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All Dressed Up, Still Fox News

Reported by Judy - September 25, 2006 -

Martha MacCallum debuted her new show, "The Live Desk," on Fox News Monday (Sept. 25, 2006), offering a fresh look, oodles of television monitors, and an unobstructed view of MacCallum's legs. But was the news content any different?

It certainly was not "Dayside." That was obvious right away from the lack of giggling coming from the Fox News blonde and from the lack of a demographically-correct Fox News studio audience.

But, unfortunately, it was still Fox News.

During the premiere of her one-hour show, MacCallum offered up some new features:

--A peek at the Fox News control room -- which is a lot of television monitors and computer screens. The idea apparently is to give the impression that the news is coming in and then going out directly to the viewer, unfiltered. It still is filtered, however, since The Associated Press and other wire services will transmit many more stories in a day than the "Live Desk" will ever get to and somebody has to decide which five or six will get attention.
--Multiple images. At times, MacCallum's screen image was surrounded by four mini-screens showing video that may or may not have been related to the story she was discussing -- George Bush walking up the steps of a plane, somebody digging in the dirt, people walking into The New York Times building, and a bunch of unidentified men talking.
--New graphics. Sometimes Fox News' biased banners appeared on the left of the screen, almost dominating it the way the chyrons in the lower thirds never did. They also feature a blackboard motif -- black with white lettering.
--The Scoop, which is apparently supposed to be kind of an in-depth report on a big story of the day.
--The A-List, a panel of four people discussing news items, one of whom is a "wild card."

Despite the new segments, the content was vintage Fox News formula: two segments bashing the Clintons, stories featuring only Republican reaction, a misleading graphic, and panels stacked 3-1 against the Democrats.

MacCallum, of course, had to re-hash Chris Wallace's ambush of President Clinton on "Fox News Sunday." Her twist was to ask Wallace what happened after the interview was over. Wallace said Clinton did not warm up to him after the interview (why should he, for pete's sake?) and that Clinton told the staff with him that if they ever got him into such a situation again, they would be fired. But Wallace downplayed suggestions that Democrats had set up the situation to show other Democrats how to fight back. That was Fox News' Clinton hit job Number 1 for the hour.

MacCallum also featured a segment on a national intelligence estimate revealed in Sunday's The New York Times reporting that the war in Iraq has increased the terror threat rather than reduce it. MacCallum interviewed only White House Counselor Dan Bartlett about the report, saying two Democrats had been contacted and refused. In typical Fox News fashion, MacCallum tossed Bartlett softball questions and let him speech for minutes at a time without interrupting him.

A large portion of the show -- 25 minutes -- was devoted to the "A-List," a panel whose members apparently will change daily. The first panel included one Democrat, Laura Schwartz, a political analyst and former special assistant to President Clinton, and three people Republicans or conservatives: Ann Hayes, former undercover special agent with the Department of Justice in Afghanistan, former New York Republican Rep. John LeBoutillier, and an actor, Vince Curatola from the "Sopranos."

MaCallum called Curatola "the wild card," whom she said would add a touch of reality to the panel. Selecting "wild cards" in the future who can contribute something meaningful will be tricky in the future. Curatola's great analysis: we should get Osama bin Laden because he's like cancer and should be cut out.

MacCallum asked questions that included falsehoods as factual information, asking Hayes "about moments when they literally had bin Laden in their scope and that those people were called off of that mission" when in fact there were no such incidents in the 9/11 Commission's Report.

And the new graphic package displayed a biased banner: "Ann Hayes: Clinton had 8 years to get Usama." Unfortunately, Hayes never said that. Fox News also continued to display chyrons on the bottom, which were unrelated to the topic, such as, "Dems use intel report to attack GOP."

To wrap things up, MacCallum featured a story about the Rev. Jerry Falwell saying he hopes Sen. Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2008 because "if Lucifer ran, he wouldn't do what she can do" to energize his constituency. Just like Fox News -- throw a coniption if somebody calls George Bush a devil but think it's just fine if a right-wing minister demonizes one of the Clintons.

So that's the "Live Desk" -- all dressed up with a new look, a new blonde, and the same tricks.