The Fox News War On News

David Carr of the New York Times seems to finally have noticed what has been obvious for years to any objective news analyst. Fox News has a long-standing scorched Earth policy when reacting to other media who dare to report on Fox News.

In his column titled, When Fox News Is the Story,” Carr confesses that just the thought of having to deal with Fox News as a subject in a story makes him and his peers nervous:

“Once the public relations apparatus at Fox News is engaged, there will be the calls to my editors, keening (and sometimes threatening) e-mail messages, and my requests for interviews will quickly turn into depositions about my intent or who else I am talking to.”

The key tactic in Fox’s PR strategy is to intimidate reporters and editors, and by Carr’s own admission, it’s working. Carr goes on to profile the Fox news PR machine as an operation modeled on political warfare, as directed by CEO Roger Ailes, a veteran of campaigns going back to Richard Nixon. He describes it as “a kind of rolling opposition research” effort intended to cause material harm to their perceived enemies. Carr cites the recent example of the hosts of Fox & Friends taking out their revenge on two Times reporters who wrote about how the competition is gaining on Fox. Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy displayed altered photographs of the reporters that were at best unflattering, at worst anti-Semitic.

While Carr’s revelations are interesting, they don’t go nearly far enough to provide an historical context for Fox’s behavior. This is not a recent phenomena. Three years ago David Folkenflik wrote about how Fox bears its fangs when it doesn’t like what’s being said. And the AP’s David Bauder documented what has become known as Fox’s “Wishing Well,” a back-handed slap at anyone who says anything about Fox News that isn’t complimentary:

  • Because of his personal demons, Keith [Olbermann] has imploded everywhere he’s worked. From lashing out at co-workers to personally attacking Bill O’Reilly and all things Fox, it’s obvious Keith is a train wreck waiting to happen. And like all train wrecks, people might tune in out of morbid curiosity, but they eventually tune out, as evidenced by Keith’s recent ratings decline. In the meantime, we hope he enjoys his paranoid view from the bottom of the ratings ladder and wish him well on his inevitable trip to oblivion.
  • Ted [Turner] is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network and now his mind. We wish him well.
  • Tim [Russert]’s sour grapes are obvious here, but at least he’s not using his father as a prop to sell books this time around. That said, we wish him well on his latest self-promotion tour.
  • We are disappointed that George [Clooney] has chosen to hurt Mr. O’Reilly’s family in order to promote his movie. But it’s obvious he needs publicity considering his recent string of failures. We wish him well in his struggle to regain relevancy.
  • We wish CNN well in their annual executive shuffle. We wish Jon [Klein] well in his battle for second place with MSNBC.
  • We can understand David [Shuster]’s disappointment in being let go by Fox News Channel, but he’s too young to be so bitter. We wish him well in getting his career back on track.

It’s not just PR flacks volleying in this debate. The big dogs at News Corp. are fully engaged. Rupert Murdoch’s spokesperson delivered an ultimatum to GE, saying that if they reined in Keith Olbermann, Fox would call off Bill O’Reilly. Roger Ailes stepped into the fray personally, threatening…

“…that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

In the weeks that followed, Ailes made good on his threat. Bill O’Reilly, Steve Doocy, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Gretchen Carlson, and others at Fox News all laid into NBC/GE with renewed vigor. O’reilly even has his own Media Hall of Shame. The New York Post’s gossips on Page Six initiated a week-long assault on Olbermann’s personal life, alleging tax evasion, calling him unstable, and even publishing his home address – a vile act whose only purpose could be to cause him harm.

The risks faced by reporters who merely want to do their jobs is very real. Fox News will throw whatever they can at you to derail your reporting and/or tarnish your reputation. Carr relates horror stories from his colleagues who have dared to cross Fox News:

“…they have received e-mail messages from Fox News public relations staff that contained doctored photos, anonymous quotes and nasty items about competitors. And two former Fox employees said that they had participated in precisely those kinds of activities but had signed confidentiality agreements and could not say so on the record.”

~

“…few were willing to be quoted. In the last several years, reporters from The Associated Press, several large newspapers and various trade publications have said they were shut out from getting their calls returned because of stories they had written. Editors do not want to hear why your calls are not being returned, they just want you to fix the problem, or perhaps they will fix it by finding someone else to do your job.”

That’s an old tactic practiced by political operatives and office holders. They know that if they deny you access, your editor is going to have to get someone else who doesn’t have that problem. In effect, they get you fired. It is unprecedented, however, for a media company to employ such hardball tactics against other media companies. But that is the way Fox does business, and their peers had better develop strong stomachs if they hope to endure.

The impression left by Carr is that many in the media have already given up fighting. They will either decline to report on anything having to do with Fox News (if it’s critical), or they will simply adjust their reporting to be more positive. That is the danger of letting bullies get away with their bad behavior. Once again, it will be up to the people to insist that they get honest, responsible journalism from the Conventional Media. It is up to us to force them to do their jobs. If we succeed then it won’t matter what Fox’s attack dogs do. Their vacant yelping will disperse like a fading echo. We wish them well as they collapse from the fatigue of chasing their own tails.

Gawker has more on Fox News PR Priestess, Irena Briganti.

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The Suppresion Of The Prosecution Of George W. Bush for Murder

Former Los Angeles county prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, has published several best-selling books and received many awards for his writing. But he is still having trouble getting the media to cover the release of his current book, “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.”

The book’s provocative title foretells a serious exploration of the legal case to be made for trying Bush for the murder of American soldiers killed in Iraq. The publisher describes the book as…

“…a tight, meticulously researched legal case that puts George W. Bush on trial in an American courtroom for the murder of nearly 4,000 American soldiers fighting the war in Iraq. Bugliosi sets forth the legal architecture and incontrovertible evidence that President Bush took this nation to war in Iraq under false pretenses-a war that has not only caused the deaths of American soldiers but also over 100,000 innocent Iraqi men, women, and children; cost the United States over one trillion dollars thus far with no end in sight; and alienated many American allies in the Western world.”

But this successful, highly regarded author is being given a cold shoulder by the media who are instrumental in the marketing of such products. Bugliosi even reports that Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and MSNBC are declining to book him for interviews. He says that…

“They are not responding at all. I think it all goes back to fear. If the liberal media would put me on national television, I think they’d fear that they would be savaged by the right wing. The left wing fears the right, but the right does not fear the left.”

Even worse, Jon Meacham of Newsweek admitted that the reason Bugliosi is being shut out is that, “…there’s a kind of Bush-bashing fatigue out there.” The notion that editors are blocking the promotion of controversial works on that basis is rather chilling. Firstly, because there is no foundation for drawing such conclusions. While there is plenty of disdain for Bush, who many historians have crowned the worst president ever, I have seen no evidence of the public tiring of documentary proof of that designation. Secondly, because the merit of the content ought to be the determinative factor as to whether to engage the author. If the work is meaningful, well-constructed, and has value to our society and its institutions, the media ought not to bury it for reasons that are arbitrary or biased.

If someone of Bugliosi’s stature is inhibited in this manner, what does that portend for lesser known authors? What does that portend for free speech? Why can’t they just let the people decide?


Philadelphia Radio Station Blocks Democratic Ad

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has produced a radio ad for broadcast in 13 Republican held House districts. In the Philadelphia district served by Jim Gerlach KYW-AM is refusing to air this ad.

The advertisement features a George W. Bush impersonator pretending to be talking to the Republican representative and thanking him for standing by the administration’s agenda on behalf of Big Oil and the “Grand Oil Party.” But apparently that’s too much for the tender sensibilities of KYW’s audience, at least according to its general manager, David Yadgaroff.

“As an all-news station, we were concerned that our listeners would have been misled by usage of an impersonator in the creative delivery.”

Were I a Philly resident, I would be insulted by Yadgaroff’s condescension. Does he really believe that his audience is too stupid to figure out that this is a political ad? More importantly, does he have such disrespect for his community that he would engage in wholesale censorship based on such a disparaging assertion? Apparently so.


Chris Wallace OD’s On Fox News Kool Aid

In an interview with the Martha’s Vineyard Times, Chris Wallace reveals that his re-education program has been successfully completed. Having been fully immersed in the Fox News program for attitude adjustment, Wallace has emerged a changed man. It took four and a half years but now he finally realizes that all the time he spent at what he calls the “mainstream media” was nothing but a delusional fantasy:

“…when I was in the mainstream media, when I was working at NBC and ABC – those were my big jobs for about 25 years – I thought we were fair and balanced. But since coming to Fox four and a half years ago, I have come to see things a little differently. And I, in fact, do believe there is a bias in the mainstream media and that is something I was only able to understand when I was outside of it.”

Wallace’s acknowledgment of media bias is a major breakthrough. And his repeated, mantra-like, references to mainstream media reflect the fullness of his indoctrination. He never bothers to explain how Fox, the number one cable news network and part of the vast Murdoch family of international TV, newspapers, and magazines, is not itself mainstream. But he does explain why Fox is an important player in modern media:

“…whether you like Fox News or don’t like it, it seems to me that it is a healthy development if only because it creates another view point.”

As we all know, it is essential that new viewpoints be “created” if we are to effectively manipulate public opinion. Even if that creation is the product of fiction writers at Fox headquarters. However, by conceding that Fox propounds a manufactured position, Wallace comes dangerously close to exposing the heart of the rightist conspiracy. He may need a little more Kool Aid after all.


Cable News Viewers: The Next Generation

Ratings for the second quarter of 2008 are in and it has ceased to be news that Fox is the slowest growing cable news network:

2nd Quarter 2008 vs 2007 – 25-54
Network % Gain/Loss
MSNBC +46
CNN +22
Fox -2

Far more interesting are the trends that point to long term viewing patterns. While the 25-54 demo is most prized by advertisers, it is not a static metric. As people age they grow into and out of that demographic group. So which networks are poised to benefit over time as audiences mature?

An analysis I did last month showed that only 22% of primetime Fox viewers were in the 25-54 demo, compared to 31% for CNN and 38% for MSNBC. The quarter-end numbers for the first half of 2008 further illustrate the aging of Fox News. In the ranking for cable news networks in the 18-34 demo, MSNBC is first with about 35% more viewers than CNN and Fox who are virtually tied.

These 18-34 year olds are the next generation of 25-54 year olds, and they are establishing their viewing habits now. At this point in time they are expressing a notable preference for MSNBC’s brand of news and analysis. So while Fox News has been trending down for a couple of years, the composition of the audience is forecasting even more downside for Murdoch & Co.

Fox viewers and John McCain have something in common besides a hard-right leaning network. They are also precisely the same age. What remains to be seen is if the demographic dead weight that is dragging down Fox News will do the same to candidate McCain.


Bill O’Reilly Controls The Stock Market

Jed Babbin, the editor of Human Events, has written what may be the stupidest article of the year. In it he wastes 1200+ words arguing that GE/NBC is terribly upset with the prodigious success of its cable news network MSNBC. Obviously – anyone would be disturbed with a business enterprise that doubles its audience year after year. As evidence of the concern, Babbin introduces two “exhibits” to affirm his hypothesis.

Exhibit A is a letter sent by presidential counselor Ed Gillespie complaining about an interview of President Bush conducted by Richard Engle. Babbin doesn’t actually explain why whining by a White House crony demonstrates any discomfit in the halls of NBC’s executive suites. The fact of the matter is that it’s just another politician working the refs to try to get more positive coverage.

Exhibit B is the contention that Keith Olbermann has a relationship with his bosses. Why Babbin thinks that there is something extraordinary about the host of a network’s number one program receiving accolades from the network honchos is also not explained.

But the truly idiotic part of the column is Babbin’s assertion that Bill O’Reilly is responsible for the poor performance of GE stock:

“O’Reilly’s high-temperature criticism of GE and Immelt — calling him a “despicable human being” responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq — may even have contributed to GE’s stock slide. From a high of $42.15 on October 2, 2007, GE’s shares have lost 36% of shareholder value, closing last Friday at $26.83.”

That’s a lot of power that Babbin has placed in the hands of a lowly TV blowhard. However, GE’s stock is not alone in suffering severe losses. Maybe Babbin hasn’t heard that the economy is near (or in) a recession. Perhaps he has also not heard that the stock of News Corp., the parent of Fox News is itself down 38% – even worse than GE. Is that also the work of Market Magician O’Reilly? Or has Olbermann been casting counter-spells of his own?

Indeed, O’Reilly has been tough on GE, NBC, MSNBC, and Jeff Immelt (although O’Reilly will never utter the name Olbermann). Just last week O’Reilly wondered how Immelt kept his job. Does he also wonder how Fox News chief Roger Ailes keeps his? At least MSNBC has been increasing their viewership, while the Fox News audience has been cratering. But the extremity of O’Reilly’s pique goes even further with overt threats aimed at GE’s CEO:

“That Immelt man answers to me…That’s why I’m in this business right now, to get guys like that.”

And lest you dismiss O’Reilly’s intent, he has made it clear that he is serious:

“[T]here is a huge problem in this country and I’m going to attack that problem. I’m going to attack it. These people aren’t getting away with this. I’m going to go right where they live. Every corrupt media person in this country is on notice, right now. I’m coming after you…I’m going to hunt you down […] if I could strangle these people and not go to hell and get executed…I would.”

[For more on O’Reilly’s sociopathic paranoia, see The O’Reilly Fear Factor: Collected Verses]

Babbin concludes his article by attempting to foment an insurgency within the ranks of NBC News. He advises NBC journalists to issue ultimatums directed at the NBC brass and, if they do not get satisfaction, to resign forthwith. I’m not sure why anyone would take advice from the likes of Babbin. He has proven with this article to be intellectually deficient, and a poor editor to boot. But one person has already taken advice proffered in this column. John McCain has initiated a Truth Squad,” and staffed it with well known liars. I guess that’s something Babbin can take comfort in.

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John McCain’s Truth Squad

On Face the Nation this weekend, Gen. Wesley Clark made the obvious observation that John McCain’s captivity in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp was not a qualification to be president. McCain’s ordeal was certainly horrific, but not leadership training. Clark’s comments will no doubt be controversial, but the reality is that living in a hut for five years, far removed from any management or policy development responsibilities, does not prepare one for executive leadership positions. McCain has other experience to promote, like his tenure in the Senate, but if he is considered to be qualified to be president solely on the basis of his time spent in jail, then Martha Stewart is qualified to be his Attorney General and Snoop Dogg his Secretary of State.

McCain’s response to the matter is to set up a “Truth Squad.” Leaving aside for the moment that nothing Clark said was untrue because it was merely his opinion, there are serious problems the new McMod Squad. The principle members include folks like Orson Swindle and George “Bud” Day.

Lt. Col. Swindle has a long and infamous resume. He is the McCain campaign’s veterans liaison as well as a board member of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), an independent advocacy group that has long backed McCain. CAGW has also been associated with unethical, if not illegal, activities on McCain’s behalf, and is tied to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Swindle himself is also a Senior Policy Advisor at the big DC lobbying firm of Hunton & Williams. All of these duties violate McCain’s own policy of not allowing people working for “independent entities” from serving on his campaign staff.

Col. Day was a member of another organization that misused the word “truth” in their name, the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. He is now the director and president of the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation, a group comprised of former swiftboaters and the owner of the rights to “Stolen Honor,” the crocumentary featuring the swiftboat liars. It is interesting that McCain now employs Day to speak on his behalf. In 2004 he called Day’s slandering of John Kerry “dishonest and dishonorable.” Apparently those qualities are required by the McCain of 2008.

Now McCain is criticizing Barack Obama for comments made by Wes Clark. Obama has already rejected Clark’s statements, but that hasn’t stopped McCain from demagoguing the character issue. McCain himself, not a surrogate, said Saturday that “Obama’s word cannot be trusted.” Will McCain now condemn himself for engaging in dirty politics?


Bill O’Reilly: No Peabody For You

Little Billy O’Reilly is poor loser (or just a loser, period). The delusional narcissism that prompted him to falsely claim that he had won two Peabody awards a few years ago has swelled to consume an ever greater portion of his diseased ego. For the record, O’Reilly has won precisely zero Peabody’s. He later claimed that he meant Polk Awards, but he never won of those either. Inside Edition, which O’Reilly hosted for a spell, did win a Polk Award, but that was two years after O’Reilly had left the program.

[For more on O’Reilly’s dementia, see The O’Reilly Fear Factor: Collected Verses]

A few weeks ago, the most recent collection of Peabody honorees were announced and O’Reilly was, of course, not on the list. Why would he be? The purpose of the Peabody’s are to…

“…recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by TV and radio stations, networks, producing organizations, individuals and the World Wide Web.”

Nope. Nothing in there describes Bill O’Reilly. So, consistent with the nature of his personality disorder, he is now striking back at the offending academics who fail to recognize his superiority.

The envy is so thick it could be smeared with a loofah. O’Reilly has used his “Reality Check” segment to advance his fantasies. He no doubt gets great pleasure from disparaging his nemesis, Bill Moyers, who has won ten Peabodys. But he goes further in attempting to discredit the entire enterprise by asserting that it is a bastion of liberalism. Unfortunately, O’Reilly just ends up providing more evidence for why he is unqualified for this award.

In labeling the program’s director, and nine other board members, as liberals (he says two are conservative), O’Reilly offers no evidence for the claim. However he does mangle the facts related to the board’s composition. There are sixteen members, not twelve, as O’Reilly says.

Now we can add the Peabodys to the growing list of O’Reilly’s enemies: Al Franken, Keith Olbermann, NBC, MSNBC, GE, Jeff Immelt, Newsweek, San Francisco, DailyKos, CNN, Paul Krugman, Brian De Palma, Cindy Sheehan, Ludacris, Howard Dean, Ariana Huffington, Dumbledore, plus those inducted to his fearsome Hall of Shame.

What must really hurt is that amongst the winners this year was an upstart from Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert. So the guy who plays a character mocking O’Reilly is honored with the most prestigious award in journalism, and O’Reilly is reduced to mocking the institution:

“”[W]e’re sure the judging is fair and balanced. Party on, Peabody guys.”

Party on, Bill.

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Clear Channel Bans Bushmen Ad

Harry Shearer BushmenAuthor, satirist, and the voice of innumerable Simpsons characters, Harry Shearer, has a new CD coming out that typically skewers politics and culture. The title of the project is Songs of the Bushmen and features a debut single about the “935 Lies” told by the Bush administration in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Clear Channel, however, despite being an avowedly conservative media enterprise (they gave 77% of their $300K+ PAC contributions to Republicans in 2004), is demonstrating their opposition to free speech and markets by refusing to allow ads for Shearer’s work to appear on their billboards.

This is consistent with Clear Channel’s history of partisan censorship. They have previously refused ads for VoteVets and they nixed the Dixie Chicks from their radio network. And let’s not forget their ludicrous list of banned songs post-9/11.


Who Is Snubbing Muslim Americans?

At a recent campaign rally for Barack Obama, an event volunteer had the poor judgment to tell two women wearing head scarves that they could not be seated behind the stage where Obama was speaking. The concern was that the pictures would add fuel to the false assertions circulating about Obama being a stealth Muslim. Obama apologized to the women publicly and personally, but that did not stop the New York Times from publishing a front page story on the controversy and how it may be affecting his support in the Muslim community. The Times also accused Obama of ignoring Muslim voters:

“While the senator has visited churches and synagogues, he has yet to appear at a single mosque.”

That statement could apply with equal accuracy to John McCain, but the Times has not seen fit to address that. Not surprisingly, Fox News has also weighed in with those worried about the beleaguered voters of Islamic heritage.

Obama & MuslimsThis new found advocacy on the part of the media for respect for Muslim Americans is encouraging, if not mysterious. Since when has the press been known to stand up for Muslim rights? Yet here are just a few examples of media outrage due to the Obama campaign’s alleged insensitivity and struggles with Muslim voters:

[Note: The New York Post’s headline actually used all caps and a fabricated quote that appears nowhere in the story]

The New York Times Times article is also not alone in criticizing Obama for not visiting mosques in the course of his campaign. But neither the Times, nor any other major news outlet, has held John McCain to the same standard. How many mosques has McCain visited? So far as I can tell, none.

While the media is awash in analyses of Obama’s support from Muslim Americans, they don’t seem to have the same concern for McCain. Perhaps there is an unstated assumption that Muslims are a more natural fit for Obama than McCain; that an African American candidate with a Muslim father and the middle name Hussein would all but lock up the Muslim vote. But that assumption would require the dismissal of all of the anti-Saddam, pro-Iraq war, Muslims that ought to be flocking to the campaign of the war-mongering architect of the “surge.” It would also demonstrate ignorance of the fact that George W. Bush carried a plurality of Muslims in 2000.

So why is the media curious only about the state of Obama’s relationship with Muslims? Why is there this sudden outpouring of empathy for how Muslims are treated by the Democratic candidate for president, but not the Republican, whose party’s support amongst Muslim’s has cratered in just a few years? Could it be that it allows the media a pretense of tolerance of minorities while they bash the first African American to become the nominee of a major political party?

If the the New York Times wants to question the depth of Muslim support for Obama, they ought to also ask the same questions of McCain. Otherwise it is just an exercise in hypocrisy. And it wouldn’t hurt if both candidates took time from their schedules to visit a mosque or two.