UNWATCHABLE: GOP Senator Says Fox News Is Not Fair, Not Balanced

You know things are getting bad when your closest allies don’t want to be associated with you. That’s the message today to Fox News from a formerly loyal comrade who no longer regards the network as being true to its slogan “Fair and Balanced.” Sen. Tom Coburn told a town hall meeting of his constituents in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that…

“There are certain shows on Fox I can’t watch because they’re totally not fair and totally not balanced.”

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Coburn didn’t identify the shows to which he was referring, but it wouldn’t be difficult to speculate considering nearly the entire Fox schedule is packed with blatantly biased opinions masquerading as reporting. From Fox & Friends’ smiley-faced smackdowns of anything relating to President Obama or progressive politics, to Neil Cavuto’s obnoxious liberal interruption festival and GOP candidate promotion hour, to the primetime trio of diehard right-wingers Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, and Sean Hannity, the entire day on Fox is a barrel of conservative propaganda and hype.

Perhaps Coburn was referring to the sort of segment that Fox & Friends ran this morning where they chopped up Obama’s remarks about the protests in Ferguson, Mo. to make it appear that he was “Choosing Sides” against the police. The obvious jump cut eliminated a critical portion of the President’s statement. Here is what Obama said with the part that Fox quoted in bold:

“There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests.

The Curvy Couch Potatoes excoriated the President for what they said was his one-sided criticism of law enforcement. Although their blissfully ignorant audience will never know that the quote was butchered by Fox in a deliberate attempt to deceive.

Coburn isn’t the only Republican in recent days to express disappointment with the network’s phony claim to fairness. Former Sen. Bob Smith is currently running in the GOP senate primary in New Hampshire against Scott Brown. Brown, you may recall, just left his job as a Fox contributor to seek the senate seat. Fox has been promoting Brown’s candidacy even before he left the network. That hasn’t sat well with Smith:

“They’ve totally ignored us,” Smith said. “They’ve shut us down. We’ve made every effort to get on any of the shows, or at least have a comment. We’ve tried with [Fox host Sean] Hannity, we’ve tried with Baier, we’ve tried with, you name it … we’ve just been totally shut down. And I mean shut down. I mean we don’t even get call backs.”

This is the sort of journalistic malpractice that occurs every hour of every day on Fox News. It’s surprising that Coburn, a beneficiary of that partisan bias, would speak out so candidly. But then he has already announced that he is not running for reelection, so he is no longer reliant on Fox’s beneficence and can be more honest in his appraisals.

A few conservative pundits have also taken Fox to task. David Frum criticized Fox on CNN’s Reliable Sources. He told then-host Howard Kurtz that “people who watch a lot of Fox come away knowing a lot less about important world events.” Interestingly, Kurtz himself is now contributing to the ignorance of world events as the host of MediaBuzz on Fox News. Another pundit takedown of Fox was from Tucker Carlson, who after hammering Fox as “a mean, sick group of people,” has joined the cult and sworn allegiance to his new masters.

But my favorite right-wing attack on Fox News was from a Tea Party group who organized a boycott of the network to protest its liberal slant. These “Tea Party Fire Ants,” as they call themselves, have a list of demands that they insist be heard and obeyed:

  1. We want FOX to become an active, investigative news organization serving the needs and wants of the “far right” audience.
  2. We want FOX to have at least one segment on Benghazi every night on at least two of the three shows in prime time.
  3. Yes, the BIRTH CERTIFICATE. Obama’s birth certificate. You know, that thing you mocked and the people you mocked who turned out to be right when they said it was a fake?
  4. We’re not interested in “Fair and Balanced”.

I’m sure that would make Fox News more watchable for Sen. Coburn. It would certainly make it more watchable for me, for the comedic value alone.

Bill O’Reilly Needs To Fire His Research Staff

I just had to document this here because it so ridiculous and because Huffington Post has such a great video of it.

Bill O’Reilly confronted Sen. Tom Coburn on his show a few days ago because Coburn had the temerity to point out to his constituents that they should not believe everything they hear on Fox News. The issue specifically addressed an assertion that the health care bill had a provision that would sentence people to jail if they didn’t buy insurance. The truth is that the bill explicitly prohibits such criminal penalties.

However, O’Reilly went to the extreme of insisting that Coburn’s remarks were unfair because nobody on Fox ever said that the bill had such provisions:

O’Reilly: It doesn’t happen here, and we’ve researched to find out if anybody on Fox News has ever said “You’re going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance.” Nobody’s ever said it. So it seems to me what you did was, you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn’t qualify there.

Oh yeah? Tell that to PolitiFact who rated O’Reilly’s claim as a “Pants on Fire” lie. Or Media Matters who had no problem finding what O’Reilly’s researchers could not. Or the Young Turks who compiled the video evidence:

Once again O’Reilly makes an ass of himself. He even joked about Coburn’s “mistake” the following night with Dennis Miller. By that time both of them ought to have known that a multitude of people said that the bill could send non-payers to jail – even Glenn Beck said it on O’Reilly’s show! It just doesn’t get any stupider than that.

This is the network that had to issue a memo to its staff warning them of a zero tolerance policy for on air mishaps. And O’Reilly, in particular, frequently boasts that he has never made a retraction on his show. Of course not. He’s made hundreds of mistakes and told thousands of lies, but has never bothered to correct any of them. That doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It just means that he’s comfortable disinforming his audience. And why mess up a perfect record by suddenly being honest? Although there was one prior incident of honesty for which O’Reilly deserves some credit:

Thanks for the entertainment, Bill. I won’t wait around for a retraction.

[Hilarity Update:] O’Reilly began his program tonight with a Talking Points Memo about how NBC and Media Matters are dishonestly smearing him because of this health care/jail time controversy. He tried to exculpate himself from his assholiness with a tortured argument that went something like this: He claimed that all of the examples of Fox folks clearly saying that jail would be the penalty for not having insurance were made at a time when such a penalty was in the bill. But his assertion that no one ever said it was referring to the final bill which had no such penalty. He even played video clips of Obama and Pelosi that he intended as support for his contention that the penalty existed at some prior point in time.

There are only three things wrong with that. One, O’Reilly, in his remarks, made no distinction between different versions of the bill or time periods of debate. He simply made a flat statement of “fact” using unambiguous words like “never” that pretty strongly imply not ever. Two, there weren’t ANY drafts of the bill that had a jail penalty in it. NONE! So O’Reilly’s excuse is pure bullshit. And three, in the clips of Obama and Pelosi, neither of them said anything about such a penalty. In fact, responding to direct questions about it, they both explicitly declined to confirm that any such thing was in the bill or that they would support it. It’s surprising that O’Reilly even bothered to play the clips when they in no way supported his argument.

The bottom line is that O’Reilly is now lying to cover up his prior idiocy. This is something that he has gotten pretty good at over the years due to the many times he’s had to do it.

Republican Senator To Town Hall: Don’t Be Biased By Fox News

In a stunning demonstration of clarity, another right-winger has had an epiphany with regard to the influence of Fox News on the public at large and on the Republican Party in particular. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is joining David Frum in questioning the primacy of Fox News. This is an enlightened stance for the arch-conservative senator because it recognizes the reality that for the past few years, as Fox’s ratings have increased, Republican support has fallen off a cliff. Last year I wrote a fairly detailed analysis of how Fox News is Killing the Republican Party where I noted that…

Fox has corralled a stable of the most disreputable, unqualified, extremist, lunatics ever assembled, and is presenting them as experts, analysts, and leaders. These third-rate icons of idiocy are marketed by Fox like any other gag gift (i.e. pet rocks, plastic vomit, Sarah Palin, etc.). […and that…] By doubling down on crazy, Fox is driving the center of the Republican Party further down the rabid hole. They are reshaping the party into a more radicalized community of conspiracy nuts. So even as this helps Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line, it is making celebrities of political bottom-feeders.That can’t be good for the long-term prospects of the Republican Party.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is not your ordinary Republican. He is amongst the most extreme faction of the fundamentalist wing of the party. He is a member of the secretive politico-Christian cabal known as “The Family,” and a resident of its scandal-plagued C-Street House. He is a fierce opponent of abortion. He endorsed Alan Keyes for president in the 2000 Republican primary. He is a prolific abuser of the senatorial “hold” that allows members to anonymously block legislation. And now this icon of rightist orthodoxy is committing the ultimate sacrilege. It began with a response to a constituent at a town hall gathering who complained that the health care bill would result in people going to jail for not purchasing insurance. Coburn corrected her her saying that…

“The intention is not to put anybody in jail. That makes for good TV news on Fox, but that aint the intention.”

Coburn also defended the conservatives’ favorite target for demonization, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, against the knee-jerk hecklers in the crowd. He insisted that she was a “nice person” and then again called out Fox News for cultivating a culture of incivility:

“What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself. So don’t catch yourself being biased by FOX News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don’t know what they don’t know.”

But Coburn didn’t stop there. He went on to encourage his audience to seek out diverse sources of news and information and not to be locked in to the narrow perspective of a single, agenda-driven enterprise. He appealed to them to…

“…stay informed on the issues. Don’t just watch Fox News or CNN. Watch ’em both. […] I do a lot of reading every day and I’m disturbed that we get things like what this lady said, and others have said on other issues that are so disconnected to what I know to be the facts. And that comes from somebody that has an agenda that’s other than the best interests of our country.”

Coburn has just asserted that Fox’s agenda is unpatriotic. He may face some pushback from Sean Hannity on that. Glenn Beck may brand him a communist. But what we are witnessing here is not a political reversal by Coburn. He is still the ideological Dark-agist he has always been. What’s happening is that he has recognized the fact that Fox News has been demonstrably harmful – not to the interests of the country (which it has) – but to the interests of his Party. He is afraid that the fringe brigade will overtake the mainstream conservatism that he espouses and drive voters to the Democrats, the Tea Baggers, or discourage them from voting at all.

When someone as far right as Coburn sees this light, then the truth has floated up close enough to the surface that it will be hard for others to ignore. Including Fox News. If the mini-trend of Frum and Coburn (and Andrew Sullivan and Charles Johnson and …) continues we may see some programming changes at Fox. The question is which direction? If Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes want to advance their conservative interests, and those of the Republican Party, they had better tack hard to the center. Their current course is headed straight into a perfect storm of tea bags, birthers, McCartheyites, militias, and secessionists. But if they want to sustain their ratings dominance, they have to keep feeding the fanatics that make up their base.

Fox has been the king of the ratings hill for several years, yet that has not helped them electorally. It was in those years when Fox’s audience was expanding that Democrats won control of both houses of Congress. It was in those years that Barack Obama was elected president and Democratic congressional majorities increased. And most recently, Fox was unable to hold back passage of the health care bill despite incessant promotion of the anti-reform troops (pundits, politicians, and protesters) and a barrage of false reporting on the substance of the legislation. This couldn’t be clearer evidence of the conflict between Fox’s success as a television network and its success as a partisan public relations agency.

This is going to be interesting. The folks at Fox are as devoted to their wealth as they are to their agenda. In fact, the two are nearly inseparable. They use their wealth to advance their agenda, and they push their agenda to increase their wealth. But they are going to have a hard time threading this needle. It’s a choice between market position or issue advocacy. Or, put another way, it’s a choice between Glenn Beck or electoral victories. They can’t have both. The decision may tear them apart. There have already been sharp division between factions at Fox, most notably when Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law announced that he was “ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard…” for journalistic standards.

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.

Update: Sen. Coburn sought Bill O’Reilly’s absolution on Monday. His appearance on the program was a mixed bag in that Coburn tried to maintain his critical stance on Fox, but also kiss up to O’Reilly. O’Reilly, on the other hand was his idiotic self. He declared with absolute certainty that no one on Fox ever said that someone could go to jail for not having health care under the Obama plan. Of course, that was easily disproved. In fact, Glenn Beck said it on O’Reilly’s show. It don’t come funnier than this, folks.

Are Artists Real People?

Believe it or not, there are actually living relics of the Dark Ages who have the audacity to publicly wonder as to whether artists are real people. One of them is Georgia’s Republican Congressman Jack Kingston who, addressing what he felt were wasteful provisions of the stimulus bill, said the following:

“We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”

Someone needs to tell Rep. Kingston that some of the real people who are out of work are artists, and that artists are more than the celebrities whose fame creates thousands of jobs. They are people who write textbooks as well as novels. They design ads for local businesses to help them to prosper. They create products in every industrial field, which puts other people to work manufacturing them. What’s more, some of those who are out of work are real people who have labored in jobs that support the arts like electricians, caterers, carpenters, truck drivers, seamstresses, ushers, janitors, printers, and accountants.

Arts = JobsKingston should surf over to the web site of AmericansForTheArts.org, where he would learn that 5.7 million people are employed in the arts; that the arts occupy a $166 billion chunk of our economy; that the arts generate almost $30 billion in taxes.

Kingston might then be able to figure out that $50 million is a pretty cheap way of putting millions of real people to work and boosting local economies across the country. Then he could tell his pal Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) to stop asking stupid questions like this one:

“…what does $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts have to do with creating jobs in Indiana?”

The stimulus bill, as passed by the House, contained the NEA grant. In the Senate, however, it was removed by an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that lumped arts funding in with a bunch of other projects. The amendment passed 73-24 with the votes of some supposedly art-friendly members such as Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, Bob Casey, and Russ Feingold. It stipulated that…

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.

At this point I think it would be appropriate to note that Coburn’s daughter, Sarah, is a budding opera singer. She will be opening in November at the Los Angeles Opera playing in Handel’s “Tamerlano” opposite Placido Domingo. The LA Opera has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NEA over the years, but today, like so many arts enterprises, they are in dire straits. Domingo, the Opera’s general director, deferred his salary to reduce costs. Last month they announced that they would have to…

“…lay off 17 employees, stage fewer performances and reduce its operating budget by a quarter to cope with falling donations and reduced endowment income.”

For now, Tamerlano is still on the Opera’s calendar. But by November it may be a different story. I’m sure the Senator’s daughter/diva will be fine. I’m not so sure that the same can be said of the workers laid off by this facility, or hundreds of others – to say nothing of the related workers and small businesses that depend on these venues and other artistic enterprises. They number in the millions and, contrary to the insensitive blathering of Pence, Coburn, and Kingston, they are real people.

Update: Arts Recovery Funds Restored in Economic Stimulus Bill [Woo hoo]