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Hannity Decries “Politicization” Of California Fires While FOX Makes Not-So-Subtle Efforts To Spin On Behalf Of Republicans

Reported by Ellen - October 25, 2007 -

As awful as the California fires are, there’s quite a silver lining in them for FOX News. The Republican former movie actor/governor knows how to do photo ops and do a credible job at the same time; President Bush hasn’t had to choose between doing his job and staying on vacation; and there are plenty of photogenic (read white, generally upscale) victims facing enough tragedy to make their stories compelling but without the kind of life-threatening horror of Katrina that makes viewers want to scream, “How could this be happening in America?” As disasters go, it’s hard to see how this one could be any happier for FNC. Naturally, the only flies in all that good-news ointment were those who dared asked tough questions about the state of our disaster preparedness. with video.

Of course, when Sean Hannity decries the politicization of a disaster, what he really means is that nobody should be critical of a Republican. After Hurricane Katrina hit, he was callous enough to berate on national television a Democratic Congressman representing New Orleans. But with only Republicans on the hot seat (no pun intended) in California, criticism was suddenly off limits.

So we had Mr. Melodrama, Geraldo Rivera, gushing that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger “has really become in many ways the Healer in Chief of the Golden State.” The issues raised by Senator Barbara Boxer and Lt. Governor John Garamendi, that equipment that could help the California National Guard is in Iraq, were dismissed and derided without being fully explored.

The only expert addressing the issue was Major General William Wade, of the California National Guard. A worthy guest to be sure, but not one that would likely criticize President Bush or anything military.

Hannity asked, “Let me specifically ask you because two prominent politicians in California have brought this issue up. One is Senator Barbara Boxer who said, ‘We are down 50% of our National Guard equipment because it is in Iraq.’ The Lieutenant Governor, John Garamendi, he raised the question about the president should send our National Guard back from Iraq. But yet I read a press release from the National Guard today and you guys feel you have all the resources necessary to deal with this. Is that true?”

Not surprisingly, Wade replied, “Absolutely, Sean.” Wade added that he had the ability “just like in Katrina” to reach out to all the other states “and get the support we want… We are well postured to respond to this emergency.”

Hannity continued, “It seems a little irresponsible, then, if you’re saying that, and you’re right there in the midst of this, for the politicians to politicize this at this very important hour. I did see that Lt. Gen. H. Blum from the Guard Bureau in California said, ‘This has probably been the most proactive response to a domestic event that I have seen in my 40 years in uniform.’ Do you agree with that assessment, Sir?”

Wade stumbled and sounded not entirely certain as he said, “I would.” Then he quickly changed the subject to praising the governor and his leadership. “He’s leveraging all the assets at every level. The local, the county, the state level and up to the federal level to make sure the response is measured and appropriate. He has done a superb job in monitoring everything that’s going on here in California.”

No opposing expert was interviewed. The sleight-of-hand “balance” was provided in a clip of ABC’s Claire Shipman asking Schwarzenegger about complaints from Orange County officials that more resources would have helped to head off the fires. Schwarzenegger gave her a flip answer, that anyone complaining “just wants to complain… Trust me when I tell you. You’re looking for a mistake and you won’t find it because it’s all good news. As much as you maybe hate it, but it’s good news.” Hannity laughed uproariously.

So to recap: Questions were asked about the disaster response to two individuals with an obvious stake in the answer. No opinions from neutral experts nor opposing viewpoints were offered.

And just in case anyone in the audience was left unsatisfied or with any lingering doubts or questions, the next segment included another example of FOX News balance: A debate where both Democrats, Alan Colmes and the always-ready-to-pander-to-conservatives Michael Brown (no, not THAT Michael Brown) announced at the beginning of the segment a willingness “(to) not look for trouble and look for problems in what has been as relatively smooth an operation as we think we could have under such horrible circumstances.” But why else would Brown, a so-called Democratic strategist with no apparent experience in disaster relief, be invited if not for the purpose of talking politics? I think there’s a good chance it was because the producers knew he’d avoid doing so.

However, no sooner did he signal his willingness to roll over and play dead when the segment was aborted with the arrival of Schwarzenegger at a press conference.

I’d bet money that Hannity and his conservative guest, radio talk show host Roger Hedgecock, would have made that same “no time for politics” pronouncement, then used it to attack Boxer and Garamendi. Because on FOX News, it’s always dirty politics to question a Republican. But Democrats are always fair game.

BBC has a truly fair and balanced look at the situation.