It’s more difficult being a shill for ultra-conservative propaganda than you might think. On the surface it appears to be merely an exercise in fabricating false narratives and phony scandals. Any two-bit, dime-store, novelist can whip up a salacious melodrama in short order and disseminate it to a gullible flock of lemmings.
However, to be really good at shaping fantastical versions of unreality, you need to be alert and organized to prevent your plot lines from getting away and destroying the illusions you worked so hard to create.
One of the techniques that Fox News has perfected is to broadcast a slanderous allegation as widely as possible when it is no more than a wispy speculation. Then, after it is discovered that the whole affair was constructed from lies and innuendo, simply neglect to ever bring it up again.
This was expertly demonstrated recently when Fox News participated in blowing up a smear job aimed at Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The story sprung from the right-wing Internet rag, The Daily Caller, which happens to be run by Fox News flunky, Tucker Carlson. TheDC purported to have evidence that Menendez hired prostitutes in the Dominican Republic and ran several articles on the subject. Fox News and other right-wing media picked up the story and turned it into a mini-scandal that erupted in the closing days of Menendez’s reelection campaign.
However, in the past couple of weeks the story has disintegrated as the prostitutes were questioned by police and recanted their statements, even going so far as to confess that they were paid to make false statements incriminating Menendez. And last week the deceit escalated as the man on whom TheDC based its story changed his tune and told the Domincan district attorney that he too was paid – by TheDC – to find and coach the prostitutes.
In the wake of these revelations, Media Matters has scoured Fox News for any sign of a retraction, correction, or apology, or even just an acknowledgement of the new disclosures. But for some reason, the network that aired segments of this story twenty times has ignored it completely since it has been debunked.
This is nothing new for Fox. Here are some additional stories where they heavily hyped questionable reporting that reflected poorly on Democrats or anyone to the left of center, only to scuttle the matter when it backfired on them:
- Fox News gleefully pounces on any hint of scandal involving a competing news enterprise, but when their parent corporation News Corp was found to have hacked hundreds of phones, including one belonging to a murdered schoolgirl, Fox feverishly ran from the story, even agreeing on the air not to question Rupert Murdoch about it.
- Fox News ran multiple stories about donors to Democratic candidates with implications of some dubious relationship, but when Rupert Murdoch gave $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association and the right-wing U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it was not considered newsworthy.
- There has been no shortage of reporting by Fox that negatively frames the issue of marriage equality, but when a Republican senator, Rob Portman, announces that because of his gay son he now supports it, Fox nearly ignores the subject entirely.
- One of Fox’s favorite stories of the past several years involved the videos of James O’Keefe, whose editing was deliberately misleading and dishonest, but when one of his victims, Juan Carlos Vera, forced O’Keefe into a $100,000 settlement, Fox abstained from reporting it.
- Perhaps the most significant news story in last year’s election was the release of the infamous “47% video” wherein Mitt Romney admitted that he didn’t much care about half of the country. When the identity of the man who made the video, Scott Prouty, was finally made public, Fox chose not cover the news. Well, other than to report that Prouty might have been delinquent on his taxes (which Prouty denied).
The behavior of Fox News is less like a journalistic organization than a frightened ostrich who sticks its head in the sand to avoid confronting what it fears. This pattern of blaring disparaging news aimed at Democrats, and cowering when that news is discovered to be false, reflects the cynical attitude of an enterprise that doesn’t care about accuracy or ethics. Fox simply wants to take a sledgehammer to their ideological foes, and if the tables turn, Fox slips away hoping that no one will notice.
It’s even worse, however, than what one might expect for an anxious ostrich. When Fox buries its hyperbolic head it isn’t immersed in a cavernous darkness. Rather, it sees more of the fictional world it created for itself. Fox, and it’s glassy-eyed audience, remains blissfully unaware of realities that the rest of take for granted. That’s why they were so astonished by the results of last November’s election that they were certain would result in a Romney landslide. It’s why they think that Benghazi is the biggest scandal since Watergate although the facts fail to indicate even a hint of wrongdoing. And it’s why a boneheaded congressional creature that has come to be known as the “Sequester” can threaten to wreak havoc for the economy and produce tens of thousands of personal hardships, but the big takeaway for Fox is that there may be a suspension of White House tours.
Living in the Fox bubble must be an endlessly painful experience. In case after case they are jolted by news that is at odds with the fragile pseudo-reality that cloaks them. But the most intriguing question has got to be: When will they cast it off? How many times must they get burned before they learn?