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FOX News Becomes Operative In Rockwell Smear Campaign

Reported by Ellen - October 20, 2006 -

The line between news and campaigning, ever blurry on FOX News, became even more muddied over the last two days with Hannity & Colmes’ coverage of the Ted Strickland “scandal.” On Wednesday night, October 18, Hannity & Colmes hyped the same so-called scandal that Strickland's Republican opponent, Ken Blackwell, is hyping. The only guest was conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham who, it just so happens, was going to be appearing with Sean Hannity at a Blackwell rally the next day. During his TV appearance, Cunningham made outrageous and false statements about Strickland. Those comments conveniently made for appealing hand-outs that the campaign wasted no time transcribing, recording and sending to reporters as news coverage. The night of Hannity's campaign appearance, (Thursday, 10/19/06), the Strickland scandal was once again a topic on Hannity & Colmes, albeit without Cunningham, further hyping its "news" value.

The so-called scandal dates back to the 1990’s when Strickland employed an aide on his Congressional staff who had been convicted of indecent exposure several years previously. Strickland received an anonymous letter about it in 1998; the aide denied the charge but left Strickland’s employ in 1999. Later, Strickland abstained from voting in a non-binding Congressional resolution saying that being molested as a child prevented one from having healthy relationships as an adult. The Blackwell campaign has tried to paint that vote as an endorsement of pedophilia.

On Wednesday night’s show, Hannity announced “Another shocking sex scandal is emerging in Ohio but this one involves a Democrat." “Dem sex scandal” appeared on the screen, just in case the viewers didn’t snap to whom they were supposed to revile. Conservative Cunningham, the only guest, questioned Strickland's sexuality on the air. He said, “After the (1998) election Ted Strickland flies off to the shores of Naples, Italy, in order to enjoy a little fun with this 26-year-old boy toy.”

In fact, as Cunningham probably knows, or ought to, Strickland has been married for 18 years and his former aide is not a homosexual. But Cunningham's remark served as more than just salacious television. It became news the Blackwell campaign could use.

The next day, Hannity and Cunningham were at the campaign rally for Blackwell. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, neither mentioned the sex scandal at the rally. But they didn’t have to. The Blackwell campaign had something better: a transcript and a digital edition of their partisan efforts of the previous night, given an added patina of authority as having been uttered on a national news show. As the Enquirer noted, “Carlo LoParo, Blackwell’s campaign spokesman, said the campaign had no qualms about alerting the media to the Fox program. ‘The fact that this issue is being covered in the national media is of importance. . .It’s an issue that is gaining national interest in light of the current scandals in the Capitol regarding Congressman Mark Foley and what the leadership knew about those activities,’ LoParo said.”

That night, (10/19/06), the Strickland “scandal” was once again the topic on Hannity & Colmes. This time, Democratic strategist Laura Schwartz balanced the Republican guest. Happily, she remembered to bring along some strong, concise advocacy on behalf of Strickland. But, as is all too common with her, she missed the larger context – that this is a smear job by a desperate candidate losing by nearly 30 points in the polls. Fortunately, that point was made by Alan Colmes.

At the beginning of his segment of the discussion, Hannity said about the Strickland scandal, “I think this is a huge story here at the end of the day… Do you think this could become a blockbuster issue in this campaign?” Nobody mentioned that he had just appeared at a Blackwell rally where everything had been done to make sure that that would happen.

Republican strategist Rich Galen said, “It very well may do that.”