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Sunday, October 25, 2009

8 Reasons Fox Is Not a News Organization

PR for the GOP? Yes. Platform for right-wing hatemongers? Definitely. But a news organization? Definitely not.

Even before Barack Obama was elected to the presidency, Rupert Murdoch had declared war on him via the personalities of Fox News Channel, a subsidiary of Murdoch's media conglomerate, News Corp.

Since Obama's election, the cable channel's hosts and paid analysts have launched a full frontal assault on the president, smearing his nominees, calling him a racist and suggesting that his administration was trying to persuade disabled veterans to off themselves.

Now the fearmongers at Fox are crying foul since the president and his aides declared Fox not to be a news organization. Earlier this month, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn called Fox an "arm" of the Republican Party. Obama went even further, suggesting this week that Fox "is operating basically as a talk-radio format," and we know what that means: A format in which the most provocative opinions dominate the discourse and facts are optional.

Yet that's just the tip of the iceberg. Setting Fox apart from the two other cable news networks is its ownership by a corporation whose CEO and major shareholder is a mogul with an ideological agenda -- who operates his News Channel as a propaganda machine for his anti-government cause.

He even has his own community organizer, a fellow named Glenn Beck, who can turn out a mob on a dime at your local town-hall meeting. His big ratings-getter, Bill O'Reilly, is a professional bully, handsomely paid to physically intimidate progressive commentators -- on video -- and to vilify others.

Murdoch's agenda is simple: He's against regulation of any kind. Famous for smashing the unions at his U.K. properties, Murdoch also has a pronounced disdain for labor.

In essence, Murdoch's agenda tracks closely with that of the current GOP, that far-right rump of a party that once claimed to embrace a range of views under the canvas of a big tent. So he uses the Fox airwaves to raise funds for Republican political action committees.

We've seen the Fox News-branded hosts and pundits -- such as Michelle Malkin and John Stossel -- sent out gin up the fearful folk gathered by astroturfing groups funded by corporations that seek to derail government intervention of any kind, whether in the nation's dysfunctional health care system or in its increasingly compromised environment.

Murdoch saves money by farming out the investigative-journalism functions of his alleged news enterprise to Republican Party entities, whose error-laden press releases are passed off as original Fox News research.

When you watch Fox News Channel, what you see is the advancement of that agenda through a media organ that seeks to turn regular people against their own interests -- the better to enrich the coffers of Murdoch and his heirs -- and that actively organizes those whose paranoia it has fed with lurid and untrue tales.

How else would you turn their fear of a bitter economy and an unstable world into rage against a president who ran for office on an economic platform geared toward the needs of everyday people?

Here we list a few of the reasons why Fox News Channel is anything but a news operation in the hope of shedding light on what it actually is: a massive media campaign for the consolidation of wealth through unfettered markets.

Why Fox News is not a news operation:

1. Glenn Beck, the community organizer -- No other news operation in memory has ever hired its own community organizer, at least not one tasked with the mission of organizing paranoid people to march through the streets of the nation's capital with signs depicting the president of the United States as a mass murderer.

Through his 9-12 Project, which he promotes on his Fox News Channel program, that's exactly what Beck did, organizing with other right-wing organizations the 9-12/Tea Party march on Washington -- AlterNet reported marchers sported signs comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin.

Beck was also instrumental in turning out angry mobs to disrupt this summer's town hall meetings, where members of Congress attempted to discuss health care reform with their constituents. After participants in a scuffle at a Tampa, Fla., town hall named their local 9-12 Project site as their inspiration, the national 9-12 Project site stopped accepting comments.

Despite the loss of some 80 advertisers from The Glenn Beck Show, thanks to a campaign by Color of Change, which targeted the show's sponsors after Beck claimed the president had "a deep-seated hatred for white people and white culture," Beck remains on the air at Fox. Could that be because he's more valuable to his boss-daddy as an organizer than as a conduit for advertising dollars?

After all, defeating government regulation of any kind could assure billions for Murdoch the investor, while advertising profits for a show with 3 million viewers would at most bring in millions. It's all about the zeros -- how many.

2. Fox's alliance with the corporate-funded astroturf group Americans for Prosperity -- We've scratched our heads trying to come up with an analogous relationship between a cable news channel and a corporate-funded group that organizes fearful people to disrupt public meetings, but we came up empty.

Americans For Prosperity, a group that received funding from Koch Industries, an oil-and-energy company and major polluter, also organized this summer's town hall disrupters. Although they kicked off their rabble-rousing campaign by galvanizing opposition to health care reform, their real target appears to be energy reform, especially the cap-and-trade provision that will make dirty industries pay a pretty penny to pollute.

At an AFP conference in Pittsburgh in August, we noticed that the roster of speakers was heavily populated by News Corp. personalities, including Fox News contributors Malkin and Jim Pinkerton, and Wall Street Journal columnists John Fund and Stephen Moore. (News Corp. also owns WSJ.) AFP Policy Director Phil Kerpen, who also addressed the crowd, has a column at FoxNews.com, and he was quick to use it to take credit for the resignation of White House adviser Van Jones, against whom he helped orchestrate a smear campaign in collusion with other Fox personalities, including Beck.

When, at the August RightOnline conference, AlterNet asked AFP President Tim Phillips whether his organization had a partnership with Murdoch, he looked stunned:

"We have someone from Fox News?" he asked.

"Well, Fox News Channel contributors," I replied.

"OK. So, they're not on the payroll of Fox News. Do any of those guys get money from Fox News?"

He's asking me? "I don't know if they're paid by Fox," I said, "but I assume that they are. Do you have a partnership with Rupert Murdoch?"

"Not at all, not at all," he replied with a little laugh. "The fact is, the Wall Street Journal's my favorite newspaper; I love those guys. I like what they write. ... But there's no partnership -- financially, understood or anything else."

I checked with the Fox News Washington bureau, and indeed Malkin and Pinkerton are paid by Fox, and are branded by the News Channel, listed on the "talent" page of its Web site. Fund and Moore are full-time employees of the Wall Street Journal, and AFP's Kerpen has a weekly platform on Fox's well-traveled Web site.

In fact, Murdoch's minions accounted for more than one-third of the roster of speakers at the conference plenary session.

Now, the News Channel's sibling station, Fox Business News channel is, fittingly, getting in on the act. The ink barely dry on his new contract with Fox, John Stossel is hitting the road with AFP's Phillips to argue against "government-forced health care" at AFP rallies, the Raw Story reports.

Stossel hosts a weekly show on FBN, and appears on Fox News Channel as a commentator. In August, Stossel appeared on Mike Huckabee's Fox News show, where he advocated for the right of insurance companies to charge more for, or to dump, patients who have pre-existing conditions.

"I mean, an insurance company helps us by saying, 'We're gonna charge the town drunk more for car insurance than we're gonna charge you,' " Stossel said.

Nice. Comparing someone who has, say, multiple sclerosis, with the town drunk -- because MS is apparently the result of bad behavior. In the same segment, he said insurance companies should have the right to charge women more because "women go to the doctor more often. ... Some discrimination is good."

3. On-air fundraising for Republican PACs -- Fox News personalities encourage viewers to contribute money to, and visit the Web sites of, specific Republican-affiliated political action committees. We can't find a single instance of either CNN or MSNBC doing anything of the kind for Democratic causes.

Oh, sure, Keith Olbermann raised money for free health clinics for the uninsured, but it's our understanding that there are uninsured Republicans. And Rachel Maddow raised money for jerseys for an Iraqi baseball team (who learned the game from American troops), but last time we looked, baseball was the Great American Bipartisan Pastime.

As reported by Media Matters via Air America, Fox political analyst Dick Morris used a September appearance on Fox's Hannity to promote Republican Trust, a PAC for which Morris works, crowing that "we've raised now $2 million to run ads ..." Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, who hosts an eponymous Sunday night show on the alleged News Channel, took a softer approach when he directed viewers to the Web site of his Huck PAC, the fundraising mechanism for an expected presidential campaign, to sign a petition.

4. Bill O'Reilly, stalker of those whose opinions he doesn't like -- We exhausted all avenues of research trying to find a news show host at another cable news channel who pays his producer to stalk people whose opinions he or she doesn't like. Came up with bupkus. Nor could we find one who locked the media out of remarks she or he was delivering in acceptance of an award from a nonprofit group.

At the annual conference of the religious-right political group, Family Research Council Action, O'Reilly received an award for his vilification of Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was an abortion provider who was gunned down in his church by a man who obviously took to heart references by O'Reilly and others, "Tiller the baby-killer."

As AlterNet reported, FRC Action gave O'Reilly its first "Media Courage" award, only to see the Fox News host lock out the media to watch his speech.

One of the trademarks of Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, is the dispatch of producer/stalker Jesse Watters to ambush liberal commentators who have expressed opinions with which his boss is at odds, pummel them with questions framed around lies or misleading statements, and capture their shocked replies on video, which is then edited for maximum effect and played on the nightly program.

But when Watters tailed Think Progress blogger Amanda Terkel for two hours and bushwhacked her at a resort town where she was vacationing, he traveled a bridge too far, awarding Terkel a moment of fame that did not play well for O'Reilly.

Fox defenders reply that Watters uses techniques developed by the legendary Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame, neglecting to mention that Wallace does not sic his producers on people who criticize him -- only on people alleged to have committed crimes who refuse to return his calls.

5. Sunday talk-show host who promotes Republican falsehoods -- Once upon a time, Chris Wallace, son of the aforementioned Mike, was a real journalist, just like his dad. Then he joined the Fox team, as host of Fox News Sunday, which airs on the Fox's broadcast network.

Wallace fell full-fledged into Fox's wing-nuttery when, in the heat of the town hall madness this summer, he promoted a Bush administration official's mischaracterization of a booklet recommended for patients in the Veterans Affairs medical system as a "death book" for veterans. The guest who made the allegations was an author whose book about end-of-life options had been rejected for distribution by the VA -- a guy named Jim Towey, the former director of the Bush administration's office of faith-based initiatives.

The pretext for Towey's appearance on the show was an op-ed he published in the Wall Street Journal slamming the Obama administration's VA department. While we don't always love the framing of issues on NBC's Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, or ABC's This Week (or the frequent absence of progressives on those shows), we don't recall David Gregory, Bob Scheiffer or George Stephanopoulos promoting a similar misrepresentation of any Bush administration policy.

6. Fox News anchors, show hosts and pundits parrot GOP press releases, or just make up stuff -- Promoting the notion that their organization is on some sort of Nixonian White House "enemies list," Fox News personalities first trotted out the "enemies list" theme in August, when they suggested that the White House, asking for Americans to send the administration any unsolicited e-mails they received that promoted false information about health care reform legislation, was actually compiling an "enemies list."

The idea was promoted by Steve Doocy of the Fox and Friends morning program, and a number of other Fox talking heads. (Note: Nixon's enemies list was a list of targets for dirty tricks.) After Obama administration officials began hitting back at Fox for its misrepresentation of administration policies, Fox personalities, ever sounding a theme of victimization, declared themselves to be targets on the imaginary "enemies list."

Just this week, Fox and Friends anchors Brian Kilmeade, Doocy and Gretchen Carlton recited as fact a false claim in a GOP press release that reported administration projections for 2011 of jobs to be created by the stimulus package as 2009 figures, which the GOP then, of course knocks down based on current data. A graphic on-screen during the segment read: "STIMULUS GENERATES UNEMPLOYMENT," a claim no credible economist has made.

This isn't the first time Fox News has looked to Republican press releases as substitutes for scripts. In February, Media Matters caught Fox passing off as its own research slides apparently cut-and-pasted from a Senate Republican Communications Center release. How did Fox get caught? They passed on a typo from the SRCC document, citing the date for a WSJ report as "12/19/09."

7. Fox News hosts urge viewers to join a particular political group -- During the run-up to the big right-wing 9-12/Tea Party march on Washington, Fox News entities and personalities repeatedly flogged viewers to join the Tea Party Express, a bus tour of anti-Obama activists.

Advising viewers on "how you can join" the tour, Fox and Friends hosted Tea Party Express organizer Mark Williams, vice chairman of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, who is a part of the birther conspiracy movement of people who contend that Obama wasn't born in America. At the Fox Nation Web site, viewers were treated to a promotional piece that asked, "Will You Join the Tea Party Express?" We don't see the other cable news outlets soliciting members for, say, MoveOn.org.

8. Glenn Beck, deranged inventor of paranoid conspiracies -- Here's a Beck exclusive you won't hear on any of the other cable news networks: OnStar, the GPS/emergency-alert system available in General Motors cars, is being indirectly funded by the auto-industry bailout so the government can spy on you.

To be fair, Beck said this on his radio program, which is not a Fox News product, which is also where he compared the situation of Fox News to that of Jews during the Holocaust (with other news outlets acting as silent bystanders). In the same segment, he cast Obama as a "brutal dictator."

But statements such as these seem to serve no detriment to his Fox News career. (Compare this to MSNBC, where David Shuster got sidelined for a month during the height of campaign season for a bad choice of words regarding Chelsea Clinton stumping for her mom.) And there's no shortage of outrageous and paranoid material to choose from from Beck's television show, much of it reported, blogged or cataloged by AlterNet.

The big one, of course, is Beck calling Obama a racist, and then going on Fox and Friends to declare that the president has "a deep-seated hatred of white people" and "white culture."

Then there's all the weeping, which looks a lot like bad acting. On news opinion shows on other cable channels, we don't see much of that.

And there's this one: Beck's claim that he couldn't debunk the conspiracy theory that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building internment camps for political dissidents:

"We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest imagination," Beck said on a March broadcast of Fox and Friends. "I have to tell you, I'm doing a story tonight that I wanted to debunk these FEMA camps."

In June, after New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called out Beck for the claim, he dialed it back.

Now, there's some stuff you won't find on any other cable channel that claims to be a news outlet.

More on Beck's publicly traded paranoia and fearmongering against the Obama administration -- and liberals, in general -- can be found at Media Matters.

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