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The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” (Unger 2007, pp. 304)
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006)
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” (Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006; Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Fox News anchor Jon Scott, co-anchor of the “straight news” program Happening Now, uses research provided in a Senate Republican Communications Center (SRCC) press release to make dubious claims about how the Obama economic recovery plan “grew, and grew, and grew” over time. While Scott reports the claims, Fox displays seven graphics illustrating them. The graphics’ textual content hews so closely to the SRCC’s press release that it even repeats a typographical error found in the original memo. Scott and the on-air graphics cite the SRCC’s original sources for their information, which include Politico, the Congressional Quarterly, the Denver Post, the Washington Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, but neither Scott nor the graphics acknowledge the SRCC as the source of the research. The typo is in the seventh and last graphic, incorrectly citing the date of a Wall Street Journal article as “12/19/09.” The next day, Scott apologizes, but only for the typo, prompting Washington Post media critic and CNN host Howard Kurtz to say: “We sometimes jab at the pundits for using talking points, but in the case of Fox News anchor Jon Scott, it was literally true this week.… You should be apologizing for using partisan propaganda from the GOP without telling your viewers where it came from. Talk about missing the point” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 2/10/2009; Media Matters 2/15/2009)
Twice in the same broadcast, Fox News airs a segment called “FOXFacts” that echoes almost verbatim claims made in a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan appears for an interview on Fox News’s Happening Now, a “straight news” broadcast, hours after his editorial appears in print, and is interviewed by co-host Jon Scott. The seven “FOXFacts,” which appear on-screen during the interview, are nearly identical to the claims and even the wording of Ryan’s editorial. In February, Scott passed off a Republican press release as independently researched news, even to the point of repeating a typographical error from the press release (see February 10, 2009). Ryan and the accompanying FOXFacts claim that the Republican budget proposal achieves lower deficits than the Obama plan, prioritizes national defense and veterans’ health care, rejects Obama’s “cap-and-trade scheme,” makes permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, lowers capital gains and dividend taxes, repeals estate taxes, and slashes corporate income taxes. An hour later, while interviewing Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Scott again airs the same “FOXFact” graphics. (Media Matters 4/1/2009; Media Matters 4/1/2009; Wall Street Journal 4/1/2009) Before appearing on Fox, Ryan admits to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that the Republican “budget plan” is nothing more than a “marketing document” containing few specifics (see April 1, 2009).
Jon Scott and Jane Skinner, hosts of Fox News’s “straight news” program Happening Now (see October 13, 2009), air selectively edited clips of President Obama to give the false impression that he has singled out the US for criticism during a trip to France. The segment hinges on an upcoming trip by Obama to Europe and the Middle East. Scott asks if “the president’s upcoming trip [will] be what conservatives might call another apology tour”; in teasing Scott’s segment, Skinner raises the same point. Both Scott and Skinner then air cropped clips from Obama’s April 2009 visit to France. During his April speech, Obama both praised and criticized actions taken by the US, and criticized anti-American sentiment in Europe. However, Scott and Skinner air carefully selected portions of the speech to give impetus to their contention that Obama only criticized the US during his time in France. Fellow Fox News host Sean Hannity has suggested that Obama embarked on a “blame America first” visit and “apology tour.” On-air text and graphics illustrate the “apology tour” contention. Neither Scott nor Skinner inform their audience that in the same speech, Obama criticized Europe and praised the US. Guest Elliott Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra conspirator (see October 7, 1991), advises Obama “to stop apologizing for our country,” and adds that Obama is making a mistake in spending time talking to Muslims during the trip. (Media Matters 6/2/2009)
The progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters releases the results of an analysis it has performed on Fox News’s claims to be an objective news provider. According to Media Matters, Fox News’s news reporting (as opposed to its commentary) is permeated with conservative slant, spin, and outright falsehoods. The Media Matters analysis, which restricts itself to material broadcast in 2009, is prompted by White House claims that Fox News is not an objective source of news, but a purveyor of Republican- and conservative-sourced propaganda (see October 11, 2009). (Media Matters 10/13/2009)
Anchors Echoed False Health Care Claims - In February, Fox News anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly echoed a false claim made by health care lobbyist Betsy McCaughey that a legislative provision in a Senate spending bill would empower the government to “dictate treatments” doctors can provide for patients (see February 9-10, 2009).
Anchor Echoed Republican Press Release So Closely that Typo Is Repeated - Also in February, Fox News anchor Jon Scott repeated the claims of a Senate Republican Communications Center press release so closely that the on-air graphics repeated a typographical error from the original document (see February 10, 2009). Scott did not acknowledge the source of the research, even after apologizing for the typo.
News Show Passed Off Seven-Month-Old Video Clip as New to Claim White House Hypocrisy - On March 15, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum used video clips of Vice President Joseph Biden to falsely assert that the administration’s economic message had drastically changed since the election, from negative characterizations to positive assertions. MacCallum did not tell the audience that the clip of Biden was a seven-month-old clip from the presidential campaign, and that the words Biden was speaking were his characterization of Republican candidate John McCain’s perceptions (see March 16-17, 2009).
Anchor Promoted, Praised 'Tea Parties' - Several times in March and April, Hemmer, the host of Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast America’s Newsroom, hosted segments promoting and praising the upcoming April 15 “tea party” protests (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, and April 13-15, 2009).
Labeled GOP Op-Ed Claims as 'Facts' - On April 1, Scott repeated claims made by a Republican congressman in an editorial about the GOP’s “alternative budget” almost verbatim, but labelled them “facts” (see April 1, 2009).
Fox Repeated Discredited GOP Claims about Price of 'Cap-and-Trade' Proposal - On April 1 and 2, anchors Eric Shawn and Alisyn Camerota repeated a disproven claim that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” emissions control proposal would cost American households over $3,000 per year. They did not report that the claim had been disproven (see April 1-6, 2009).
Obama Budget '4X Bigger' Than Bush Budgets - On April 3, Hemmer’s America’s Newsroom displayed an on-air “chyron” that falsely claimed President Obama’s 2010 budget proposal was four times larger than the largest budget submitted by former President Bush (see April 3, 2009).
News Anchors Promoted 'Tea Parties' - On April 15, Fox anchors joined opinion commentators in touting the day’s “tea party” protests (see April 15, 2009). The next day, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly admitted that the network gave the protests “PR” coverage (see April 16, 2009).
Correspondent Used GOP Research to Criticize Democratic Spending - On April 23, Hemmer used research by Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) to “expose” several “wasteful” projects funded by the Democrats’ economic stimulus act, without revealing the source of the research to his audience (see April 23, 2009).
Correspondent Claimed Legislation Would Curb Religious Expression - On April 29, Fox News correspondent Molly Henneberg repeated disproven claims that a pending hate crimes bill would interfere with Americans’ right to religious expression (see April 29, 2009).
News Anchor Accused Democrats of Defending Pedophiles - On May 6, Hemmer falsely accused Congressional Democrats of voting to extend “hate crimes” protection to pedophiles (see May 5-6, 2009).
News Anchor Accused Supreme Court Nominee of 'Reverse Racism' - On May 26, Kelly misrepresented a remark by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to accuse her of “reverse racism” (see May 26, 2009).
Misleading Editing to Bolster Obama 'Apology Tour' Claim - On June 2, Fox anchors Scott and Jane Skinner aired selectively edited clips of a speech by Obama in France to falsely claim that the president had nothing but criticism for the US while in Europe. They then asked if Obama intended to embark on a second “apology tour” (see June 2, 2009). On July 30, The Live Desk guest host Gregg Jarrett told viewers that a recent decision by the Obama Justice Department may have meant that it was permissible for blacks to intimidate whites at the voting booth, but not the other way around (see July 30, 2009).
News Anchor Reported False Allegation of Criminal Activity by Obama Official - On October 1, Hemmer reported that Education Department official Kevin Jennings covered up the crime of statutory rape. The allegation had been disproven five years before (see September 28 - October 1, 2009). (Media Matters 10/13/2009)
Fox News falsely reports that President Obama watched, by himself, an HBO documentary about his 2008 presidential campaign instead of watching the election returns from races in Virginia and New Jersey during the evening of November 4. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum tells viewers, “[Press secretary] Robert Gibbs said, well, he was actually watching, you know, the HBO special about his year-long campaign and how it all went.” MacCallum goes on to note: “[W]e know that Michelle [Obama] and the girls [the Obama’s two daughters] went to [a] concert last night.… So he’s all alone in that big house, right? Nothing to do but sit back and watch—reminisce about the long campaign and watch HBO and the special.” (Drennen 11/4/2009; Boehlert 11/5/2009) ABC News’s Jake Tapper writes on his Twitter account: “Gibbs did NOT say that POTUS [President Obama] watched the HBO film last night. I think someone must have misunderstood.” (Tencer 11/4/2009) Gibbs previously told reporters that Obama had already seen the documentary. (Bellantoni 11/1/2009) The same day as the Fox News report, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh repeats the claim, telling his listeners: “I would be embarrassed if somebody put together a documentary about me the way this has been put together. I mean it is God-like.… If a documentary could get anal poisoning, this one could. I mean, it’s just kiss butt, kiss butt, kiss butt, and here he’s watching it.” (Tencer 11/4/2009; Media Matters 11/4/2009) That evening, Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett says the report is erroneous and apologizes for what he calls his “mistake,” blaming himself for “mishear[ing]” Gibbs during the daily press gaggle. However, on November 8, panelists on Fox News Watch make the original false claim. Host Jon Scott tells viewers that instead of watching the election returns, Obama was “watching the HBO documentary.… Now, maybe that’s the one thing that could pull him away from—from election returns.” Other panelists react with what progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters calls “hysterical laughter.” One panelist, S. E. Cupp, says during the outbreak: “I’m sorry. I can’t even—I can’t even contain myself.” (Media Matters 11/9/2009)
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