A couple of weeks ago a class at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vermont, took on the awesome power of America’s top rated cable “news” network, Fox News. Using a segment from the Bill O’Reilly show that featured his stalker Jesse Watters, they expertly demonstrated how Fox systematically breaches the code of ethics as stipulated by the Society for Professional Journalism. [See this article for the back story and the students’ video]
Anyone who follows Fox News knows that they do not take kindly to criticism. In fact, they react aggressively and with a viciousness that is generally associated with aberrant behavior like road rage. That appears to be the case even when their victims are high school kids. So it is not particularly surprising that last Friday Bill O’Reilly teased his response to the kids by calling them “pinheads” and Watters promised a “vigourous defense of my journalistic integrity point by point” would be delivered on Monday.
So today O’Reilly brought Watters back for his defense (video below), which did more to prove the original case made by the students than to exonerate Watters or O’Reilly. The segment was an embarrassing mash of childish attempts at humor, but worse, it was filled with lies and misrepresentations.
Beginning with a claim by the students that Watters made generalized assertions about the state of Vermont after visiting just one small town, Watters rebuttal was a joke (?) that didn’t address the point at all:
“Hold it! Bennington is my town now. I just bought a little hemp farm there this past weekend. Hey neighbors.” […and later added…] Did your nutty professor write this script for you?
Apparently Watters has decided to employ the most juvenile tactics in his defense. Perhaps he thinks these high schoolers are seven or eight years old, because that’s the level to which he is stooping. His “nutty professor” remark insulted both the teacher and the students by implying that they were not responsible for their own work. Then, following a clip wherein the students criticized Watters for predetermining the outcome of his story, Watters tried to shift responsibility elsewhere saying…
“Actually Gallup predetermined the outcome. Now I’ll be waiting to watch that anti-Gallup video.”
Watters then displayed a graphic of a Gallup poll showing that Vermont was the most liberal state in the country. However, that is not what the students were referencing with regard to predetermined outcomes. The actual topic at that point was how Watters’ inserted his opinion in a question about whether Vermonters should apologize for voting for President Obama, as if there were something for which to apologize (i.e. a booming economy? Ending two wars? Access to health insurance? Cutting unemployment in half? Cutting the deficit by two-thirds?).
So Watters deliberately lied in that response by pretending that the students were referring to something else that better suited his agenda. Even worse, he doctored the graphic for the Gallup poll to put Vermont at the top. If you look at the Gallup website the original graphic shows that Vermont’s liberal ranking was actually second behind the District of Columbia.
Next, Watters played a clip from the student video where they called him out for referring to all Vermonters disparagingly, including one who Watters described as a “drifter.” The students noted that Watters never authenticated his assertion about whether or not he was a drifter, or even if he was from Vermont. To that Watters’ replied incredulously…
“So before I do an interview you want me to ask a guest to show me their papers?”
Um, yes. A responsible journalist will at least make an effort to identify their subjects, especially if the journalist intends to draw conclusions about them. Watters seems to think he can put anyone on the air without any vetting and then make slanderous comments at will. Does Watters actually believe that a real journalist wouldn’t verify who they were talking to before putting them on the air? Is that how Fox News selects their “experts” on economics, foreign policy, etc.?
Watters and O’Reilly spent the closing minutes of the segment ridiculing the students for taking Watters seriously. They attempted to justify their rank dishonesty by saying it was all just satirical. That’s an ironic defense since O’Reilly, and most other right-wingers in the media, are constantly bashing people like Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, and Bill Maher, and whining about the impact they have on the nation and on the news. O’Reilly once called Stewart “a key component of left-wing television.” Conservatives regard political humorists as part of the so-called liberal media conspiracy, and they take them very seriously. But here they are attempting to excuse their own faulty reporting by dismissing it as humor. Why is it a heinous act of propaganda when others do it, but when they do it’s benignly entertaining?
The truth is that Watters, besides being remarkably unfunny, is just as much a part of the propaganda crusade that makes up the Fox News mission. He uses his allegedly entertaining bits to advance a right-wing message, just the same as O’Reilly or Megyn Kelly or Bret Baier use their allegedly newsy bits. He is deliberately derogatory against liberals exclusively. And if you don’t think that he’s part of the messaging on Fox, you are terminally naive. Even Fox News has observed that Jon Stewart is more fair and balanced with his satire.
The embarrassing rebuttal to the student project just emphasizes the lengths that Fox will go to promulgate their disinformation. It also shows their utter disregard for the truth or journalistic ethics. But most notoriously (and hilariously) it shows that they can’t even defend themselves against valid criticisms made by intelligent amateurs who are still in high school.
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