It’s easy to make a mistake on the air, blurt something out, let a biased comment slip.
But a four-minute, elaborately produced taped package?
That’s a statement. A carefully constructed message. And, in the case of what aired on Fox News on Wednesday morning, a premeditated attack.
The thing has to be seen to be believed. It is a classic piece of negative propaganda, scary music and all.
The piece starts off with Barack Obama promising change, and then, banging the viewer over the head: A bag of money, labeled a $15.7-trillion deficit. Footage of begging homeless people. The jobless rate ticking up to 8.3 percent (though it’s down from 9.9). Shots of people using food stamps as Nancy Pelosi favorably mentions the program and the unbiased Newt Gingrich rips Obama as a food-stamp president. Rising gas prices. Rising food prices. Foreclosure signs. A pink piggy bank tumbling down the stairs. Speeded-up snippets of unseen voices delivering bad news.
And how did Fox & Friends react to this assault on the senses? “Hats off to Chris White,” said co-host Steve Doocy, crediting the associate producer who made the video.
I’m telling you, Mitt Romney’s campaign wouldn’t have produced this. The RNC wouldn’t have produced this. Karl Rove’s group wouldn’t have produced this. It is a parody of an attack spot and would have been laughed out of the political arena.
Fox reacted by yanking the video from its website and issuing a tepid statement from executive vice president Bill Shine: “The package that aired on Fox & Friends was created by an associate producer and was not authorized at the senior executive level of the network. This has been addressed with the show’s producers.”
“Not authorized”? No denunciation of the video? No apology? No disciplinary action?
Obviously, Rupert Murdoch’s network has been battling charges of conservative bias since it launched in 1996. It’s the network of Sean Hannity, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, the network that employed Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum until they ran for president. The network where Glenn Beck called the president a racist and another anchor accused Obama of giving his wife a “terrorist fist jab.”
But Fox also maintains that its straight-news shows, hosted by the likes of Bret Baier, Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly and Shepard Smith, are fair and balanced. Indeed, I’ve argued that the first three asked tough questions of the GOP candidates at a series of primary debates. And that reporters such as Ed Henry and John Roberts didn’t become unfair when they joined Fox from CNN.
But Wednesday’s video tarnishes the journalists who work at Fox News. Everyone knows that Fox & Friends is a right-leaning show whose hosts have disparaged Obama. During the 2008 campaign, Wallace accused the program of "distorting" what the candidate had said and declared that "two hours of Obama-bashing may be enough."
The fact that the hosts were happy with this latest video assault on the president is nothing short of revealing.
This is a moment of truth heading into the general election. Roger Ailes should denounce the video and criticize his network’s handling of it. He should make clear that such partisan garbage has no place on Fox News. Otherwise people will assume that Fox’s worst critics are right.
Footnote: TV Newser reports that Chris White may not be at Fox News much longer—because he has an offer on the table from CNN. A CNN spokesperson says that the network will not be hiring White.