don’t know why it’s still around.” When Cohen says that CNN should remove Dobbs from the airwaves, O’Reilly disagrees, saying: “Why are you guys overreacting?… It’s not true. Mr. Dobbs is, is trying to get ratings, trying to be provocative.” Cohen calls O’Reilly’s explanation a “poor excuse” and accuses Dobbs of “trading in right-wing baseless conspiracies for years.” (Huffington Post 7/27/2009)
Six people, including a local reporter, are arrested outside a public forum called by Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO) at a middle school gymnasium outside of St. Louis. The forum, planned to allow constituents to discuss aging issues with Carnahan, quickly becomes contentious, with an overflow crowd denied entrance to the gymnasium and left to protest and wave signs in the parking lot. Many of the protesters are from a local anti-tax and anti-health care reform “tea party” organization. Local Democratic organizations counter with their supporters.
Altercations in Parking Lot - Verbal, and later physical, altercations erupt between reform supporters and opponents. Six people are arrested outside the gym, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman, for interference after he refuses to stop taking pictures of the altercations. One of those arrested, reform supporter Brian Matthews, calls the situation outside the gym “a bull rush,” and adds, “It all came from behind.” After the forum, Matthews and a friend, Javonne Spitz, attempt to photograph a man who appears as if he has been assaulted. The police object, and, as Matthews tells it, several officers “charge” them “from behind.” The police push Matthews to the ground and arrest him for interference; Spitz is pepper-sprayed “after she was subdued by the police,” Matthews says, causing her to vomit as they are taken into custody. A woman is arrested for assault and destruction of property for pushing a woman who is recording the events on her cell phone, then taking the phone from her and breaking it. A man is arrested for refusing to leave a circle of people surrounding Matthews’s pepper-sprayed friend. A police spokesman later says: “You’ve got to understand—we’re at a very volatile situation, we’ve got 800 people and we’ve got to maintain order. [The police] did what they had to do.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009; Thorsen 8/7/2009)
Kenneth Gladney - Conservative activist Kenneth Gladney claims to have been attacked by several of those arrested as he attempts to hand out yellow flags with “Don’t Tread on Me” printed on them; police later confirm that two men were arrested for assaulting someone attempting to hand out flags and fliers. A reporter interviews Gladney as he awaits treatment at a local emergency room for injuries he says he suffered to his knee, back, shoulder, elbow, and face. Gladney, an African-American, says one of his assailants used a racial slur against him. “It just seems there’s no freedom of speech without being attacked,” he says. Gladney later affirms that he had been hired by the St. Louis Tea Party organization to hand out flags, and adds, “I was attacked for something I believe in.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009; Thorsen 8/7/2009) He appears on several conservative TV and radio shows, including those hosted by Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly, where he tells his interviewers that he was punched in the face by three different people and kicked by a fourth. Unfortunately for his claim, he appears in perfect health on the broadcasts, with no indication of swelling or bruising. (Daily Kos 8/8/2009) Tim Tagaris, the new media director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), later sends an e-mail and links to photos taken during the altercation which contradict Gladney’s tale. According to Tagaris, the photos show an SEIU member getting off the ground holding his shoulder. Gladney is identified as an African-American male in a khaki (or gray) shirt “walking around just fine after the altercation.” Tagaris says it is only after he begins appearing on talk shows that he takes to a wheelchair (see August 8, 2009). (Daily Kos 8/9/2009)
Loud Attempts to Protest Health Care Reform - Inside the gym, protesters attempt to turn the discussion from the topic of the elderly to health care, an issue they apparently wish to shout down. “This isn’t even close to civil,” one audience member says after the forum. “The rudeness was beyond compare.” An elderly audience member calls the forum “a complete waste of time.” After the meeting, Carnahan says: “Sadly we’ve seen stories about disrupters around the country, and we have a handful of them here in Missouri. Instead of participating in a civil debate, they have mobilized with special interests in Washington who have lined their pockets by overcharging Americans for a broken health care system.” (Thorsen 8/7/2009) The next day, Carnahan says: “Sadly, they got out of control on both sides. That’s not helpful, and I condemn that activity.… Let’s have a spirited debate, a debate worthy of our country.” A member of the St. Louis Tea Party who attended another forum, local radio show host Dana Loesch, says: “Last night, it was a whole different scene. That’s not what this should be about.” Defending her colleagues, she adds: “I can’t blame them for being frustrated, but there are ways to handle this without calling these people mobs. This isn’t an angry mob.” SEIU spokeswoman Ramona Oliver says her union has no intention of confronting angry protesters. “The members didn’t come to talk to the angry mob outside, they came to talk to the congresspeople inside,” she says. “All our members want is to have a civil discussion. There is no campaign to confront the tea baggers.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009)
Anti-health care reform protesters hold a rally in Mehlville, Missouri, to protest what they say was the beating of fellow protester Kenneth Gladney by “union thugs” (see August 6-8, 2009). Gladney is prominently featured in the protest, sitting in a wheelchair with his knee bandaged and holding a flag emblazoned with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.” Gladney says he was beaten by a number of members of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU says that Gladney is inflating the confrontation, and that he initiated the fight. Gladney has become a cause celebre among conservative anti-reformists, with talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, among others, telling his story to their listeners. “Limbaugh gave the address” of the SEIU offices, one protester says. “This is just a demonstration of numbers.” Gladney’s lawyer, David Brown, reads a statement to the crowd of around 200 people, saying on Gladney’s behalf: “A few nights ago there was an assault on my liberty, and on yours, too. This should never happen in this country.” Brown then tells the crowd that Gladney is unemployed and has no health care insurance, and is accepting donations towards his care. Brown would not elaborate as to what, if any, legal strategies he and his client are planning. (Gustin 8/9/2009)
Inflating the Story - Gladney’s story has taken on new details as he has retold it to a variety of conservative talk show hosts and to Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard. In its latest iteration, he was mauled by a number of SEIU “thugs” who drove him to the ground and “brutally” beat him while screaming racial epithets. Three of his assailants, he says, were wearing SEIU shirts. Unfortunately for his story, the video uploaded to YouTube which Ham says proves his story actually shows something quite different. The injured party in the video is clearly identifiable as an SEIU member. Gladney is pulled to the ground by another SEIU member, but no one punches or kicks him; instead, he bounces to his feet and walks off camera. Media Matters reporter Eric Boehlert writes: “The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who’s seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his ‘knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.’ All that from a two-second fall to the pavement? Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.” (Boehlert 8/8/2009; Ham 8/8/2009)
Lied about Health Insurance - Days later, other elements of Gladney’s story will change. Brown will confirm that he can no longer represent Gladney because he was involved in the altercation as a “witness” and therefore cannot be involved in any legal proceedings on Gladney’s behalf. Brown will also confirm that Gladney’s claim not to have health care insurance is “misinformation.” Brown will say, “He’s just unemployed [and] has insurance through his wife.” Brown has identified himself as a “friend” of Gladney’s, but is unsure what kind of job Gladney had before his alleged layoff, and is not sure what Gladney’s wife does for a living, either. St. Louis Tea Party organizer Bill Hennessy confirms that Gladney is still soliciting donations to help him pay for his injuries, even though he has insurance: “Well, who doesn’t need a donation? If people want to give him a donation because he’s injured and unemployed, that’s up to them.” Brown says Gladney has raised about $1,100 in donations so far. Reporter Daphne Eviatar confirms that Gladney appears uninjured in the video, and only began appearing in a wheelchair after landing interviews on Fox News. Brown says his brother, Andrew Beeny, will represent Gladney, and that neither he nor Beeny have copies of Gladney’s medical report. Brown says Gladney intends to sue both the individuals who he claims attacked him and the SEIU, since “unions have a 100-year history of intimidation.” (Eviatar 8/10/2009)
White House communications director Anita Dunn says that the White House believes Fox News is not a traditional, non-partisan news provider, but a media outlet for the Republican opposition. Fox News is “a wing of the Republican Party,” Dunn says. “They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.” Dunn continues: “[W]e’re not going to legitimize them as a news organization.… We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Fox News 10/12/2009) In late September, Dunn told a reporter: “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.” (Scherer 9/30/2009) Fox News retorts that its news reporting segments, which its vice president Michael Clemente defines as being broadcast between “9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays,” are non-partisan, and criticism of the White House and Congressional Democrats is limited to commentary by on-air personalities such as Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (see October 13, 2009). “The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page,” Clemente says, and adds that the White House is intentionally conflating Fox’s news programs with its opinion shows: “It’s astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part.… Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality. Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about.” Another Fox News vice president, Bill Shine, welcomes the criticism, saying, “Every time they do it, our ratings go up.” Fox News has recently hired more outspoken conservative media figures, including former ABC News reporter John Stossel for its spin-off channel, Fox Business, and is reputedly negotiating to hire commentator Lou Dobbs away from CNN. Dunn and others say that it will not ostracize Fox News, and its White House correspondent, Major Garrett, will continue to be welcome at White House press conferences. Clemente has instructed Garrett, news anchor Shepard Smith, and other Fox reporters not to appear on some of its commentary programs. However, the White House has limited appearances by its members on Fox News shows; in mid-September, when President Obama made the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows, he skipped Fox, and the White House called Fox an “ideological outlet” instead of a legitimate news provider (see September 18-19, 2009). White House advisers note that in the past, Fox News hosts have falsely accused Obama of attending an Islamic “madrassa” to receive indoctrination in radical Islam (see January 22-24, 2008), promoted “tea party” rallies against the government (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, and August 28, 2009), called Obama “unpatriotic” for attempting to land the 2016 Olympics for the US (see October 2, 2009), and led a push to force low-level White House adviser Van Jones out of his job (including accusations from Beck that Jones was a “communist-anarchist radical”). The White House notes that Beck and other Fox commentators regularly lie about the day’s events, and cites a recent example where Beck complained that Garrett was “never called on” at White House press briefings, when Garrett had asked a question of the president that same day. Beck has repeatedly called Obama a “racist,” leading to a boycott of advertisers for Beck’s show (see July 28-29, 2009). (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Ariens 10/11/2009) Fox News encourages and promotes the dispute with the White House, and its ratings improve. Later, a Fox News executive tells Clemente that the White House’s attacks were like “a hanging curveball” for the network. (Sherman 5/22/2011)
According to an analysis by the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Fox News has become the place for eight former Bush administration officials and other Republican lawmakers, strategists, and future presidential candidates to espouse their views (see October 13, 2009). Media Matters says “[a] revolving door exists between the Republican Party and Fox News Channel… further demonstrating that Fox is effectively a conservative political organization and not a legitimate news outlet.” Media Matters analyzed Fox News broadcasts aired between September 1 and mid-October.
Karl Rove - The former deputy chief of staff of the Bush White House, Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s chief political adviser, is now labeled as a political adviser and commentator for Fox. He appears, on average, twice a week, usually on prime-time programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.
Dana Perino - Formerly the White House press secretary, Dana Perino is now a frequent contributor and analyst for Fox, and writes a column for Fox Forum. Perino appears most often on Hannity’s show, though she has made several appearances on Fox Business Channel.
John Bolton - The former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton is now a regular Fox contributor and analyst.
Mike Huckabee - Mike Huckabee, the ex-governor of Arkansas and dark-horse presidential candidate in 2008 has his own show, Huckabee, on Fox. Frequently, Huckabee directs viewers to “go to balancecutsave.com,” which redirects visitors to a Web page soliciting donations for his political action committee, which financially supports Republican candidates and also pays his daughter’s salary.
Newt Gingrich - Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the House and a possible presidential candidate in 2012. He has been a regular on Fox since singing a contract with the network in 1999 after resigning from the House in disgrace.
John Kasich - Formerly a Republican House member from Ohio and now a candidate for governor of Ohio, John Kasich used to host a show on Fox, Heartland with John Kasich. He is a regular contributor and commentator on several Fox prime-time broadcasts.
Dick Morris - A Republican who once crossed party lines to advise then-President Clinton, Dick Morris is a frequent guest on Fox, appearing at least 20 times since September 1, usually on shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, or Greta Van Susteren. During the 2008 election cycle, Morris repeatedly urged viewers to donate to an anti-Obama political action committee, without divulging that the PAC had paid a firm connected to him. Morris also uses his Fox appearances to raise funds for a conservative group of which he is chief strategist.
Frank Luntz - Frank Luntz, a GOP strategist and pollster, regularly appears on Fox shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, who asked Luntz to instruct his audience on the signs “the tea party people should be carrying.” (Media Matters 10/26/2009)
Conservative author Jonathan Kay covers the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee (see February 4-6, 2010), and publishes a column that states: “[I]t has become clear to me that the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It’s more John Birch than John Adams.” Kay, who is writing a book on alternative theories about the 9/11 attacks, is astonished at the breadth and depth of the conspiracy theories that many tea parties, and tea party organizations, seem to embrace. The “villain list,” as Kay calls it, includes banks; bailed-out corporations; Republican Party leaders such as RNC chairman Michael Steele, whom they feel ignore the tea parties; colleges and universities; CNN’s Anderson Cooper; Fox News pundits like Bill O’Reilly who scorn them; “big media” outlets such as the Washington Post; and even moviemakers like James Cameron, who make movies that they feel contain “hidden messages” to fool Americans into supporting gay rights, cuts in military spending, and the like. The central figure in their net of conspiracy theories, Kay writes, is Barack Obama (see May 7, 2010). The convention is opened by anti-environmentalist Steve Malloy, who accuses Obama and his administration of working to control every aspect of Americans’ lives, from the colors of their cars to the temperatures to which they set their home heating units, all to comply with what Malloy says is the United Nations’s greenhouse gas-reduction program. According to Malloy: “Obama isn’t a US socialist. He’s an international socialist. He envisions a one-world government.” Kay is particularly concerned that, based on what he hears at the convention, the tea parties are affiliating themselves with far-right, white supremacist ideology such as that espoused by the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). They seem particularly enamored of the “New World Order” conspiracy (see September 11, 1990, November 5, 2008, March 17, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 24, 2009, and April 6, 2009). A convention speaker, former judge Roy Moore, tells his listeners that Obama intends to station “a UN guard in every house[hold].” Radio host Alex Jones is a favorite among tea partiers, Kay writes; Jones claims that Obama’s presidency is a plot by the leaders of the New World Order to “con the Amercican people into accepting global slavery.” One conventioneer tells Kay that Washington liberals “engineered the financial crash so they could destroy the value of the US dollar, pay off America’s debts with worthless paper, and then create a new currency called the Amero that would be used in a newly created ‘North American Currency Union’ with Canada and Mexico.” Shortly thereafter, the convention shows a “documentary” entitled Generation Zero that makes similar claims. The claims that Obama is a Kenyan who is ineligible to be president is a favorite theory, Kay writes; WorldNetDaily publisher Joseph Farah (see August 1, 2008 and After, December 5, 2008, May 28, 2009, July 21, 2009, and August 1-4, 2009) tells the crowd that the circumstances of Obama’s birth are more mysterious than the birth of Jesus Christ, and says, “My dream is that if Barack Obama seeks reelection in 2012 that he won’t be able to go to any city, any city, any town in America without seeing signs that ask, ‘Where’s the birth certificate?’” (see May 18, 2009). Kay concludes: “Perhaps the most distressing part of all is that few media observers bothered to catalog these bizarre, conspiracist outbursts, and instead fixated on Sarah Palin’s Saturday night keynote address. It is as if, in the current overheated political atmosphere, we all simply have come to expect that radicalized conservatives will behave like unhinged paranoiacs when they collect in the same room. That doesn’t say much for the state of the right in America. The tea partiers’ tricornered hat is supposed to be a symbol of patriotism and constitutional first principles. But when you take a closer look, all you find is a helmet made of tin foil.” (National Tea Party Convention 2/2010; Kay 2/8/2010)
Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel goes on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor to defend his recent call to repeal a key element of the Civil Rights Act (see May 20-22, 2010). (Media Matters 5/25/2010) The 1964 Civil Rights Act, signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits discrimination in public places, provides for the integration of public schools and other public facilities, and makes employment discrimination illegal (see July 2, 1964). (Media Matters 9/7/2010; National Archives 2011) Host Bill O’Reilly is less than sympathetic to Stossel’s call for repeal, noting that one function of government is to protect its citizens, and this includes protecting them from discrimination, even at the hands of private businesses, which Stossel says should not be covered under the law. It is up to the government, O’Reilly says, to ensure every citizen’s “quality of life.” Stossel says he is a libertarian, and like most libertarians, he wants government to protect him from those who would physically hurt him, steal from him, and so forth. “But we want government out of our private lives,” he says, and to expect government to step in to “make life fair” is “an awful idea.” O’Reilly counters that the Declaration of Independence guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and discrimination denies targeted minorities that “pursuit of happiness.” Stossel, as he did earlier, insists that private businesses rarely if ever practice discrimination in this day and age, and those that do are quickly punished by “market forces”—customers refusing to patronize those businesses, for example. O’Reilly is adamant, saying, “I feel very strongly, if it’s open to the public, then the public has to be” allowed access. (Media Matters 5/25/2010)
Republican pundit Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, discusses the recent primary victory of US Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE—see September 13, 2010) with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Palin advises O’Donnell to use Fox News, and only Fox, to get her message out. O’Reilly notes that GOP strategist Karl Rove, who has been critical of O’Donnell’s candidacy, has said O’Donnell is unprepared to talk to moderate voters about her often-extremist positions, and thusly, her staff has been reluctant to appear on news programs such as his O’Reilly Factor. Palin says this is the wrong course, and compares O’Donnell’s campaign to her own 2008 campaign for vice president when her advisers told her to stay away from the media. “She’s going to have to learn very quickly to dismiss what her handlers want,” Palin says. “Go with her gut, get out there speak to the American people, speak through Fox News.” (Gibson 9/16/2010) Shortly thereafter, O’Donnell cancels a scheduled appearance on the September 19 edition of CBS’s Face the Nation, with no explanation. “They just emailed us and said she needed to cancel,” says the show’s executive producer, Mary Hager. Politico’s Ben Smith speculates that O’Donnell “may now be heeding the advice bestowed earlier this week by Sarah Palin: ‘Speak through Fox.’” Smith also notes that O’Donnell has drawn fire for her extreme comments on a variety of subjects, from condom use to her stated belief that scientists have inserted human brains into mice (see November 15, 2007). (Smith 9/16/2010)
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes negotiates the departure of one of his network’s most influential stars, talk show host Glenn Beck. Beck’s departure has been predicted by outside observers for weeks; as for Beck, he has already told Ailes, “I don’t want to do cable news anymore.” Beck has been with Fox News since October 2008, when he was hired to fill the 5:00 p.m. slot that had unsuccessfully been hosted by other conservatives such as John Gibson and Laura Ingraham. He debuted the day before President Obama’s January 2009 inauguration (see January 20-21, 2009). New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman will write that Ailes hired Beck “to reenergize Fox’s audience after Obama’s election.” (In January 2009, Ailes told Beck that Fox News’s primary mission was to oppose Obama, and that Beck was a major part of that effort—see January 2009 and August 11, 2009.) Beck has been hugely successful (see March 29, 2009), “tapping deep wells of resentment and igniting them into a vast, national conflagration,” as Sherman will write. However: “The problem was that it had almost engulfed Fox itself. Beck was huge and uncontrollable, and some of Fox’s other big names seemed diminished by comparison—and were speaking up about it. Beck seemed to many to be Fox News’s id made visible, saying things—Obama is a racist (see July 27, 2009 and July 28-29, 2009), Nazi tactics are progressive tactics (see July 26, 2010 and October 3, 2010)—dredged from the right-wing subconscious. These were things that weren’t supposed to be said, even at Fox (see February 20, 2009 and March 9, 2009), and they were consuming the brand. Ailes had built his career by artfully tending the emotional undercurrents of both politics and entertainment, using them to power ratings and political careers; now they were out of his control.” Beck’s show has suffered a steep drop in ratings because of an effective boycott led by a number of progressive and civil rights groups; over 400 Fox advertisers pulled their commercials from Beck’s show. Beck has become a divisive figure among other Fox hosts, with Sean Hannity complaining about his “stardom” and Bill O’Reilly, who detests Hannity, regularly scheduling Beck as a guest on his show, further angering Hannity. And Ailes is increasingly uncomfortable with the religious content of Beck’s show (at times Beck has told his viewers that God is speaking to them through him). Beck and Ailes agree that Beck will give up his 5:00 p.m. show and return for a number of network “specials.” The talks between Beck and Ailes are not without acrimony; at one point, Ailes tells a Fox executive, “I’m just going to fire him and issue a press release.” When the network announces the departure on April 6, Beck and other Fox spokespersons are careful to avoid any sort of “public meltdown,” and ensure the avoidance of what Ailes fears most: what Sherman calls the view of “Beck’s departure… as a victory for the liberal media.” Ailes tells reporters: “We felt Glenn brought additional information, a unique perspective, a certain amount of passion and insight to the channel and he did. But that story of what’s going on and why America is in trouble today, I think he told that story as well as could be told. Whether you can just keep telling that story or not… we’re not so sure.” David Brock, founder of the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters, says “the only surprise is that it took Fox News months to reach this decision.” And James Rucker, the chairman of ColorofChange.org, the organization behind the advertiser boycott, says, “Fox News Channel clearly understands that Beck’s increasingly erratic behavior is a liability to their ratings and their bottom line, and we are glad to see them take this action.” Beck is expected to continue his daily AM radio show and to engage in other media activities in the future. New Republic reporter James Downie observes, “In recent months, it seems, Beck’s theories became so outlandish that even conservatives—both viewers and media personalities—were having a hard time stomaching them.” Downie notes that as Beck’s show continued, Beck became caught in what he calls a “vicious circle,” having to “top himself” from week to week with ever more intricate and outlandish conspiracy theories, and more extremist rhetoric. (Bauder 4/6/2011; Feldmann 4/6/2011; Sherman 5/22/2011) In his own explanation for his departure, Beck compares himself to Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, saying: “When I took this job I didn’t take it because it was going to be a career for me. Paul Revere did not get up on the horse and say, ‘I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.’ He didn’t do it. He got off the horse at some point and fought in the Revolution and then he went back to silversmithing.” (Shahid 4/7/2011)
Fox Nation, the online blog of Fox News, promotes Donald Trump’s recent claims that President Obama is not a US citizen and may not be a Christian (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, and March 28-29, 2011). Fox Nation publishes a story with the headline “Trump on Obama: ‘Maybe He’s a Muslim.’” The story excerpts a recent interview of Trump by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, who said Trump “hammer[ed] the birth certificate” during a recent appearance on the ABC morning talk show The View. O’Reilly says his own investigative staffers determined that two birth announcements placed in Honolulu newspapers the week of Obama’s birth proved to his satisfaction that Obama was indeed born in the US and therefore is a US citizen (see July 2008). “There couldn’t have been a sophisticated—what is he, Baby Jesus?—there was a sophisticated conspiracy to smuggle this baby back into the country? So I just dismissed it. But you made a big deal of it.” Trump explains that those announcements could have been planted by Obama supporters bent on fraud, and even claims, “I have never seen” a birth announcement in a newspaper. “Really?” O’Reilly responds. “They are common.… But why is this important to you?” Trump says that because he doubts Obama is a citizen, Obama’s status as president is doubtful. He goes on to defend “birthers” as “just really quality people that just want the truth,” and lambasts media figures who make “birthers” “afraid to talk about this subject. They are afraid to confront you or anybody about this subject.” He concludes: “People have birth certificates. He doesn’t have a birth certificate (see June 13, 2008). He may have one but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or he may not have one. But I will tell you this. If he wasn’t born in this country, it’s one of the great scams of all time.” (Media Matters 3/30/2011; Fox Nation 3/30/2011) O’Reilly has been critical of the so-called “birthers” before (see July 29, 2009).
Fox News anchor Monica Crowley, a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor, explains why so many people give credence to the “birther” theory that President Obama is not an American citizen, saying: “Listen, if the president is sitting in the White House wondering why the birth certificate issue still has traction, why some of these other issues about his origins and his background have traction, it’s not about those issues per se, though. It’s about the fact that he continues to do things… that are not ‘anti-American,’ they’re ‘un-American.’ His policies—” O’Reilly interjects, “I wouldn’t go that far.” Guest Alan Colmes calls her characterization “really disgusting. It’s really reprehensible that you would go there.… It’s really reprehensible that you would say ‘un-American,’ really reprehensible.” Crowley insists that “her distinction” between “anti-American” and “un-American” has meaning. Obama’s policies on what she calls “wealth redistribution,” on “Obamacare,” and on “expanding the welfare state” are what she says “all feeds into this idea that somehow, fair or not, Obama is not one of us.” O’Reilly concludes the segment by accusing Obama of exhibiting “poor judgment.” Colmes invites Republicans to keep pushing the idea that Obama is “not one of us,” saying that to do so will have them “lose every election.” (Media Matters 4/26/2011)
Conservative author and pundit Ann Coulter, in an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, says that the entire “birther” controversy is the fault of President Obama and MSNBC. Obama released his “long form” birth certificate earlier in the day, in an attempt to settle the “controversy” once and for all (see April 27, 2011). Some right-wing opponents have fueled the idea that Obama is not a “true” American citizen since the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign (see July 20, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, Around June 28, 2010, January 18, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 27-28, 2011, March 28, 2011, April 5, 2011, and April 27, 2011). “[W]e were right, they were wrong,” Coulter says, meaning that the conservative establishment has, in her view, consistently denounced “birtherism” as a distraction and a non-issue. She correctly notes that the controversy began among a small cadre of angry Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 Democratic primary, and goes on to say: “And then I think it was a lot of liberals who were pretending to be conservatives or, on MSNBC.… But MSNBC, there’s nothing secret about MSNBC. They cover it approximately 55 minutes of every hour. And, yeah, you didn’t hear anything about it at all on Fox News, so they were the ones promoting it, because it made conservatives look crazy.” Fox News has often promoted “birther” viewpoints on a variety of its news and opinion shows (see April 27, 2011). O’Reilly, who has kept his distance from the “birther” controversy (see July 29, 2009 and April 26, 2011), says that many people hate Obama so intensely that they simply become blinded. Coulter responds that many uninformed, apolitical Americans may well believe that Obama “seems foreign” in the way “all liberals do.” (Alvarez 4/27/2011)
Since billionaire television host, rumored presidential candidate, and “birther” enthusiast Donald Trump has garnered so much media coverage for his challenges to President Obama’s citizenship (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011), Fox News has tremendously increased its coverage of the “birther” controversy, according to a research analysis by progressive media watchdog Media Matters. “[S]everal Fox News figures have embraced the birther conspiracy theory, while others have repeatedly failed to debunk false claims about Obama’s birth,” the report finds. “So widespread was Fox’s coverage of Trump’s embrace of birtherism that some Fox News hosts reported on and joked about the birther conspiracy theory in segments not relating to Trump.” Since March 5, Fox News has shown 52 segments on the “birther” conspiracy theory, with few exceptions (see April 25, 2011), promoting and expanding on the allegations that Obama is not a legitimate US citizen (see April 26, 2011). According to Media Matters’s analysis, 44 of 52 segments—84 percent—made false claims about Obama’s birth that went unchallenged by hosts or guests, including claims that Obama has never produced a legitimate birth certificate (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008), his grandmother claimed he was born in Kenya (see October 16, 2008 and After), and that Obama has spent $2 million blocking the release of his “real” birth certificate (see April 7-10, 2011). In contrast, when Fox News host and presumed 2012 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee claimed Obama grew up “in Kenya” and then backtracked that claim (see February 28, 2011), Fox spent very little time covering Huckabee’s repudiation of his misstatement. Media Matters only covered Fox News “opinion” shows for its study, including Fox & Friends, Fox & Friends Saturday, Fox & Friends Sunday, Justice with Judge Jeanine, The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta van Susteren, Glenn Beck, Huckabee, and Your World with Neil Cavuto. Author and columnist Eric Boehlert notes that before Trump’s media splash, Fox had spent far less time, percentage-wise, on the “birther” controversy, and prominent opinion show hosts such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly had criticized “birther” allegations (see July 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, and February 17, 2010). Boehlert writes: “I mean, what are the odds that Fox News would suddenly take a sharp turn towards birtherism at the exact moment Trump started raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate while busy promoting his kinda/maybe candidacy for president? Fox News’s about-face was especially odd considering that when the exact same bogus birther story was raised during the 2008 campaign Fox News virtually boycotted the story. Fox News refused to touch it. As Obama was running for the White House and questions from the far right were raised about Obama’s eligibility and his birthplace, Fox News paid the story no mind. Then in 2009, when Fox News personalities did address the birther issue, it was usually to belittle the story and mock its followers.… But then, just as Trump stepped forward for his Republican star turn, Fox News decided to alter years of editorial judgment and to fully embrace—to celebrate—the birther story, simultaneously aiding Trump’s (right-wing) political fortunes. It’s almost like the two events were coordinated, no? Either way, it’s now obvious Trump and Fox News formed a mutually beneficial political, and media, alliance: Trump used the Fox News platform to rise his profile, while Fox News used Trump’s birther attacks as cover to wallow in the non-story.” Boehlert quotes Fox News analyst Andrea Tantaros on a recent O’Reilly broadcast, explaining why she encouraged the media to cover Trump: “Let the man speak. He’s got a bigger megaphone than [GOP presidential candidates Mitt] Romney, [Tim] Pawlenty, [Newt] Gingrich, than all of them combined. And you know what; he can drive up Obama’s negatives more than any of the other of those GOP candidates.” (Media Matters 4/27/2011; Boehlert 4/27/2011)
Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly denies there were ever any racial connotations to the “birther” controversy surrounding President Obama’s US citizenship. On his show The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly notes that many “defenders of Obama labeled the whole thing racist,” and plays clips from MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, The View’s Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg (see April 27, 2011), MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, and BET host Tavis Smiley, many of them focusing on billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump and his pronouncements (see April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). O’Reilly’s guests, Fox analyst Alicia Menendez and Republican strategist Margaret Hoover, join in denouncing what Hoover calls “the most predictable” reactions imaginable from “the entire left.” Hoover says that liberals always cry “racist” when they want to criticize conservatives. Hoover does admit that Trump’s claims that Obama got into Ivy League schools due to affirmative action, and the “widespread movement to delegitimize the president to say he’s not American enough (see April 27, 2011), I think it’s not unrelated to race.” O’Reilly disagrees, saying that questions about Obama’s college career are different from “calling him out because of his skin color.” Trump may be “stoking the discomfort that some people have with [Obama’s] skin color,” Hoover says, a remark that draws a snort of derision from O’Reilly, who says he knows Trump well and does not believe he is a racist. Menendez, described by an on-screen chyron as a member of a “center-left think tank,” agrees with Hoover that some of the comments and charges leveled by “birthers” may aggravate the racial tensions that exist in America today. O’Reilly cuts her off and says he does not see “any of these racial confrontations in this country, and I do this every day.” He demands proof of her contention. “I’m not saying it’s just about Barack Obama,” Menendez says, “I’m saying it’s generally about people trying to figure out what to do with this change in America.” Menendez says that there is “some intertwining” between the birther controversy and racist attitudes, but calls the comments by Schulz and others “very radical and obscure the conversation we should be having.” O’Reilly calls the charges of racism “vicious,” and presses for agreement from both Hoover and Menendez. Menendez attempts to qualify, calling the charges a response to “a vicious and hateful thing coming out of the right. And there were very few people like you who were being honest and calling it what it was.” O’Reilly says that the “bad behavior” from the right does not justify “bad behavior” from the left. He says the charges that “the birth certificate was phony” had no connection to racism at all, and continues to lambast “the left” for trying to tie racism into the controversy. Menendez asks if O’Reilly believes that “it was just coincidental” that Obama, the first African-American president, was targeted as not “being a real American” by right-wing opponents. “That’s just a weird coincidence,” she says. O’Reilly says the entire controversy was “borne out of hatred for the man.… The people who hate Barack Obama will latch on to anything. It’s not because of his skin color.” O’Reilly concludes that the “far left” did not act “in a responsible way” in challenging the controversy “as we did [presumably referring to his show]. We just took it apart” (see July 29, 2009). (Media Matters 4/28/2011) An Associated Press analysis has found that the “birther” controversy was fueled in large part by racism (see April 27, 2011), and liberals (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 28, 2011), moderates (see April 27, 2011), and conservatives (see April 27, 2011) alike have decried the racism at the heart of “birtherism.” Author John Avlon has said that “birthers” will never give up their conspiracy theories because even Republicans who disbelieve the claims and do not themselves harbor racist beliefs will not denounce the claims and the racism behind them (see April 28, 2011). Some conservative media outlets, including Fox News, are launching a new series of attacks on Obama through his father, vilifying the senior Obama because of his alleged “penchant” for “white women” (see April 28, 2011, April 29, 2011, and April 29, 2011). And conservative radio host Laura Ingraham says the release of the “long form” certificate “proves” Obama intends to make his re-election bid about race (see April 28, 2011).
Fox News chief Roger Ailes acknowledges that Fox News has undergone what he calls a “course correction” over the last year, dialing back some of the most inflammatory and partisan rhetoric that is its brand. The release of talk show host Glenn Beck (see March 28 - April 6, 2011) is one of the actions Ailes has taken to “moderate” Fox News’s stance, as is the lower profile given former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a prominent Fox personality—once aggressively promoted by the network as the savior of the Republican Party, Palin is much less visible on the network now. Fox executives admit that after Barack Obama’s election in 2008 (see January 2009), “the entire network took a hard right turn (see February 2, 2009, February 9-10, 2009, February 10, 2009, February 20, 2009, March 16-17, 2009, March 17, 2009, March 17-24, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 23-24, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 31, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 6, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, April 28, 2009, April 29, 2009, May 5-6, 2009, May 6, 2009, May 8-15, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, June 2, 2009, July 8, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, July 30, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, September 29, 2009, October 11, 2009, October 16, 2009, November 3, 2009, November 5-8, 2009, November 18-19, 2009, November 24, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 20-22, 2010, June 11, 2010, June 24, 2010 and After, July 2, 2010, July 24, 2010, September 1, 2010, September 4, 2010, September 4, 2010, September 15-16, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 27, 2010, September 28, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 30, 2010, October 1, 2010, October 3, 2010, October 26, 2010, November 9-11, 2010 and After, and November 9-11, 2010 and After)… but, as the tea party’s popularity fades (see August 25, 2011), is edging back toward the mainstream” (see November 16, 2010, November 17-18, 2010, February 23, 2011, February 28, 2011, March 19-24, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 27-28, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, May 22, 2011, May 23-24, 2011, June 10, 2011, July 13-14, 2011, January 14, 2012, January 17-18, 2012, February 11-16, 2012, and February 12-13, 2012). Ailes has ordered the opinion show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to tone down the rhetoric, in part in response to the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and the resultant debate about the aggressive, violent rhetoric being promulgated on the right (see March 24, 2010). Moreover, as media pundit Howard Kurtz writes, “[i]t was, in his view, a chance to boost profits by grabbing a more moderate audience.” Ailes’s contract is up in 2013, and some expect the 71-year-old media magnate not to renew his contract thereafter. Ailes continues to insist that his news network is the only “fair and balanced” (see 1995) news outlet on television, with the other broadcast and cable news providers being relentlessly liberal in their presentations, but on the other hand implicitly admits that he routinely pushes right-wing memes and talking points on his network. Today, for example, he is touting Fox News’s new “Regulation Nation” series, pushing the idea that government regulations have a stranglehold on American business. “[N]o other network will cover that subject,” he says. “I think regulations are totally out of control.” Government bureaucrats hire Ph.D.s to “sit in the basement and draw up regulations to try to ruin your life,” he says. Under Ailes’s direction, Fox News will feature stories on “over-regulation” in many of its straight-news and opinion shows. Some non-Fox News conservative pundits, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh, wonder if Ailes hasn’t given up on his commitment to conservative principles in return for ratings, saying, “Fox wants these people [Republican primary candidates] to tear each other up, ‘cause they want approval from the mainstream media.” Kurtz says that Ailes has turned the Republican primary into his own “reality show” for ratings and profits, essentially agreeing with Limbaugh. Overall, others are registering that Ailes is attempting to dial back the hyperpartisan posturing, even former Obama administration aide Anita Dunn, who says, “You have the sense that they’re trying to at least appear less of the hyperpartisan political network they had been.” (Kurtz 9/25/2011)
Fox News commentator Juan Williams discusses the recent exchange between himself and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich over what Williams characterizes as racially motivated comments from Gingrich. Hosting a debate between Republican presidential contenders, Williams, an African-American, asked Gingrich whether he understood that his recent comments belittling blacks as food stamp recipients who were unused to working (see November 30 - December 2, 2011, January 5, 2012, November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011) were being received negatively by African-Americans, and Gingrich responded by repeating the claims, to the loud approval of the debate audience (see January 16, 2012). Williams tells Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that Gingrich intended to “play racial politics” in responding to Williams. Williams also attacks Gingrich’s premise that the young and poor in America have little interest in landing jobs, telling O’Reilly, “When you see that jobs are offered to young people in this country, you have lines around the block… he was suggesting that somehow these kids don’t want to work.” O’Reilly interprets Gingrich’s remarks as saying that Gingrich wanted the government to fund school jobs to help children learn a work ethic, but Williams says O’Reilly’s interpretation is not what Gingrich meant. O’Reilly asks if Williams believes Gingrich “was pandering to a certain voter in South Carolina,” alluding to conservative and presumably racist white voters, and Williams agrees. (Martel 1/18/2012)
Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly weighs in on the controversy surrounding Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who testified in opposition to a House amendment that would have allowed health care providers to deny contraceptive coverage and other health care necessities if they had religious or moral objections (see March 1, 2012) and is now being vilified by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). O’Reilly joins Limbaugh in insulting and mocking Fluke, whom O’Reilly accuses of insisting that the government pay for her “social life.” He also compares the Obama administration’s support for health care insurers paying for contraception to Denmark’s decision to distribute heroin to addicts to help keep the crime rate down. (Legum 3/2/2012; Crooks and Liars 3/2/2012; Media Matters 3/2/2012) Janine Turner, a former actress and current radio host who is one of O’Reilly’s guests, says “liberals are like kidnappers,” in “hijacking” the issue of contraception to use to violate some citizens’ religious freedoms. Liberals are like pedophiles seducing children with offers of candy, Turner says, in offering “entitlements” such as government-provided health care. (Media Matters 3/2/2012) This same day, Eric Bolling of Fox News’s The Five says that Fluke “seems like a plant to me,” apparently alleging that Fluke is some sort of “plant,” or false witness, perhaps for the Democratic Party or for abortion and contraceptive supporters. Bolling, ignoring the fact that Fluke testified entirely on behalf of insurer provisions for birth control pills for medical reasons, says Fluke should have no trouble buying low-cost contraception for her sexual activities. Bolling also falsely alleges that Fluke attended Georgetown University to “expose” the university’s decision not to pay for contraception as part of its students’ health coverage. Another male guest says that if Fluke has contraception covered by her insurance, he should be able to charge his insurance for the dinner, flowers, and other accoutrements of a romantic evening designed to end in sex. (Media Matters 3/2/2012)
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