Former aide to Gov. Schweitzer turned fact-finder and guest blogger for Salon, did not have any kind words for GOPTV, otherwise known as Fox "news" on this Sunday's Reliable Sources.
October 20, 2013

As we already discussed here at Crooks and Liars, former aide to Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer turned guest blogger for Salon did a bit of follow up on one of Sean Hannity's lie-filled segments on the Affordable Care Act, and discovered what we all knew already -- that Sean Hannity likes to play fast and loose with the truth and is more than willing to find guests who will come on his show and do the same.

The former staffer, Eric Stern, appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources this Sunday and I have a feeling he may not be invited back any time soon. The guest host for this week, David Folkenflik, didn't seem to terribly thrilled when Stern, while discussing his article at Salon, called out Fox for being exactly what they are -- a propaganda channel for the Republican party. I wonder if Folkenflik was worried he might have something to say about TeaNN next?

FOLKENFLIK: If you're in search of a consistent voice of doom about ObamaCare, one need not turn farther than FOX News' Sean Hannity. The conservative host turned the attention to the subject again and again on his primetime show this year, broadcasting an hour- long special on this subject earlier this month, which featured families who said they would suffer under the Affordable Care Act.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST: You're self-employed. Tell us your ObamaCare story, (inaudible) insurance story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't even have insurance for our daughter, who has a pre-existing condition. So we're looking at probably $20,000 in premiums.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOLKENFLIK: But the lawyer and Democratic pundit Eric Stern felt those complaints and others that Hannity gave credence to didn't ring true, so he called each of them and in a piece for "Salon" magazine, he argued that many of the families the FOX opinion host presented would have derived real benefit from ObamaCare.

The Democratic lawyer and writer Eric Stern joins me now from Bozeman, Montana.

Eric, welcome and thanks for joining us.


FOLKENFLIK: I'm doing fine. You know, picking up the phone and calling people strikes me as doing actual reporting.

What inspired you to do this after seeing this piece?

STERN: Because I was watching it and it just didn't sound right. It didn't smell right with these folks, who were saying -- and what -- how Hannity was casting it.

And so afterwards, I just sat and thought about it a bit and I'm loosely familiar with the Affordable Care Act and the rules and the regs and what's coming down the road. So I just basically figured I would track them down. So I Googled them and I looked on the White Pages and LinkedIn and all sorts of things. And I found them and I talked to them.

FOLKENFLIK: To be clear, as is known, and you've disclosed, you're a former aide to the Democratic governor of Montana; you have an interest in this. Sean Hannity, well-known conservative, he is an opinion host.

Why would you expect him to be a guy who's going to go after precision in reflecting some concerns about an act that he opposes?

STERN: I didn't expect that. Everybody -- it's not news that he's full of it. I just thought that at least you can't make something up out of whole cloth. You have to have at least a modicum of fact to base even a biased story around, and this one didn't even have that.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they might argue that this is true to the experiences of these people. You reach them, some of them and explain facts.

One of them, it struck me, was concerned about effects for small businesses. He had found that he had only four employees.

Tell me what was discrepancy was between what he talked about and what you actually found to be the case.

STERN: He said that he had to keep his employees on part-time status because if he let them be full time it would -- he would have run into cost problems and ObamaCare would negatively affect him. But that only really applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. So really just, it didn't -- he was talking about something that really wasn't relevant.

FOLKENFLIK: And yet for others who simply haven't looked online -- at least that is what they said in your exchanges with them -- to even determine what they could get under ObamaCare, for them, they may actually distrust the government to oversee this private health care insurance exchanges.

Why isn't that simply true to their experience?

Aren't they entitled to that?

STERN: They absolutely are entitled to it. But Hannity is not entitled to point to what they're saying as evidence of a train wreck and that ObamaCare is currently failing. He's reporting on something that hasn't even happened yet.

FOLKENFLIK: So why do you think it is that there are people out there, A, who are, in your view -- and from what you've demonstrated perhaps somewhat misinformed about their opportunities under this and that there are media outlets that are providing information that itself may be inherently misleading?

STERN: Well, FOX News, first of all, to call it a media outlet is a bit of a stretch. It's essentially a Republican television channel. Now they have a right to do what they do. And Hannity, I watch Hannity from time to time. I have no problem with what he does.


FOLKENFLIK: Hannity is a more distinctive Republican and fixed figure than perhaps some of their other hosts. And I'm sure their news anchors, you know, what you're going to see on Shep Smith might be somewhat different than what you are going to see on Hannity. At the same time, it seems as though what you found here is an opinion host who's presenting something as fact that you say strays far from it.

STERN: Correct. That's exactly what he was doing.

And you're right. There are some shows on FOX where that's not the case, where they make more of an effort to have an adversarial format, to interview people from the other side and do things like that, like Bill O'Reilly.

But there is a lot of misinformation out there. And I think that a guy like Hannity is essentially the director of the right wing information industry in this country. And that's just propaganda. It's pure propaganda.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it led to a very interesting article on your part, and the interesting impulse to pick up the phone and figure out what the facts actually were. Eric Stern, thank you so much for joining us to talk about your story in "Salon".

Reliable Sources has been rotating hosts since Howard Kurtz left the show and all in all, it's actually been an improvement from when Kurtz was hosting (not that what Kurtz did on there is any kind of high bar to cross, quite the contrary), but this was not one of their finer moments since he's been gone. Folkenflik seemed desperate to try to deflect as much criticism of Fox as possible during the entire segment.

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