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FOX News Coddles and Covers for the Bush Administration, But Stress Fractures Are Showing

Reported by Marie Therese - February 17, 2006

After watching three hours of FOX & Friends yesterday and another hour of the O'Reilly Factor last night, it hit me like a ton of bricks just how disciplined the right wing machine is. The reason it's so hard to break through their tightly-coordinated message is that it is a work of diabolical genius, a juggernaut of well-financed, interconnected media sources that stay on message no matter what. FOX News leads the pack and is a towering hommage to every nasty, dirty little trick Niccolo Machiavelli outlined in The Prince, a pamphlet about acquiring and keeping power, much favored by the Medici family in 15th century Italy. However, in the rush to defend the Vice President, that machine may have overreached. Even though it was all-Cheney all the time, some truth snuck into the propaganda.

Yesterday [2-17-06] FOX & Friends devoted fully half of its three hour block to discussion and apologias for the Vice President. (They spent a large chunk of the remaining time bad-mouthing NBC for refusing to give FOX News permission to run clips from the Olympics.)

Later that same day on the O'Reilly Factor substitute host Tony Snow did a telephone interview with Bill O'Reilly from Florida on the topic of how nasty all other media sources were, because they poor-mouthed or ignored Brit Hume's "exclusive" interview with Dick Cheney.

Snow began the show by whining "Brit Hume lands the first interview after the accident and FOX News gets cheap-shotted for it." He then read a quote by New York Times columnist Alessandra Stanley from a column she wrote February 16, 2006, entitled The TV Watch: A TV Ritual, Longstanding, Adds Cheney (registration required). Here are her horribly offensive words, according to Tony Snow:

Most V.I.P.'s in trouble choose the safe waters of Larry King on CNN to do damage control. Mr. Cheney chose what this administration views as the even more secure location of a Fox News interview.

I find it curious that Snow NEGLECTED to read the following, also from Ms. Stanley's column:

Still, Mr. Hume asked the same kind of questions that reporters have been hurling at the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, since Monday morning, including whether the vice president had been drinking that day. (Mr. Cheney said he had had one beer at lunch.)

Mr. Hume is known for a dry, caustic style; he didn't soften his demeanor to accommodate the vice president. At one point, he drawled, "And I take it you missed the bird."

Mr. Cheney argued repeatedly that he had delayed making the incident public because he had been more concerned about his friend's welfare. He also said he had held back because he had wanted any statement to be completely accurate. Mr. Hume politely but skeptically took issue with that. "But there were some things you knew," he told Mr. Cheney. "I mean, you knew the man had been shot, you knew he was injured, you knew he was in the hospital, and you knew you'd shot him."

The folks at FOX are really, really sensitive these days. Snow also struck out at CNN's Jack Cafferty and Paul Begala calling their comments "sour grapes."

SNOW: "CNN anchor Jack Cafferty said it was like Bonnie interviewing Clyde. CNN analyst Paul Begala says it was like Krushchev giving an interview to Pravda. Predictable but still unbelievable."

Snow then aired a clip from the Hume-Cheney interview, asking FOX viewers if they thought this was the "easy ride one far-left press watchdog called it."

Here's the rest of the Snow-O'Reilly phone conversation.

SNOW: "Well, Bill, you saw the interview. You also heard a lot of the reaction. Let's first talk about the fact that we have a lot of people carping about FOX getting the interview but, you know, they all led their newscasts with it."

O'REILLY: "Well, you know, it's - we've been reporting on this, Tony, you know, for maybe six months, so there's a deep-seated jealousy among our television competitors because we're just beating their brains in, night after night, day after day, and they've gotten increasingly strident and hysterical I don't really care what they say. It doesn't matter. It's a free country. They can say what they want. But I think when you put it all in the same soup - you take the left-wing media in the newspaper industry, which is about 75% and growing, and then you take the bitterness on the television side, you know ... "

Oh, my, my, my. Thank goodness Bill was on the phone when he said he didn't care because his nose must have grown three feet. As documented on News Hounds and elsewhere, Bill O'Reilly goes ballistic and viciously attacks anyone, anywhere, at any time that says anything negative about him. The list is long and includes The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the St. Petersburg Times, the San Francisco Times, Media Matters, The Nation Magazine, News Hounds, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Keith Olbermann, Robert Greenwald, Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Alessandra Stanley, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Michael Kinsley, Prof. David Cole, Bill Keller, Ted Rall, Jeremy Glick, Judge Harry Rapkin and Judge Edward Cashman.

O'Reilly then dutifully followed the GOP talking points and admitted that he thought the Vice-President had been short-sighted in holding off the White House press corps for 24 hours. He then went off on another tear against the media.

O'REILLY: "They [the White House] wanted to manage it. And whenever you try to manage it, particularly when you have a hostile media because these - and I want everybody watchin' this right now to understand this - these people HATE them. You know, Marvin Kalb disagreed last night on the Factor with the word 'hate.' I'm sorry. They HATE them. They hate Bush and Cheney. Hate 'em. And they're gonna go get 'em no matter what they have. But the hysteria surrounding the story once and for all should illuminate for all of our viewers and listeners, all of them, that you are not gonna get the fair story from 80% of the media. You will get it from FOX!! Hume did a very good job. He was respectful, but he was firm."

SNOW: "Yeah, I - uh - Bill, I think a lot of times people - some of the critics wanted somebody to pistol-whip the Vice-President. You and I know that ... "

O'REILLY: "Oh, sure they did! They wanted to - not pistol-whip him. They wanted someone to humiliate him and, when you interview a President or Vice-President, you just - that's just - it's like the protocol. You can't do that. You can be firm. You can be direct. But you have to get their statements on the record. You can't be sayin' 'Well, you're a liar!'"

Oh, come now. First, Snow and O'Reilly set up the straw man, i.e., that most of the media is out to get the administration. Then, having created that (false) impression, they use it as a springboard to say that any interview of the Vice-President handled by a reporter from 80% of the media would be belligerent, disrespectful, abrasive and slanted. Therefore, - voila! - Bush and Cheney should only appear on media outlets that form the 20% that has been pre-screened for fairness.

O'REILLY: "Hey, here's how bad it is, Tony. On - on one of our competitor's network last night they had two individuals saying that Cheney was drunk or possibly drunk. How irresponsible is that?! Now, I'll tell ya', ladies and gentlemen, if you hear that, you've gotta click that off and never watch them again because there you have defamation, character assassination, based on nothing - pure unadulterated, unbridled hatred. And I think the folks gotta send a message."

Egad! Here was Bill instructing his sheep-like viewers - who clearly need someone to look out for them - exactly what they should and shouldn't watch. Talk about being afraid of competition! Only a small-minded, fearful man would suggest that Americans stop watching any channel whose pundits hold a differing opinion. Holy mind control, Batman! That's un-American!

SNOW: Well, I think it's happening. Look. You see that the Vice-President's numbers go up - the President's number go up - when they get subjected to people who act like they've got their hair on fire and I gotta tell ya' in many ways we oughta be sendin' chocolates or beers or whatever's appropriate to a lot of these folks because - guess what? (laughs) - they turn people our way!!

O'REILLY: Well, I mean, look, it's all part of the culture war that we're in. Now I want to ask you a question. You ...

[Tape snip]

SNOW: "Brit Hume is - I don't think we can find another newsman of similar competence or stature in in Washington. Period. And I think most of the press understands that."

O'REILLY: Yeah, but they don't care. You know, they don't care. They're gonna be snarky, The New York Times, CNN, they're gonna be snarky and they're just gonna mislead the public, but I also want to make one more thing clear - that Dick Cheney brought a lot of this on himself.

SNOW: Yep.

O'REILLY: Because he will not engage the press at any level. He feels that he does not have an obligation to do that. I feel that public servants, elected and given power by the people, can choose their avenues, but definitely should be available - you know - in a reasonable way to the press to explain what happens, why they make decisions and Dick Cheney is not available.

SNOW: Absolutely. Now, you're right, Bill, and every administration learns this lesson.

COMMENT

If one reads between the lines, what Snow and O'Reilly are actually saying is that the Bush administration doesn't have the chops needed to deal with a press that's finally found its pre-September 11th voice. The honeymoon is over and BushCo doesn't know how to cope. They've been living in their safe little bubble for so long, they have not cultivated the skills needed to deal with a normally aggressive, skeptical and questioning press corps.

As for Brit Hume's impartiality, here's a a partial transcript of an exchange between the FOX & Friends First hosts and conservative shock jock and FOX News Commentator Mancow, in which Mancow goes off the GOP reservation, criticizes Cheney and admits that Hume is "one of our guys."

MANCOW: You know what, guys, whether Google sayin' 'Hey, it's just business, we have to help the Chinese government" or our Vice President - monsters, at times. People - I think people just - with this kind of power forget to be human beings. Four days. You know what? Ya' walk out to the side of the road after the accident and you say 'I'm broken up, I don't want to talk to the press, but my heart goes out to the family and - you know what? - give me a few days'. That's what a human being does. What a human being doesn't do is sit with Brit Hume - sorry, you know, he's one of our guys - but you don't sit there and you don't say "Well I didn't have my press people with me"' So what?!!

BRIAN KILMEADE: No, he didn't say that!!

MANCOW: Oh, he did!!

The trio looked very uncomfortable at this juncture.

LAUREN GREEN : Mancow, what would have been the proper time frame?

MANCOW: He did!

GREEN: What would have been the proper time frame?

MANCOW: Guys!

KILMEADE (desperate to get back to the talking points): But, you know, here's the thing, Mancow.

MANCOW: Guys! Guys! Look! Look! Guys!

KILMEADE: You should get clear on this. You should get clear on this!

MANCOW: Yeah.

KILMEADE: You don't want to be a human being. What he did is his whole medical staff went over to the hospital. He calls the hospital right away.

MANCOW: Right!

KILMEADE: He wants to make sure the family's notified. The next day he's on the phone talkin' to him ...

MANCOW: Right.

KILMEADE: ... and he's in there, visiting with him.

MANCOW: Right! Right!

KILMEADE: And then after that he's been in constant contact.

MANCOW: Brian! Brian! Brian!

KILMEADE: He's not worried about the press is what he's not worried about.

MANCOW: Brian. Brian. My friends. Guys! I love you guys! There's an excuse for all kinds of behavior. You can excuse everything. I'm talkin' about me and you. Brian, you're my friend. If I shot ya' in the face, I wouldn't be worried about the press ...

KILMEADE: Right!

MANCOW: ... and talkin' to advisors. No! I would say, 'Brian, God, your family, I feel awful.' I'd feel awful! That's what a human being does.

Later, Mancow said: "I'm just saying, in my gut, I would have liked to see a human being say "I shot my friend" and not wait four days and, look, Karl Rove ordered Dick Cheney to do that interview."

At this juncture the trio looked surprised and uncomfortable.

Steve Doocy finally tried to say something, but Mancow came right back in.

MANCOW: That's what I believe. The White House was feelin' the damage so finally Cheney talked and I just think it's too little too late.

Steve Doocy finally managed to speak: "Well, I thought he seemed very human in the interview. When he said 'I shot my friend and saw him fall' I thought he was very human.

MANCOW: You know as well as I do that these people have the best handlers, the best people workin' with them, the best that money can buy, the best that our tax dollars can buy. It was well rehearsed. He had four days to think about it. That's not what I'm saying.

KILMEADE: So you don't think he regrets shooting his friend.

MANCOW: I think he regrets shooting face and I'm sure it was time to save face but what I'm saying - guys! - wha (stammers a bit) - I guess I'm not doin' my - I guess you can't understand. I'm just saying

DOOCY: It's your point of view

KILMEASE: Yeah.

MANCOW: No. No. You're all right. You're all right. I don't disagree with you. I'm saying I'm a human being. He show his friend.

DOOCY: And he did, and he said that and he said he felt terrible about it. Mancow, we gotta conclude it right there.

MANCOW: Yeah.

DOOCY: Thank you very much. By the way Mancow

MANCOW: God bless ya'!

DOOCY: By the way, Mancow's talkin' about it.

MANCOW: I pray for the guy that got shot.

DOOCY: It's in all the papers today. More of Brit Hume's exclusive interview with the Vice president.

By this time, the usually bubbly trio of FOX & Friends First hosts was a somber-looking lot, indeed.

As reported in yesterday's edition of MEDIAWEEK the Cheney interview netted Hume's Special Report an extra 500,000 viewers (his average audience viewership rose from 1.6 million to 2.1 million), hardly a blip on the radar. Had the V-P elected to do an interview with one of the major networks (ABC, CBS or NBC), his mea culpa would have reached a far larger audience.

In their haste to enfold and protect the Vice President, the GOP juggernaut assumed that its minions would all fall into line as they usually do.

That however, did not happen.

While the party loyalists like Hume, Hannity and O'Reilly went along with the "Dick Cheney could have handled it better, but this is a tempest in a teapot" scenario, there were a couple of FOX News guests that did not agree.

Mancow may never be seen on FOX News again, since (as you can see above) he strayed so far from the party line. The same thing might be said of pollster-pundit and FOX News Analyst Dick Morris, after his moment of truth-telling on yesterday's Hannity & Colmes (see News Hound Ellen's report).

The scandals are taking their toll. The lies and deceptions are taking their toll.

The well-oiled machine - while still formidable - is not impregnable. There are stress fractures in the hull.

It remains to be seen if the Democrats can take advantage of the weaknesses.

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