Bill O'Reilly was whining all night long on his show last night about Fox News being blamed for the warped nature of American discourse these days (something, of course, that John and I tackle front and center in our book Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane). His opening "Talking Points Memo" set the tone for the rest of the night's whine:
A few weeks ago, the president went after Congressman John Boehner. That didn't go anywhere. So now some lefties are bringing Fox News back into the war zone.
If you visit the left-wing websites, the rhetoric is pretty much all the same: Fox News lies; Fox News is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party; Fox News doesn't give President Obama a chance.
And in the past few days, we've seen that internet rhetoric expand to TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALAN GRAYSON, D-FLA.: One of the fundamental problems is Fox, OK? Fox has turned into Monty Python's lying circus. All day long they spew lies out time after time, day after day. And they have created this bubble of irreality around the people who listen to them, and it's a threat to this country.
FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Things have gone downhill, I think, in the last few years with the polarization of our country, with the evolution of a new kind of politics, with the birth of Fox News that now distorts everything rather than tells the truth.
RICK SANCHEZ, HOST, CNN's "RICK'S LIST": And then there is Fox News, which is essentially the voice of the Republican Party, whose job it is to make this man look bad no matter what he does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
This man, of course, is the president.
Since the war on Fox News failed the last time around, it is a bit perplexing that it would be resurrected. Americans can decide for themselves whether FNC is a propaganda mill. They don't need dishonest commentators to tell them that. We're here 24-7. You can see for yourself.
And the American people have. The CNN commentator you just heard gets beaten by "The Factor" about 7 to 1 in the ratings.
So blaming Fox News for the woes of the Democratic Party is another losing proposition. And like trying to demonize the Tea Party, it will backfire.
The troubling reality is that the USA is suffering economically and President Obama's leadership is being questioned. That's what's in play, and all the partisan bloviating in the world won't change that.
The problem is that Fox won't bring on anyone -- anyone -- who will demonstrate that Fox does indeed lie, and distort, and race-bait, and propagandize, all on a 24/7 basis. It's very easy to do -- but anyone who attempts to do so is immediately shut down. And anyone prepared to do so is never invited on. Indeed, we have considerable evidence that anyone prepared to criticize Fox is blackballed from their broadcasts.
O'Reilly claims his show has on Democrats all the time -- but it never has on critics of Fox. If O'Reilly really were to live up to his claim, he would invite John and me onto his show. But he knows we have the goods (just read Over the Cliff), he knows we'd make him look bad, and he'll never do it. Besides, he considers us to be too penny-ante -- which is pretty funny, considering he loves to present himself as a working-class guy who champions "the folks" all the time.
Moreover, Fox never invites on anyone (besides Alan Colmes) who will give a full-throated defense of what the Foxheads like to call "the left" -- not just President Obama, but the progressive agenda generally. Which is a large part of why the discourse that emanates from Fox is so distorted.
Let's use O'Reilly's centerpiece as our example here: the economy. It's true that Obama's economic recovery has not been as robust as any of us would have liked, and no doubt we can blame a large share of this on his conservative, Establishment-oriented economic team and his personal timidity.
But at the end of the day, his ability to be bold was constrained by the political realities created by Fox -- particularly its open advocacy and relentless promotion of an opposition movement (the Tea Parties) and its endless propagandizing on behalf of congressional Republicans who were rewarded for engaging in politics designed to make his programs fail.
Moreover, in spite of this, Obama has in fact done a reasonable job in turning things around -- a reality that you will never, ever hear expressed on Fox News.
To wit, here is a chart you will NEVER see shown on Fox:
That's a chart showing job growth in the USA. So much for "cutting taxes for the rich" as an effective job stimulus, eh?
O'Reilly may whine endlessly that Fox is being demonized as unfair to Democrats -- but it's simply a readily demonstrable reality.
Here's what we wrote in Over the Cliff -- Chapter 7, "Fox's War on the White House":
The Obama White House, in reality, did not “declare war on Fox News,” as the network’s favorite talking point claimed. Rather, it was self-evident to anyone watching cable news in 2009 that Fox had declared war on the Obama White House from the day of the president’s inauguration—and it took the White House until October to finally decide to fire back.
The campaign to undermine Obama, primarily by attacking his legitimacy, began almost the moment Obama took his oath of office on January 20. When administering the oath, Chief Justice John Roberts botched the reading of it aloud and was corrected, gently, by Obama as he responded.
Shortly afterward, Chris Wallace told the Fox News audience that Obama might not have been legitimately sworn in:
I have to say I’m not sure Barack Obama really is the President of the United States because the oath of office is set in the Constitution and I wasn’t at all convinced that even after he tried to amend it that John Roberts ever got it out straight and that Barack Obama ever said the prescribed words. I suspect that everybody is going to forgive him and allow him to take over as president, but I’m not sure he actually said what’s in the Constitution, there.
It emerged shortly afterward, in fact, that Obama had gotten it right and said the oath properly. But because these things take on a life of their own among the conspiracists of the Right, there was a brief oath-taking ceremony early that evening with Justice Roberts properly repeating the words so there would be no lingering questions.
Meanwhile, the Fox “opinion” anchors swung into immediate action on Inauguration Day. Sean Hannity attacked the new administration for the cost of the inauguration:
Barack Obama’s inaugural bash is going to be the most expensive celebration in U.S. history. Its opulence stands in stark contrast to our faltering economy, yet those who expected frugality from George W. Bush four years ago are strangely silent this go-around.
Hannity added that “the cost of Obama’s inaugural will dwarf past celebrations and make those of President Bush’s look like budget bashes.” In fact, as Eric Boehlert reported at Media Matters, the costs of the second Bush inaugural were roughly the same as those for Obama’s.
Hannity had made plain his intentions even before the inauguration. At his Web site, he began organizing in December what he called “the conservative underground” and asking people to “join the resistance” to the Obama administration. At the site’s discussion forum, one of his regulars posted an online poll asking respondents to answer: “What kind of revolution appeals most to you?” The possible answers: "A. Military Coup. B. Armed Rebellion. C. War for Secession."
We also discuss Fox's claims that its "news" shows provide straight, "objective" news free of the "opinion" taint, when in reality its news shows regularly pick up talking points from the previous day's "opinion" shows and treat them as news pegs ("Some are saying ..."):
This was just standard operating procedure for Fox’s daytime news shows, which regularly took their cues from stories drummed up in the afternoons and evenings by their “opinion” talkers. Some examples:
-- On March 24, Marsha MacCallum on Live Desk joined in furthering the then popular theme that President Obama’s programs were “socialist” by lauding her guest, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, when Bachmann claimed that Obama’s proposals are a “lurch toward socialism.” Said MacCallum: “I think you’re absolutely right about that.”
-- After Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity attacked Sonia Sotomayor as a racist, Megyn Kelly on America’s Newsroom told viewers that Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” remark “sounds to a lot of people like reverse racism, basically. Like she’s saying that Latina judges are obviously better than white male judges, and that that’s her assumption, and people get worried about putting a person like that on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Kelly later added, “I’ve looked at the entire speech that she was offering to see if that was taken out of context, and I have to tell you . . . it wasn’t.”
-- After Sean Hannity and other “opinion” talkers described President Obama’s trip to France as part of an “apology tour,” Jon Scott on Happening Now asked if “the president’s upcoming trip [to Europe and the Middle East will] be what conservatives might call another apology tour.” Both Scott and his co-host, Jane Skinner, showed viewers a set of clips from Obama’s remarks in an April 3 speech in France, carefully cropped to falsely suggest that Obama had criticized only the United States—just as Hannity had done two months before.
-- James Rosen attacked Cass Sunstein, the nominee to be the White House regulatory overseer, in a September 9 story on Special Report: “Rats could attack us in the sewer and court systems if all of Cass Sunstein’s writings became law. The Harvard Law professor . . . argued in 2004 that animals represented by human beings should be able to sue human beings and has even questioned whether humans can legally expel rats from our homes if doing so causes the rat’s distress.” The report came directly on the heels of a Glenn Beck segment making the same charges—albeit in a more incendiary fashion. Beck said that Sunstein was “a man that believes that you should not be able to remove rats from your home if it causes them any pain.” What Sunstein had actually written was: “At the very least, people should kill rats in a way that minimizes distress and suffering. . . . If human beings are at risk of illness and disease from mosquitoes and rats, they have a strong justification, perhaps even one of self-defense, for eliminating or relocating them.”
Similarly, as seen in chapter 5, these daytime news shows played an integral role in promoting the anti-Obama Tea Parties. America’s Newsroom, Fox & Friends, Live Desk, and Happening Now all avidly promoted Tea Party information on-air and online. The programs regularly hosted Tea Party organizers and posted protest dates and locations on-screen. Their Web sites all provided Tea Party information and directions as well.
If the news shows constantly blurred the line between opinion and news, at other times they obliterated the line between news and partisan propaganda. As Media Matters reported:
During the February 10 edition of Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott purported to “take a look back” at how the economic recovery plan “grew, and grew, and grew.” In doing so, Scott referenced seven dates, as on-screen graphics cited various news sources from those time periods—all of which came directly from a Senate Republican Communications Center press release. A Fox News on-screen graphic even reproduced a typo contained in the Republican press release. The following day, Scott apologized—for running the typo.
This wasn’t the only occasion when news pieces simply transcribed Republican talking points. Happening Now aired two April 1 segments featuring seven “FOXfact[s]” that purportedly detailed the House Republican budget proposal. The “FOXfact[s]” were lifted directly from an op-ed by Republican representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that had appeared in that day’s Wall Street Journal. On America’s Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer reported on four “interesting” projects being funded by the just-passed economic stimulus package as part of keeping track of “stimulus money” using Fox’s independent researchers. However, Hemmer had lifted the graphics, on-screen text, and all four of the projects directly from Representative Eric Cantor’s Republican-whip Web site.
Fox fobbed off this kind of outright propagandizing on the public every day as “news” reportage, mixed in with the predictable menu of car chases and stories about missing college students. It amounted to a mountainous barrage of misinformation posing as news. The compiled record stood as stark evidence putting the lie to Fox News’s claim, after Anita Dunn called it on the carpet, that its news reportage was distinct from and untainted by its “opinion” shows. Not only was the content of those “opinion” shows wildly incendiary and consistently (not to mention irresponsibly) afactual, but its “news” shows were carefully programmed to retransmit those fraudulent claims in the guise of straight information.
And we also point out that this really represents a massive failure on the part of the journalistic profession generally:
Journalism is largely a self-policed profession, one in which standards are maintained by both internal editing and peer competition, with fellow professionals playing the role of calling out their peers for violating those standards. But that standard-keeping aspect completely failed when it came to Fox News—even after the White House had presented journalists with a golden opportunity to seriously scrutinize it.
Fox News had amassed a record, even before 2009, of failing to live up to basic standards of factual accuracy, genuine fairness and balance, and journalistic responsibility. After Obama’s election, it seemed to abandon any pretense whatever of meeting those standards—running false “facts,” deceptively edited videos, and outright ideological promotions while seriously mainstreaming extremist ideas from the radical right. As Media Matters put it in its exhaustive report on the relationship between Fox’s news and opinion shows, “it is Fox News that has been waging a partisan political war against the White House since Inauguration Day, and while doing so, revealing both its disdain for journalistic standards and its all-consuming political agenda—qualities that differentiate Fox News from any credible news organization.”
Instead of dealing forthrightly with the problem, the Beltway Village circled its wagons around Fox for having been horribly attacked by the White House. Fox, unsurprisingly, ran a stream of guests willing to come on and denounce the White House as being misguided for choosing to defend itself.