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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 libel lawsuit filed in May 1999 by Michael Ashcroft, the treasurer of Britain’s Conservative Party, against the London Times is settled without any money changing hands. The Times printed a story on July 21, 1999 alleging that Ashcroft was under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration for being involved in money laundering and other drug-related crimes. Times publisher Rupert Murdoch has the newspaper print a front-page statement withdrawing the allegations. Ashcroft is a billionaire businessman with extensive interests in Belize. By settling the suit, Murdoch and Ashcroft avoid a lengthy court fight that could strongly, and negatively, impact the Tories’ chances in the upcoming elections. Supporters of Times editor Peter Stothard say the paper did not make an apology, and insist that the Times’s investigation into Ashcroft’s affairs has been vindicated. (Maguire, Hopkins, and Murphy 12/9/1999) The Times investigation began with a leak of unclassified information from former DEA agent Jonathan Randel, who will be sentenced to jail for the leak (see January 15, 2003).
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has hired John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political advisor and an intensely loyal cousin of presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX), to head the network’s election-night coverage for the 2000 presidential election (see October-November 2000). During the election, Ellis is in constant contact with Bush and his senior campaign aides, speaking with Bush himself five separate times during the evening.
Calling Florida for Gore - At 7:52 p.m., Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida, calls Ellis to protest when Fox “mistakenly” projects Florida as going to Al Gore (D-TN). Ellis tells Jeb Bush that he is looking at a computer “screenful of Gore.” Bush reminds Ellis, “But the polls haven’t closed in the panhandle.” Ellis replies, “It’s not going to help.” Voter News Service (VNS), the voting consortium the networks all use, rates the race a 99.5 percent certainty that Gore has won Florida, a conclusion that VNS and network officials alike later say was a mistake (see February 14, 2001). The prediction is indeed inaccurate; within minutes, Gore’s lead begins to shrink again. At 9:38 p.m., VNS issues a correction of an inaccurate vote count for Duval County, stripping Gore of a number of phantom votes, and the race is again far too close to call.
Calling Florida for Bush - At 2:10 a.m., Ellis sees data from VNS that shows Bush with a 51,433-vote lead, and 179,713 votes left to be counted. (The latter figure is grossly inaccurate, later data proves; over 350,000 votes actually remain to be counted.) Gore would need 63 percent of those votes to win, a scenario that is statistically unlikely. Ellis calls Jeb Bush to say that it is “statistically impossible” for Bush to lose. Around 2:15 a.m., Ellis puts the telephone down and excitedly announces to his team: “Jebbie says we got it! Jebbie says we got it!” Even though Florida is still rated “too close to call” by VNS, Fox News vice president John Moody gives the go-ahead to project Bush the winner in Florida. Fox News anchor Brit Hume makes the call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. The other networks hurriedly, and inaccurately, follow suit. (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Hume himself is a bit apprehensive of the call. “I must tell you, everybody, after all this, all night long, we put Bush at 271, Gore at 243,” he tells Fox viewers. “I feel a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I have no reason to doubt our decision desk, but there it is.” (Reaves 11/15/2000)
Other Networks Follow Suit - As Hume is announcing Bush’s “victory” in Florida, NBC News election coverage chief Sheldon Gawiser is on the telephone with Murray Edelman, the editorial director for VNS. Gawiser is considering calling Florida for Bush, and wants to discuss calling the race for Bush while citing Edelman and VNS as the sources responsible for such a call. Edelman is shocked that Gawiser wants to make any call with Bush’s lead not only very small, but dwindling. But as the two are talking, Fox’s announcement comes over NBC’s monitors, and Gawiser breaks off the call, saying: “Sorry, gotta go. Fox just called it.” At 2:17 a.m., NBC projects Bush the winner in Florida and the next president of the United States. The joint decision team for CBS and CNN, Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, make the same decision a minute later. After CBS declares Bush’s victory, anchor Dan Rather tells viewers: “Let’s give a tip of the Stetson to the loser, Vice President Al Gore, and at the same time, a big tip and a hip, hip, hurrah and a great big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States. Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall—George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.” The ABC decision team resists making the call, not trusting the data (it had similar reservations about the earlier call for Gore), but according to ABC election consultant John Blydenburgh, a network executive overrides the decision team and has ABC declare Bush the projected winner at 2:20 a.m. Blydenburgh says the executive does not want ABC to look “foolish” by being the only network not to recognize Bush as the next president. The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling (by 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call). But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) Shortly after 3 a.m., CBS’s Ed Bradley begins informing viewers that the AP numbers show Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes. Rather tells the viewers that if the AP is correct, the previous call for Bush may be premature. “Let’s not joke about it folks,” he says. “You have known all night long and we’ve said to you all night long that these estimates of who wins and who loses are based on the best available information we have. CBS News has the best track record in the business, over a half century plus, for accuracy on election night. But nobody’s perfect.” However, few listen to either CBS’s caveats or the AP’s refusal to call the election. (Shepard 1/2001) By 4:52 a.m., Bush’s lead has dwindled to 1,888 votes.
Fox Leads the Narrative for Bush - Gore initially concedes the race, but when the networks begin retracting their declaration and return Florida to the “too close to call” status, he retracts his concession. In their last conversation of the evening, Bush tells Ellis that Gore has taken back his concession, and says: “I hope you’re taking all this down, Ellis. This is good stuff for a book.” The morning headlines in most daily papers declare Bush the winner; much of the news coverage slams Gore as indulging in “sour grapes” for not conceding the election. Rather later says: “We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not. But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.” In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “A ‘news’ network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives—including those that helped elect the candidate’s father—declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts.” After the election, House Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says: “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact. It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis later writes that Bush did not try to influence his coverage. “Governor Bush was, as always, considerate of my position,” Ellis will write. “He knew that I would be fried if I gave him anything that VNS deemed confidential, so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources before talking to me.” (Associated Press 12/11/2000)
Criticism of Fox, Ellis - Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, later says of Ellis and Fox while the election is still in dispute: “The notion you’d have the cousin of one presidential candidate in a position to call a state, and the election, is unthinkable. Fox’s call—wrong, unnecessary, misguided, foolish—helped create a sense that the election went to Bush, was pulled back, and it’s just a matter of time before his president-elect title is restored. But that said, John Ellis is a good man, a good journalist whose judgment was overcome by excitement. He put himself in an impossible situation, but the mistake was not so much his as Rupert Murdoch’s for putting him in that position.… Everybody knows it’s a partisan channel, but its marketing slogan, ‘We report; you decide,’ is now totally obliterated by the fact that one candidate’s first cousin is actually deciding, and then they report.” (Rosenstiel is apparently unaware that Murdoch, who owns Fox News’s parent company News Corporation, did not make the call to hire Ellis.) Rosenstiel’s colleague Carl Gottlieb is less restrained, saying: “It’s beyond belief. The network should not have allowed Ellis to report on this election. As a viewer, after reading this story and reading about Ellis’s involvement in calling the race, you can’t help but get the idea that this guy’s complicit in what’s going on now down in Florida.” Murdoch will later claim that Fox News displayed “no partisanship” in its election-night coverage. Ellis will later tell a reporter: “It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth—me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other president-elect. Now that was cool. And everybody followed us.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ellis will also later deny telling his team that “Jebbie” gave him the go-ahead to call the election for Bush, instead saying he made the call based on his own calculations. Statistician Cynthia Talkov, the only member of Fox’s election team who actually understands the VNS statistical models, later says she never saw Ellis making any such calculations, and will say Ellis did not ask her for her opinion for his call, though every other projection that evening was made with her explicit approval. Talkov is one of the people who will confirm that Ellis received the go-ahead to call the election from Jeb Bush. A post-election analysis prepared by outside reviewers for CNN later issues sharp criticisms of the networks, noting, “On Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag race on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the political life of the country, and their own credibility.” Mitofsky, who invested election polls and developed the election night projection system the networks use, later calls Ellis’s actions “the most unprofessional election night work I could ever imagine. He had no business talking to the Bush brothers or to any other politician about what he was doing.” On the other hand, Ailes will characterize Ellis’s actions as those of “a good journalist talking to his very high-level sources on election night.” (Moore 11/6/2006)
Fox 'Investigation' Comes Up Empty - Fox News will announce an “investigation” of any conflicts of interest or unprofessional behavior concerning Ellis’s role in declaring Bush the winner, but nothing will come of any such investigation. The “investigation” will find that Ellis gave no VNS information to either George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, or any Bush campaign official, though Ellis himself will freely admit to a New Yorker reporter that he shared VNS data with both Bushes repeatedly during the evening. Such sharing of data would constitute a violation of journalistic ethics as well as possible criminal behavior. (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ailes had specifically warned his team not to share VNS information with anyone from the campaigns. (Boehlert 11/15/2000) Before the investigation is even launched, Moody will say: “Appearance of impropriety? I don’t think there’s anything improper about it as long as he doesn’t behave improperly, and I have no evidence he did.… John has always conducted himself in an extremely professional manner.” (Kurtz 11/14/2000)
The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce holds a hearing on the news networks’ election night decision to project George W. Bush the winner of the Florida election, and thereby the winner of the US presidential election (see November 7-8, 2000). One of the matters at hand is Fox News’s choice to have its election night coverage anchored by John Prescott Ellis, President Bush’s cousin and an intensely partisan Bush supporter (see October-November 2000). The chairman of the committee is W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-LA).
Opening Statements - In his opening statement, Tauzin tells the assemblage that the hearing is to “give us a real sense of what went wrong in terms of the election night coverage of the presidential election of November 2000.” He notes that news coverage issues have been raised in every election since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. Early calls—the practice of news outlets to “call,” or project, winners in states before elections in other states have closed—have long been acknowledged as having a “deletorious” effect on voting, and the use of “exit polling”—polls of voters taken outside polling booths—have proven both “valuable” and “dangerous.” Voter News Service (VNS), the independent consortium that provided polling and other data to the networks and press agencies for their use during their election coverage, uses exit polling to help those news outlets “project” winners in races. Tauzin spends much of his opening statement attacking VNS and the use of exit polling as the “source” of the election night dissension, and says that on the whole, VNS data “produces statistical biases in favor of Democrats in this case today and against Republicans, that the statistical flaws tend to overstate the Democratic vote in the exit poll and understate the Republican vote.” Tauzin says that investigations have “discovered no evidence of intentional bias, no evidence of intentional slanting of this information,” and instead says the entire problem rests with VNS and its use of exit polling data. In their opening statements, many Republicans echo Tauzin’s remarks. Ranking minority member John Dingell (D-MI) calls the election night coverage “a monumental screw-up which I think has embarrassed an awful lot of people.” Dingell repeats Tauzin’s claim that no evidence of intentional bias has been found—calling such allegations “inflammatory”—and says that the focus of future hearings should be on the issue of voter disenfranchisement. Having said all that, he goes on to say that the networks’ decision to call Florida for Bush in the early hours of November 8, 2000 was premature, and lent itself to later allegations that attempts by Democratic challenger Al Gore were baseless and troublesome. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) accuses the networks of trying to influence Florida voters in the Panhandle, a traditionally Republican stronghold, by prematurely calling the state for Gore eight minutes before polls closed in that region. In questioning, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) notes the almost-immediate appearance of the “Sore Loserman” campaign (derived from the names of the Democratic candidates, Gore and Joe Lieberman), which attempted, successfully, to paint attempts by the Gore campaign to force vote recounts as attempts to “steal” the election.
Focus on Fox - Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the first to mention Fox News. He reads from a Los Angeles Times editorial, quoting: “Suppose that a first cousin of Al Gore had been running one of the network news teams issuing election night projections. Suppose that having previously recused himself from a columnist job saying his objectivity would suffer from family loyalty, this cousin had chatted with Gore six times on Election Day. Suppose the same cousin had been the first to declare Gore as the winner in Florida on election night, helping coax the rival networks to follow suit, leading George W. Bush to call up Gore in order to concede, thereby helping to create that Gore was the duly elected president of the United States long before all the votes had been counted. Can anybody reasonably doubt that the pundits would be working themselves into a nonstop lather charging the liberal media as accessories to grand larceny? Can we imagine, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news channel right-leaning heads dropping the subject?” Waxman says this was absolutely the case, but with Fox News and John Ellis, not Gore and an imaginary Gore cousin at another network. “[O]f everything that happened on election night this was the most important in impact. It created a presumption that George Bush won the election. It set in motion a chain of events that were devastating to Al Gore’s chances and it immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds than he was the man who won the election.” Several other Democrats echo Waxman’s statements.
Issues with Florida Election Practices - Peter Deutsch (D-FL) cites issues of rampant voter disenfranchisement of African-Americans, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, with over 100,000 ballots, mostly from African-American voters, apparently not counted. Deutsch says flatly that “there is no question, it is no longer debatable that if the vote in Florida were counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States.” Bobby Rush (D-IL) cites a large number of incidents where minority group voters were “harassed by police departments” in Florida and in other states besides. In many instances these voters were stopped from voting entirely; in others, their votes were not counted. Other Democrats, such as Eliot Engel (D-NY), echo Deutsch’s and Rush’s concerns; Engel says: “Al Gore was not the only one who lost that night. The American people lost that night, and the news media also lost that night.”
Testimony regarding Independent Review of Election Night Coverage - The first witness is Joan Konner, a professor of journalism at Columbia. Konner led a panel commissioned by CNN “to look at what went wrong in [CNN’s] television coverage of the presidential election 2000.” Her panel submitted a report on the election night coverage to CNN, and CNN provided that report to the committee. “[S]omething went terribly wrong,” she says. “CNN executives, correspondents, and producers themselves describe election night coverage as a debacle, a disaster, and a fiasco; and in our report we agree.” She blames the problems with CNN’s coverage on “excessive speed and hypercompetition, combined with overconfidence in experts and a reliance on increasingly dubious polls. We have stated that the desire to be first or at least not to be consistently behind the others led the networks to make calls unwisely based on sketchy and sometimes mistaken information.” The choice to create, fund, and use VNS by all the networks was primarily a cost-cutting decision, she says, but that choice was a mistake: “Relying on a single source eliminates the checks and balances built into a competitive vote-gathering and vote system. It eliminates the possibility of a second source for validating key and possible conflicting information.” Another member of the panel, James Risser of Stanford University, notes that the report’s findings apply equally to other networks along with CNN.
Media Panel - After much questioning of the CNN panel, a second panel is sworn in. This panel includes: Fox News chairman Roger Ailes; CBS president Andrew Heyward; CNN chairman Tom Johnson; NBC president Andrew Lack; ABC president David Westin; VNS director Ted Savaglio; VNS editorial director Murray Edelman; and the Associated Press’s president, Louis Boccardi. In an opening statement, Savaglio admits that VNS made “errors” in vote tabulation and predictives based on “flaws” in the statistical analyses. Two major errors were made on election night, Savaglio says, the first leading to the incorrect awarding of Florida to Gore early in the evening, and the second provision of data that indicated Bush had a statistically insurmountable lead in Florida that did not include an accurate tabulation of votes cast in Volusia County as well as errors in other county tabulations and estimates. Boccardi says that the Associated Press used VNS-provided data in the erroneous Gore projection, but “takes full responsibility” for the error. The Associated Press did not join in with the second, Fox News-led projection of Bush’s victory. “[T]he race was too close to call” at that point, he says. “It would be right to surmise that the pressure on AP at that moment [to join the networks in calling the election for Bush] was enormous.” Heyward testifies that CBS, like CNN, hired an independent panel to assess its election coverage, and has a number of improvements to be made for future coverage. “Our method of projecting winners, one that, as you have heard, has produced only six bad calls in over 2,000 races since the 1960s, failed us this time; and as a well-known candidate would say, failed us big time in the very state that held the key to this election,” he says. He also notes that charges by Republican committee members that there is an inherent bias in the statistical models against Republicans “has been rejected by every single outside expert who examined each of the networks, even those experts, and you heard from them today, who are the most highly critical of us.” Lack asks why there was not more media coverage and examination of other voting-related problems, from “ineffective voting machines” and “confusing ballots” to allowing felons to vote.
Ailes's Statement - Ailes blames VNS for Fox’s “mistakes” in its reporting, saying: “As everyone knows, Voter News Service, a consortium with a good track record, gave out bad numbers that night. In the closest race in history the wheels apparently came off a rattle trap computer system which we relied on and paid millions for.” He claims, “Through our self-examination and investigation we have determined that there was no intentional political favoritism in play on election night on the part of Fox News.” Ailes does not mention his choice to use Ellis as Fox’s election night anchor in his verbal statement, but in a written statement he submits to the committee, he says that Ellis was not the person who made the final decision to declare Florida for Bush. The news division’s vice president, John Moody, made the final call. As for hiring Ellis, he praises Ellis’s professionalism and experience, and writes: “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections. I am more than happy to give you examples of offspring of famous politicians who are employed at Fox News.” He also says that he was aware that Ellis was speaking to both George W. and Jeb Bush throughout the night, and writes: “Obviously, through his family connections, Mr. Ellis has very good sources. I do not see this as a fault or shortcoming of Mr. Ellis. Quite the contrary, I see this as a good journalist talking to his very high level sources on election night.” Though Ellis has freely admitted to sharing VNS data with both Bushes, Ailes writes, “Our investigation of election night 2000 found not one shred of evidence that Mr. Ellis revealed information to either or both of the Bush brothers which he should not have, or that he acted improperly or broke any rules or policies of either Fox News or VNS.” He concludes: “[I]n my heart I do believe that democracy was harmed by my network and others on November 7, 2000. I do believe that the great profession of journalism took many steps backward.”
Questioning the Media Representatives - Almost immediately, Ailes raises the question of skewed exit polling that appears to favor Democrats, though experts have refuted these claims in just-given testimony, and Savaglio has just said that exit polls exhibit no such bias. Ailes tells the panel: “I do know that when Republicans come out of polls and you ask them a question they tend to think it’s none of your business and Democrats want to share their feelings. So you may get some bias there that is inadvertent, just because it’s a cultural thing and unless you send the Republicans to sensitivity training you’re not going to get them to do that.” Tauzin says that a study of VNS results tends to bear out Ailes’s claim. Westin says if there is bias in exit polling, it cuts both ways, an observation with which Tauzin also agrees. Savaglio admits that after midnight, VNS provided substantially inaccurate information to the networks that led them to conclude Bush had a slight but insurmountable lead in Florida. Lack denies the rumor that Jack Welch, the CEO of NBC’s parent company General Electric, made the decision for NBC News to follow Fox’s lead in declaring Bush the presumptive winner in Florida. Waxman accepts Lack’s denial, but notes that he has been told Welch’s command to declare Bush the winner is preserved on videotape, “filmed by NBC’s advertising and promotions department.” Lack says if the tape exists, he will provide it to the committee. Bart Stupak (D-MI) asks the representatives directly if they believe any bias towards one party or another exists in their networks’ coverage, and all answer strongly in the negative. Heyward says that rumors of networks such as his trying to “slant” their coverage to give the idea of an “inevitable” Gore victory are entirely negative, and says: “[C]ertainly we displayed the popular vote graphic 15 times between 7 and 11. President Bush was ahead every single time; on the electoral count, 75 out of 100 times.… The video [shown by the commission at the beginning of the hearing] that gave the impression that the networks were saying Gore’s got it in the bag I believe was misleading, yes.” Westin agrees with Heyward, and says the networks generally gave the impression of “a much more balanced, much closer race throughout the night.” Under questioning by Gene Green (D-TX), Ailes contradicts previously presented evidence and says no one at the election desk, Ellis or anyone else, was in contact with “Austin” (meaning the Bush campaign and George W. Bush personally) at all that night. (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
When it becomes clear that France will oppose the US resolution at the UN for war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and October 26, 2002), Fox News anchor Bob Sellers sarcastically describes France as a member of the “axis of weasels.” The phrase first appeared in the New York Post (both Fox News and the Post are owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch), and over the following days the phrase often appears in a banner at the bottom of the screen. Later in the year, Fox executive Roger Ailes will be asked if he approved of the banner; he answers: “We shouldn’t have done that, if we did. I would call that bad journalism.” The practice will continue. (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who provided intelligence leading to the rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), arrives in the US with his wife and daughter. Al-Rehaief is granted political asylum under the “humanitarian parole” program, which is usually used to expedite entry into the US for medical emergencies. A spokesman for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services says, “Quite honestly, it was the fastest way to get him and his family to safety in the United States.” Al-Rehaief is provided a job with the Livingston Group, a Washington lobbying firm headed by former US representative Bob Livingston (R-PA). He is also given a $500,000 book contract by HarperCollins, which as reporter Robert Scheer notes, is “a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox network did much to hype Lynch’s story, as it did the rest of the war.” (Murphy 5/2/2003; Scheer 5/20/2003)
Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer, one of the first American political reporters to question the official Pentagon version of the capture and rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003), provides an overview of the personal and professional attacks launched against him by the Pentagon and by right-wing pundits (see May 27, 2003). Scheer, an unabashed liberal, notes that many of the attacks come from newspapers and news broadcasters owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose HarperCollins book publishing firm is preparing a book to be written by Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. Al-Rehaief is the Iraqi lawyer who provided key information leading to Lynch’s rescue and was rewarded by being granted asylum in the US, given the book deal, and given a job with a Washington lobbying firm (see April 10, 2003 and After). Scheer is more discomfited by the attack from the Pentagon, whose public relations chief, Victoria Clarke, called Scheer’s reporting a “tirade… unsupported by the facts” (see May 29, 2003). Further reporting will show that the official story did not accurately reflect the events (see June 17, 2003). Scheer observes, “[W]hat is a grave disservice is manipulating a gullible media with leaked distortions from unnamed official sources about Lynch’s heroics in battle.” He notes that the Pentagon refused to allow the BBC or any other news organization to view the complete, unedited video footage of the April 1 rescue (see April 1, 2003), instead insisting that the media use only the edited footage provided by the Pentagon. Scheer adds that Clarke and other Pentagon officials continued to insist that the original reporting—Lynch had fought fiercely with her attackers and finally succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds—was accurate long after reports from US military doctors disputed those claims, and even after top US military officials began questioning that version of events. The Pentagon, Scheer writes, was intent on producing what “quickly became the main heroic propaganda myth of the US invasion of Iraq.” Scheer concludes: “What is particularly sad in all of this is that a wonderfully hopeful story was available to the Pentagon to sell to the eager media: one in which besieged Iraqi doctors and nurses bravely cared for—and supplied their own blood to—a similarly brave young American woman in a time of madness and violence. Instead, eager to turn the war into a morality play between good and evil, the military used—if not abused—Lynch to put a heroic spin on an otherwise sorry tale of unjustified invasion.” (Nation 5/30/2007)
Former ABC News source and sometime reporter Alexis Debat, whose career as a media commentator and information source is in shambles due to his exposure as a fabricator of numerous interviews with US political and business figures (see September 12, 2007), has a number of close ties with US neoconservatives, according to research by Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch. Debat has had a strong influence on the US media’s slant on both the Iraq occupation and the envisioned war with Iran, particularly with his frequent contributions to ABC News reports and commentary. Debat has also provided sensational, and often unconfirmed, “information” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several “scoops” from Debat and published by ABC News about Pakistan had to be either corrected or suffered contradiction by Pakistani officials. Debat also has close, if murky, ties with a number of prominent neoconservatives and right-wing Middle East figures. Iranian-born Amir Taheri was listed as an editor of Debat’s primary European press outlet, Politique Internationale, from 2001 through 2006. Taheri’s work has been promoted by a New York public-relations firm, Benador Associates, which specializes in Middle Eastern affairs and boasts a number of neoconservatives on its website, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former CIA director James Woolsey. Taheri is often published in newspapers owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. And, like Debat, Taheri’s work has been called into question in recent years. A May 2006 column printed in a Canadian newspaper that alleged Iran was forcing Jews and other religious minorities to wear colored badges was proven false. And a 1988 book by Taheri, Nest of Spies, purporting to give inside details about Islamic terrorism, has been shown to contain a raft of inaccuracies and misstatements. Taheri’s connections with Benador gives him prime entry to conservative media outlets, which seem to sometimes ignore the rampant problems with his reporting. (Bunch 9/14/2007)
Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), realizes that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is going to win the upcoming presidential election (see November 4, 2008). In preparation, Ailes begins hiring an array of conservatives to join his network (see November 3, 2003, July 2004, and October 26, 2009), many of whom he intends to groom for the 2012 presidential race. By the time the election is over, Ailes will have hired Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s political guru, and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate. (Ailes is able to woo both Rove and Huckabee away from CNN, which also offers them positions as paid commentators.) Soon, Ailes will hire several more possible Republican contenders, including the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Ailes fully intends to use Fox News as a platform for launching Republican presidential bids (see May 22, 2011), but his decision to hire Rove, Huckabee, Palin, and the others is also business-driven. A close friend of his will explain: “It would be easy to look at Fox and think it’s conservative because Rupert [Murdoch, the media executive who owns the Fox networks] and Roger are conservative and they program it the way they like. And to a degree, that’s true. But it’s also a business. And the way the business works is, they control conservative commentary the way ESPN controls the market for sports rights. If you have a league, you have a meeting with ESPN, you find out how much they’re willing to pay, and then everyone else agrees to pay the same amount if they want it.… It’s sort of the same at Fox. I was surprised at some of what was being paid until I processed it that way. If you’re ABC and you don’t have Newt Gingrich on a particular morning, you can put someone else on. But if you’re Fox, and Newt is moving and talking today, you got to have him. Otherwise, your people are like: ‘Where’s Newt? Why isn’t he on my channel?’” Ailes met secretly with Palin in September 2008, and will continue to court her for Fox after the campaign, even loaning her a private jet owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. CNN will decline to offer her a position, and Ailes, through programming chief Bill Shine, will negotiate a three-year, $3 million deal to have Palin as a regular contributor and a host of prime-time specials. Amid all of this, Ailes does not want Fox News to be seen as an arm of the Republican Party (see December 2002 and October 11, 2009). (Sherman 5/22/2011) In 2010, the press will report that Fox News has “exclusive rights” to broadcast and interview four presumed 2012 Republican candidates, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum (see September 27, 2010).
The progressive news Web site AlterNet publishes an analysis of how health insurance and medical industry firms use so-called “Astroturf” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) to work against health care reform. One firm investigated is the Medicines Company, a small pharmaceutical firm, which has hired the Washington lobbying firm DLA Piper to promote its interests, including fighting health care reform. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is a senior policy adviser for DLA Piper, and heads the “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks, which apparently conducts protests and advocacy for the interests of DLA Piper’s clients (see April 14, 2009). The AlterNet analysis, by Adele M. Stan, accuses Armey of having a conflict of interest in his dual roles as lobbyist and “grassroots” organizer. The Medicines Company’s contract with DLA Piper comprises 15 percent of that firm’s business. (The Medicines Company will later claim that it does not contract with any lobbying firms to influence anyone’s position on health care legislation.) Other “Astroturf” organizations such as Grassfire.org and its subsidiary, ResistNet, are also involved in combating reform. ResistNet bills itself as “[t]he online community for patriotic citizens who are opposing the Obama-led socialist agenda.” The home page of ResistNet’s Web site features a video entitled “Obama Equals Hitler.” ResistNet is run by Grassfire, which says it funds ResistNet as part of “our overall patriotic resistance efforts.” Stan expands her analysis to include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose NewsCorp owns Fox News. NewsCorp invests heavily in health industry firms, and, according to Stan, would profit by keeping reform from becoming law. Stan notes that one of Murdoch’s key hires was radio and former CNN host Glenn Beck. Beck was hired, Stan claims, to host a Fox News show and to organize a group called the 9/12 Project. Beck’s 9/12 Project, which, like Grassfire and ResistNet, serves as a “social networking” tool to bring together reform opponents, has been involved in a number of raucous anti-reform protests (see June 30, 2009 and August 6, 2009). Stan says the combination of these elements, along with what she calls “an oppressed-white-people narrative that has its roots in the origins of what used to be called the New Right,” has created the “perfect storm” of converging trends to create a chaotic and confrontational season for anti-reform protests and lobbyists. (Stan 8/10/2009; MSNBC 8/14/2009)
News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post, donates $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). The News Corp. donation is accompanied by a $500,000 donation to the RGA from WellPoint, the US’s largest health insurer, and a “seven-figure donation” from oil billionaire David Koch (see 1981-2010). Organizations such as the RGA can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unlike political parties and federal candidates. (Salant 8/16/2010; Smith 8/16/2010; Kleefeld 8/17/2010; Shea 8/17/2010) News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner tells a reporter, “News Corporation believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA’s pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy.” (Smith 8/16/2010) Others are less sanguine about the donation. Hari Sevugan of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) says: “Any pretense that may have existed about the ties between Fox News and the Republican Party has been ripped violently away. Any Republican that appears on Fox should now have a disclaimer that they are financially supported by the network and any coverage of the elections this fall on Fox should be reported with disclaimer for what it is—partisan propaganda.” Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) says: “For a media company—particularly one whose slogan is ‘fair and balanced’ (see 1995)—to be injecting themselves into the outcome of races is stunning. The people owning Fox News have made a decision that they want to see Democratic governors go down to defeat. It’s a jaw-dropping violation of the boundary between the media and corporate realm.” Daschle acknowledges that other media companies such as Disney and CBS have given much smaller donations to both Republicans and Democrats, but says: “The Fox contribution is in a completely different league. Other media firms’ donations are generally small and about equal to the many committees that receive money.” Until this donation, News Corp. had contributed almost equally to both Democrats and Republicans. Horner says, “It’s patently false that a corporate donation would have any bearing on our news-gathering activities at Fox News or any other of our properties.” Fox refuses to allow Daschle to appear on its network to discuss the donation, stating: “We understand Nathan’s desire to get face time on the most watched news network. And when he can offer insight on a legitimate news story instead of concocting a dishonest publicity stunt, we will consider having him on as a guest.” Communications professor Tobe Berkovitz says of the donation: “The way the rules are written, [News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch] is playing by the rules. This just reinforces for liberals how evil and manipulative Fox and Rupert Murdoch are. For the civilians out there, I don’t think they’re going to see this as particularly relevant or particularly important.” (Kurtz 8/18/2010) The progressive news Web site Think Progress determines that News Corp. may have violated its own policies by making the donation. According to the corporation’s “Standards of Business Conduct”: “No payment shall be made to, or for the benefit of, any public official in order to induce or entice such official to: enact, defeat, or violate any law or regulation for the company’s benefit; influence any official act; or obtain any favorable action by a governmental agency or official on behalf of the company.… No gifts in the form of cash, stock, or other similar consideration shall be given, regardless of amount.” (Terkel 8/17/2010)
President Obama says that Fox News “has a very clear, undeniable point of view” that “is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth” of the country. Obama says: “The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like [William Randolph] Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition—it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch [Rupert Murdoch, the owner of News Corporation, Fox News’s parent company] what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.” (Wenner 9/28/2010)
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey discusses Fox News’s relentless promotion of its own employees for presidential office (see October 26, 2009 and September 27, 2010). Rainey notes that Fox contributors Sarah Palin (R-AK), Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Mike Huckabee (R-TN) are all using their appearances on Fox to groom themselves for the 2012 presidential race, with the apparent blessing and collusion of Fox News. Rainey writes, with some apparent sarcasm, “It’s easy to get news coverage, it turns out, when you work for a news company!” Other Republicans attempting to build momentum for their own 2012 bid, such as Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, are being “shut out” of Fox’s promotional campaign. And other news networks—even C-SPAN—rarely get to interview Palin, Gingrich, Santorum, and Huckabee, as they are all under exclusive contract with Fox and do not appear on competing news providers. Some Republicans are discomfited by this situation, but, Rainey writes, they are “ma[king] their complaints quietly, lest they anger the powers at Fox.” Rainey goes on to note that the story is getting little attention outside political circles, “[b]ecause the information juggernaut built by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, once a GOP attack dog and now head of Fox News, has been tilting the playing field for so long, so persistently, and denying its bias so shamelessly that it’s created an alternate reality.” Rainey notes that Fox parent News Corp’s unprecedented multi-million dollar donations to Republican causes (see June 24, 2010 and After and September 30, 2010) have drawn relatively little criticism, even as Fox’s supposedly unbiased and nonpartisan news anchors and personalities (not its prime-time opinion makers) “routinely pound away at conservative talking points.” The other news networks spend their time on regular stories, Rainey writes, but Fox News spends so much “straight news” time covering non-existent “scandals” and promoting conservative causes that, in essence, it has created a conservative-friendly “alternate reality” for itself and its ideological colleagues. “One doesn’t even blink with surprise anymore when a Fox opinion program rolls out black-and-white newsreel footage of fascists,” he writes, “and with uniformly straight faces suggest that the Obama administration has America on the brink of a similar calamity.” Rainey rebuts claims that Fox News is merely countering the “shamelessly liberal” viewpoints of CNN and MSNBC. CNN, he writes, “has hewed relentlessly to the he-said-she said reporting imperative of old. The 24-hour news pioneer puts on alternative viewpoints, and not merely as whipping objects for ideological hosts. It’s aired multiple segments dissecting President Obama, his economic policies, and his plans for Afghanistan.” As for MSNBC, while its opinion shows are hosted by liberals, and Rainey believes that in some sense MSNBC may be trying to be a liberal version of Fox, its news broadcasts are relatively non-partisan. (Rainey 9/29/2010)
The press learns that News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, has donated $1 million to the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the heaviest anti-Democratic advertisers in the 2010 midterm election campaigns. News Corp. previously donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA—see June 24, 2010 and After), drawing criticism that its chairman Rupert Murdoch, and by extension Fox News and the other media outlets owned by Murdoch’s corporation (including the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal) are violating basic tenets of journalistic ethics by donating money to only one side in an election season. Fox News officials say they knew nothing of the donation until they learned of it through news reports. White House adviser David Axelrod says that while he believes Fox executives did not know of the donation, “it certainly sends a signal as to what the corporate position is.… If you’re pushing a point of view there, you wouldn’t take it as a disincentive to keep going.” The Democratic National Committee says in a statement, “What these contributions make clear is that the Republican Party is a division of News Corp., just as Fox News is a division of News Corp.” The Chamber of Commerce has promised to spend up to $75 million in anti-Democratic, pro-Republican campaign advertisements. (Smith 9/30/2010; Rutenberg 10/1/2010) Politico notes: “The parent companies of other media companies such as Disney (which owns ABC) and General Electric (which owns NBC) have also made political contributions, but typically in far smaller chunks, and split between Democrats and Republicans. In the past, News Corp. has also spread its donations between candidates of both parties.” (Smith 9/30/2010)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck spends three broadcast days lambasting Jewish billionaire George Soros, whom Beck blames for single-handedly funding America’s left-wing, liberal, and progressive causes. Beck calls Soros a “puppet master” responsible for spreading political and economic chaos throughout the world. Soros was a teenager in Hungary when the Nazis invaded that country; Soros spent a brief period of time hiding with a non-Jewish Hungarian family whose father handed out deportation notices to Hungarian Jews. Soros has written of this incident in his biography; Beck uses that fact to label Soros as a Nazi collaborator. (Elliot 11/11/2010; Eichler 11/12/2010; Cenk Uygur 11/13/2010) Beck tells his audience that Soros “used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening. Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps. And I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God. As a 14-year-old boy, I don’t know what you would do. I don’t know what you would do. But you would think that there would be some remorse as an 80-year-old man or a 40-year-old man or a 20-year-old man, when it was all over, you would do some soul searching and say: ‘What did I do? What did I do?’” On his radio show, Beck goes farther, accusing Soros of helping “send the Jews” to “death camps” during the Holocaust. Beck goes on to add that Soros “is not a fan of the state of Israel. George Soros is—many people would call him an anti-Semite. I will not. I don’t know enough about all of his positions on Jews. I know his mother, in George Soros’s own words, his mother was an anti-Semite. And so he just has this weird, weird world view. He’s also an atheist.” (Besser 11/11/2010; Media Matters 11/11/2010) Beck goes on to accuse Soros of deliberately manipulating the global economy to ensure its collapse and says Soros wants to rule the world like a god: “Soros has admitted in the past he doesn’t believe in God, but that’s perhaps because he thinks he is.” (Goldberg 11/11/2010) “Eighty years ago, George Soros was born,” Beck says. “Little did the world know then, economies would collapse, currencies would become worthless, elections would be stolen, regimes would fall. And one billionaire would find himself coincidentally at the center of it all.” (Elliot 11/9/2010) Salon’s Alex Pareene writes: “I don’t think people who read secondhand accounts of the specials—or even those who read the transcripts—can grasp how weird and shameless the entire spectacle was. There were puppets strewn about the set. The camera always watches Beck watching whatever we’re supposed to be watching. Beck blatantly flirted with classic anti-Semitic tropes, knowing he’d be called on it but confident his friends would have his back. His taunting response to criticism: If he’s a lying anti-Semite, why would Rupert Murdoch [the owner of News Corp., which owns Fox News] allow him on the air?” (Pareene 11/13/2010)
Beck: Soros Attempting to Destroy Global Economy - Jewish author and columnist Michelle Goldberg calls Beck’s “tirade” against Soros “a new low on American television.” She writes: “The program… was a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles. Nothing like it has ever been on American television before.” Goldberg writes: “Beck went beyond demonizing him; he cast him as the protagonist in an updated Protocols of the Elders of Zion [an infamous anti-Semitic screed]. He described Soros as the most powerful man on earth, the creator of a ‘shadow government’ that manipulates regimes and currencies for its own enrichment. [President] Obama is his ‘puppet,’ Beck says. Soros has even ‘infiltrated the churches.’ He foments social unrest and economic distress so he can bring down governments, all for his own financial gain. ‘Four times before,’ Beck warned. ‘We’ll be number five.’” Beck is misrepresenting Soros’s support for organizations that have helped to overthrow Communist regimes in former Soviet Union nations. Goldberg writes: “Beck’s implication is that there was something sinister in Soros’ support for anti-communist civil society organizations in the former Soviet Union. Further, he sees such support as evidence that Soros will engineer a Communist coup here in the United States. This kind of thinking only makes sense within the conspiratorial mind-set of classic anti-Semitism, in which Jews threaten all governments equally. And as a wealthy Jew with a distinct Eastern European accent, Soros is a perfect target for such theories.” (Goldberg 11/11/2010) Ron Chusid, writing for the blog Liberal Values, notes: “Glenn Beck often repeats conspiracy theories from the Birchers [meaning the John Birch Society—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011 ] and other far right wing groups. That made it inevitable that he would wander into repeating anti-Semitic memes which have historically been common on the far right.” (Ron Chusid 11/11/2010) “How much worse can it get when one links the other to anti-Semitism and Nazism?” asks Brad Knickerbocker of the Christian Science Monitor. “And how much weirder can it get when the target of that charge escaped the Holocaust as a young Jewish teenager?” (Knickerbocker 11/13/2010)
Beck Denies Anti-Semitism - Beck denies any anti-Semitism on his part. Instead, Beck accuses Soros of being anti-Semitic, and uses his time of hiding with the Hungarian family as “proof” of his hatred of Jews, and his “collaboration” with Nazis. (Goldberg 11/11/2010) “I’m going to concentrate on the fact that I think the lesson he learned in that horrific year of 1944 is if you hide your true identity you can gain power, you can survive,” Beck says. “And those who are seen as disadvantaged or handicapped and don’t hide their identity, well, they don’t survive.” The accusations of Soros being a “collaborator” actually began in 1998, after Soros discussed his successful escape from Nazi persecution on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Although the accusations were quickly proven false, right-wing opponents of Soros have continued to air them in an attempt to discredit the billionaire (see August 8, 2006 and February 2007). (Media Matters 11/11/2010)
Jewish Organizations Condemn Beck - Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, and the Jewish Funds for Justice call Beck’s accusations “monstrous” and “horrific.” However, Fox News defends Beck’s comments (see November 9-11, 2010 and After).
Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), calls President Obama a “socialist,” and says the campaign contributions by Fox News’s parent company are legal and ethical. Of Obama, Ailes says: “The president has not been very successful. He just got kicked from Mumbai to South Korea, and he came home and attacked Republicans for it. He had to be told by the French and the Germans that his socialism was too far left for them to deal with.… He just has a different belief system than most Americans.” Fox News does not “single out” Obama for criticism, Ailes claims, but is merely “more direct” in its reporting. Ailes says Fox is correct in painting Obama as an anti-American who harbors secret sympathies for Islamist terrorists; it is the other news outlets that fear to report the “truth.” Most of the press is “in love” with Obama, he says. Ailes says Fox’s ratings boost since the Obama election (see November 4, 2008) has nothing to do with the network’s relentless criticism of Obama and the White House. Fox currently leads both of its cable news competitors, CNN and MSNBC, in ratings. He says that he was “totally surprised” when Fox News’s parent, News Corporation (often abbreviated NewsCorp), donated $2 million to Republican campaign organizations (see June 24, 2010 and After and September 30, 2010), but says NewsCorp owner Rupert Murdoch has the right to donate money to whichever organization or candidate he chooses. As for criticism of the donations, Ailes says he knew that “lefties would use it to immediately try to damage Fox News.” (Kurtz 11/16/2010) Fox News commentators and hosts have frequently tarred Obama and his advisors as socialists, “Stalinists,” and “Marxists” (see October 27, 2008, January 2009, March 17, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, May 13, 2009, May 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 19, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 29, 2010, and October 26, 2010).
Investigative journalist Robert Parry speaks at a conference in Heidelberg, Germany concerning the progression of journalism from the 1970s to the present. Parry tells the gathering that American investigative journalism may have hit something of a zenith in the 1970s, with the media exposure of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) and the Watergate scandal (see August 8, 1974). “That was a time when US journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press,” he says. “In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses—from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard. Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the US news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.” However, those days are long past, Parry notes, and in recent years, American journalism has, he says, gone “terribly wrong.” Parry says that the American press was subjected to an orchestrated program of propaganda and manipulation on a par with what the CIA did in many foreign countries: “Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies. It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth. And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and—over the course of several decades—they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.”
Building a Base - Right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers (see 1979-1980) and Richard Mellon Scaife, along with Nixon-era figures such as former Treasury Secretary William Simon (a Wall Street investment banker who ran the right-wing Olin Foundation) worked to organize conservative foundations; their money went into funding what Parry calls “right-wing media… right-wing think tanks… [and] right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.” Parry finds it ironic, in light of the CIA’s interference in the affairs of other nations, that two foreign media moguls, Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, were key figures in building and financing this conservative media construct. Some media outlets, such as Fox News (see Summer 1970 and October 7, 1996), were created from scratch, while others, such as the venerable and formerly liberal New Republic, were bought out and taken over by conservatives. When Ronald Reagan ascended to the White House, Parry says, he brought along with him “a gifted team of [public relations] and ad men.” Vice President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director, enabled access to that agency’s propaganda professionals. And Reagan named William Casey to head the CIA; Casey, a former Nixon administration official, was “obsessed [with] the importance of deception and propaganda,” Parry says. “Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.”
Two-Pronged Attack - Two key sources of information for Washington media insiders were targeted, Parry says: the “fiercely independent” CIA analytical division, whose analyses had so often proven damaging to White House plans when reported, and the “unruly” Washington press corps. Casey targeted the CIA analysts, placing his young assistant, Robert Gates, in charge of the analytical division; Gates’s reorganization drove many troublesome analysts into early retirement, to be replaced with more malleable analysts who would echo the White House’s hard line against “Soviet expansionism.” Another Casey crony, Walter Raymond Jr., worked to corral the Washington press corps from his position on the National Security Council. Raymond headed an interagency task force that ostensibly spread “good news” about American policies in the foreign press, but in reality worked to smear and besmirch American journalists who the White House found troubling. According to Parry, “Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America.” It was easy to discredit female journalists in Central America, Parry says; Raymond’s team would spread rumors that they were secretly having sexual liaisons with Communist officials. Other reporters were dismissed as “liberals,” a label that many news executives were eager to avoid. Working through the news executives was remarkably successful, Parry says, and it was not long before many Washington reporters were either brought to heel or marginalized.
'Perception Management' - Reagan’s team called its domestic propaganda scheme “perception management.” Parry says: “The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control. Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.” The New York Times and Washington Post, the newspapers that had led the surge of investigative reporting in the 1970s, were effectively muzzled during the Reagan era; Parry says that the two papers “became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.” The same happened at the Associated Press (AP), where Parry had attempted, with limited success, to dig into the Reagan administration’s Central American policies, policies that would eventually crystallize into the Iran-Contra scandal (see May 5, 1987). Few newspapers followed the lead of AP reporters such as Parry and Brian Barger until late 1986, when the Hasenfus air crash provided a news story that editors could no longer ignore (see October 5, 1986). But, Parry says, by the time of the Iran-Contra hearings, few news providers, including the Associated Press, had the stomach for another scandal that might result in another impeachment, particularly in light of the relentless pressure coming from the Reagan administration and its proxies. By June 1990, Parry says he understood “the concept of ‘perception management’ had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.… Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.” The process accelerated after 9/11, Parry says: “[M]any journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq. Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq. Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in. Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008” (see November 2002-March 2003, November 25, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 5, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 7, 2003, and March 17, 2003).
The Wikileaks Era and the 'Fawning Corporate Media' - Parry says that now, the tough-minded independent media has been all but supplanted by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.” This has increased public distrust of the media, which has led to people seeking alternative investigative and reporting methods. Parry comments that much of the real investigative journalism happening now is the product of non-professionals working outside the traditional media structure, such as Wikileaks (see February 15, 2007, 2008, and April 18, 2009). However, the independent media have not demonstrated they can reach the level of influence of institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times. “[I]f we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked,” Parry says, “we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the ‘war on terror,’ no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all. When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.… Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.… So, a sad but—I think—fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.” (Parry 5/15/2012)
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