Profile: Sal Russo
Sal Russo was a participant or observer in the following events:
Tea party leaders angrily deny that their movement has any tolerance for racism and anti-Semitism, and say that accusations of this are attempts by “liberals” to “marginalize” the movement. Any incidents of racist or anti-Semitic sloganeering or other activities, they say, are isolated and not tolerated by the organizations themselves (see February 18, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 2009, September 14, 2009, March 16, 2010, March 20, 2010, March 24-25, 2010, May 14, 2010, July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010, July 23, 2010, August 6, 2010, September 11, 2010, September 12, 2010, and April 15, 2011). Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express, says: “Liberals and Democrats, with help from their friends in the media, have tried to marginalize the tea party movement. First they said [the tea party movement] was AstroTurf, that these weren’t real people (see March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 20, 2010).… Then they said it’s just a bunch of crackpots, and they would go out and find the oddest person in the crowd. Now they’re using race. But the attempts to vilify this movement is what you’d expect. It’s not going to work with the tea party.” Tea party leaders say that recent reports of harassment, threats, and vandalism of Democratic lawmakers by opponents of the Obama administration’s health care reform initiative (see August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, March 20, 2010, and March 24-25, 2010) are isolated incidents that have nothing to do with their organizations; House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) says he has also received hateful emails and telephone messages, but has chosen not to publicize them. Cantor has previously said that someone fired a bullet into his Richmond office, an event that local police will determine was a ricochet and not fired directly at his office. As to suggestions that Republican lawmakers such as himself have encouraged their supporters to harass or threaten Democrats, Cantor says, “Any suggestion that a leader in this body would incite threats or acts against other members is akin to saying that I would endanger myself, my wife, or my children.” However, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) says he and others were singled out by Cantor, and have received death threats and harassing emails and telephone calls, including some from people identifying themselves as tea party members. Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer has told reporters that there is “no evidence that annoying, harassing, or threatening telephone calls or emails are coordinated.” Dale Robertson of TeaParty.org says that he believes the reports of tea partiers vilifying or spitting on Democratic lawmakers are lies concocted by Democrats: “These people could be anybody. I wouldn’t put it past the Democrats to plant somebody there. They’re trying to label the tea party, but I’ve never seen any racial slurs.” In February 2009, Robertson was photographed holding a sign at a tea party rally in Houston bearing a racial slur (see February 27, 2009). [Washington Independent, 1/4/2010; Washington Times, 3/26/2010; Mediaite, 3/26/2010]
Four of Fox News’s presumptive presidential candidates. Clockwise from upper left: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee. [Source: Huffington Post]New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman profiles Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), who also serves as a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988). According to close friends and advisers to Ailes interviewed by Sherman, Ailes wants far more than the continued ratings and advertiser success of Fox News—he wants the network to steer one of its own into the White House in 2012 (see October 2008). He is tremendously influential; a Republican strategist tells Sherman: “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger. Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.”
Letdown? - Ailes has been keenly disappointed in the results of his network’s official and unofficial candidates so far. Former Alaska governor and Fox commentator Sarah Palin (see September 15-16, 2010), who has not yet announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, is polling at around 12 percent among Republican voters. Official presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Rick Santorum, a former senator, who both are commentators for Fox, have even lower numbers, at 10 percent and 2 percent respectively. Ailes has asked Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), who is not a Fox employee, to run; until recently, Fox News was enthusiastically promoting the putative presidential run of billionaire “birther” Donald Trump (see March 17, 2011). Ailes has envisioned General David Petraeus as a potential candidate, but Petraeus has instead accepted the post of CIA director. “He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” says a Republican close to Ailes. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of [President] Obama is a disaster.” None of the current crop of candidates meets Ailes’s expectations. Ailes is particularly disappointed in Palin; according to the same Republican, Ailes considers her “an idiot”: “He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.” After Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011, and other media outlets focused on Palin’s use of gunsight graphics to “target” Giffords and other vulnerable Democrats in the 2010 election (see March 24, 2010), according to Sherman, “Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable.” After the Giffords shooting, Ailes told an interviewer, “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’” Ailes was infuriated when Palin refused his advice to remain quiet until after the memorial service, and accused her critics of committing “blood libel,” a phrase often seen as anti-Semitic. The problem with Palin was further exacerbated when she argued about the amount of work Fox expects her to do: she does not want to host special broadcasts or other tasks the network expects of her. In March 2011, Fox suspended the contracts of Gingrich and Santorum so they could run their campaigns without legal or ethical entanglements. Shortly thereafter, Huckabee chose to remain at Fox and abandon his plans for a primary challenge. The network is still waiting for Palin’s decision whether to run for president.
Creation of the Tea Party - While Ailes and Fox News did not directly create the “tea party” “grassroots” movement, Ailes was involved in its creation and promotion from its outset (see February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Ailes has always been somewhat leery of having Fox News too closely associated with the burgeoning movement (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 12, 2009, and September 12, 2010), and at one point banned Fox News host Sean Hannity from hosting a tea party rally. However, according to Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and the founder of the national Tea Party Express tour, “There would not have been a tea party without Fox.” Fox News has promoted a number of successful “tea party” candidates (see May 14, 2008 - February 2010), including former host John Kasich (see March 27, 2008 - June 1, 2009 and After), who won the Ohio gubernatorial election in 2010. Before that election, Gingrich, still a Fox News commentator at the time, said that he was confident the “tea party” would evolve into “the militant wing of the Republican Party” (see April 21, 2010). Ailes used some of the same “astroturf” tactics (see February 27, 2009 and April 14, 2009) in developing the “tea party” as he did when he represented tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds, creating phony, seemingly independent “front” groups to push the “tea party” messages in the media. [New York Magazine, 5/22/2011]
Entity Tags: John Kasich, Donald Trump, David Petraeus, Christopher J. (“Chris”) Christie, Fox News, Gabrielle Giffords, Rick Santorum, Sal Russo, Gabriel Sherman, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Roger Ailes
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections
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