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Profile: Major Garrett

Major Garrett was a participant or observer in the following events:

Glenn Beck, the former CNN Headline News talk show host who has just signed with Fox News, has a discussion with Fox chief executive Roger Ailes about his intentions as Fox’s newest host. Beck later recalls: “I wanted to meet with Roger and tell him: ‘You may not want to put me on the air. I believe we are in dire trouble, and I will never shut up’.” Far from warning Beck to tone down his rhetoric, Ailes tells Beck that Fox’s primary mission is now to serve as the opposition to the newly elected President Obama (see November 4, 2008). According to Beck, Ailes tells him: “I see this as the Alamo. If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we’d be fine.” One of Beck’s primary themes on Headline News has been his fear that the US is becoming a socialist nation, a theme he says Ailes encourages him to develop on Fox. Fox vice president Bill Shine will say: “I think we’ve been doing a very good job of trying to point out some things that maybe some other news organizations haven’t pointed out. We’re kind of looking for things that people aren’t being told.” Major Garrett, Fox’s White House correspondent, will say: “[T]here very may well be a curiosity about the Fox brand interacting with the Obama brand. There may be an expectation of a higher degree of skepticism” (see October 13, 2009). One of Beck’s first additions to his Fox studio is a caricature of Obama drawn to resemble former Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. (Gold 3/6/2009)

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)

Portion of promotional poster for the HBO documentary ‘By the People.’Portion of promotional poster for the HBO documentary ‘By the People.’ [Source: Wikimedia]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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