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Fox News Cites Dubious Source on Ford Administration

Reported by Judy - December 27, 2006 -

Fox News joined the rest of the mainstream media Wednesday (December 27, 2006) in recapping the administration of former President Gerald Ford, focusing on his pardon of former President Richard Nixon as a way of helping the nation "heal" after the Watergate scandal. But Fox News' coverage on the "Live Desk" fell below journalistic standards by failing to ask other key questions about Ford's years in office and seeking reaction from a highly dubious source.

Uma Pemmaraju, subbing for regular host Martha MacCallum, pushed the line in her interviews with John Casserly, former Ford speechwriter, and Craig Shirley, author of Reagan's Revolution, that Ford helped the nation put Watergate behind it by making sure Nixon never had to stand trial for possible crimes. Pemmaraju, however, left unasked questions such as whether Ford was offered a deal that allowed him to become president if he agreed to pardon Nixon.

And while Fox News coverage stressed that Ford helped the nation put the turmoil of Vietnam and Watergate behind it, Pemmaraju did not ask why Ford was so much more generous in unconditionally pardoning Nixon than he was in dealing with Vietnam-era draft resisters and evaders. Ford offered a watered-down amnesty program that offered participants amnesty on the condition that they perform two years of community service. Many people refused to take part in it. Nixon's deal was much better -- he got a full pardon without having to admit anything or do any type of community service.

Pemmaraju's show is a full hour. She could have delved into these questions, asking why Ford didn't demand something from Nixon in exchange for a pardon, like a confession or a fuller discussion of his role, an apology to the American people, and so on. Or she could have asked whether Ford's amnesty program really helped heal the wounds of Vietnam, perhaps asking her booker to find an expert on the amnesty program or even a draft evader to talk about it. Instead, her show did nothing but repeat the line about what a decent guy Ford was.

Most appalling, however, was Pemmaraju's choice of Shirley to comment as a historian on Ford's tenure. According to Sourcewatch, Shirley is not a historian, but a GOP PR agent. Shirley helped create the racist Willie Horton ad against Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign, and he represented both Paula Jones and Gary Aldrich, a former FBI agent who published a book full of made up stories about President Clinton.

Surely Fox News could have come up with someone better, simply by calling the Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and asking for the names of those who have researched the Ford presidency. Or Fox could have asked someone on the library staff to comment.

Perhaps Fox News prefers people with blatant Republican ties in order to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises in the guest's comments.