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Robert Gibbs and Senator Kyl (R) Refuse Poisoned Bait from Baier on Fox News Sunday

Reported by Alex - July 27, 2009 -

Bret Baier, according to Roger Ailes, has fine anchoring skills. Brit Hume once called Baier “a reporter and anchor of rare talent, ideal temperament and absolute integrity." So when I sat down to watch Baier interview White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and US Senator Jon Kyl (R.- Ariz.) on Fox News Sunday (07/26/09) my radar was on full for the Fox News version of “fair and balanced”. Fortunately, Gibbs and Kyl had theirs on too.

First up was Gibbs, to talk about health care reform, the stimulus, and the arrest of Henry Gates. Baier led off by asking Gibbs if he had prepared President Obama for the question about Gates during his Wednesday night press conference, the anchor was clearly dangling bait for a bigger catch. When nibbles weren’t coming – Gibbs is no amateur – Baier asked, “I guess my question is, early on, did he determine that he was going to take sides to back his friend to the extent that he did Wednesday?” Gibbs replied, “Oh sh** yeah, of course he did!” Only kidding. I mean, really - what a question. Gibbs replied that “The president discussed the notion that saying beforehand that he knew Professor Gates, that he didn't have all the details, and in hindsight understands that his words were not calibrated as they should have been.” He went on to mention the guys-have-a-beer-at-the White-House idea, at which point Baier pounced, graphic at the ready:

FNS Gates quote


After quoting Professor Gates, who wrote to the President, "My unfortunate experience will only have a larger meaning if we can all use this to diminish racial profiling,” Baier asked the money question: “So does the president believe, as Mr. Gates clearly still does, that this was an instance of racial profiling?” Baier’s attitude and tone all suggested that this is a preposterous idea, but Gibbs once again handled the question like the consummate professional that he is, saying that it (racial profiling) is an issue that the president has worked on and been concerned about, that he didn’t think that Obama has come down on one side of the issue or the other, and reiterated that the President would say that he hasn’t got all the details of the incident.

Damn, that guy is good. Baier took the gloves off then, trying to make Gibbs look as though he had politicized an exchange he’d had with reporters about the Fraternal Order of Police having come out in support of officer Crowley. Baier claimed, “You said, quote, ‘I think the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed McCain’." And yes, Gibbs did say that, but he wasted no time in setting Baier straight and providing the context in which he said it:

GIBBS: No, no, no, no. Let's be clear. I was asked about their statement, and then the follow-up -- before I answered, they said, "I think these guys supported -- didn't these guys all support you?" And I said, "No, I think they -- I think this organization supported John McCain ."

BAIER: But, just by bringing up the politics, do you regret...

GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. I don't -- I will take responsibility for a lot of things, but I'm not going to take responsibility for a question that was asked of me, where somebody says, "Didn't these guys support you?”...This was something that was asked of me; I'm simply pointing that out. It doesn't matter who they supported in the last election or who they supported 10 elections ago. That wasn't the point here. That's not what the president thought was the point here. This was about the notion that the president had calibrated his words wrongly. The president understands and respects the job that law enforcement has to do each and every day. It's not an easy job. But I wasn't injecting politics into that. That was -- that was part of the question that was asked of me.

Nil points to Baier on this topic. He moved quickly through the stimulus to some interesting questions on health care reform – and fair ones, too, until he tried this little piece of spin:

BAIER: Just last week, the executive branch wrote a piece of legislation, a section, sending it to Congress to be included in the bill, called the Independent Medicare Advisory Council Act, IMAC. The CBO, Congressional Budget Office, sent a letter analyzing that particular section, designed to keep Medicare costs down and produce savings, and they estimate that it would only, as drafted, yield about $2 billion over the next 10 years. And they say in this letter, quote, "in the CBO's judgment, the probability is high that no savings would be realized." The CBO goes on to say that potentially substantial savings could be down the road, but that doesn't seem like a ringing endorsement...

Here is the graphic that accompanied the quote emphasized by Baier:

FNS CBO quote

Gibbs broke into hearty laughter as Bair made his passing mention of the potential savings down the road: “Well, you didn't put that quote up on the screen, right?” The full quote reads, ..."In CBO's judgement the probability is high that no savings will be realized, for reasons discussed below, but there is also a chance that substantial savings might be realized. Looking beyond the ten-year budget window, CBO expects that this proposal would generate larger but still modest savings on the same probabilistic basis." The CBO document that Baier and Gibbs discussed can be viewed here, where you’ll find a number of other interesting quotes that you can bet will never be put up on the screen by Fox Noise, such as the one that says expanding the President’s authority to effect change in the Medicare program could result in significant savings in federal spending.

The next Foxism to have Gibbs in a veritable fit of the giggles was this: “…The CBO projects that the House bill as of now increases the deficit over the 10 years by $230 billion. And this was talked about, the IMAC thing, was talked about as a key component. ..Now, if you extrapolate out the CBO's analysis of the House bill, the Republicans on the House Ways & Means Committee say it could raise the deficit by $750 billion or more, $1.6 trillion if you keep on going.”

Gibbs could barely contain his mirth: “Forty years -- if we add 40 years to the end of this, you could get numbers like that.” We’ve already seenthat the ReFoxicans have a decidedly strange way with numbers when it comes to the health care bill. Looks like the funny math is set to run and run.

Baier’s last stand was to trot out a statement made by the President that suggested that some doctors might make treatment decisions based on profit. God forbid anyone should think such a thing! Gibbs disarmed Baier by saying that sure, some people might be offended by it – and then used the opportunity to make a nice closing statement on the benefits of the proposed heath care system. This guys should give lessons – he’s a master, and Baier was no match for him.

The full segment can be viewed here . The transcript for both the Gibbs and Kyl segments is here.

Baier's next guest, Arizona Republican Senator and minority whip Jon Kyl, has the reputation of being a conservative’s conservative (he was once ranked as the nation’s 4th most conservative Senator by the National Journal), so I was pleasantly surprised when Kyl refused to take the ReFoxican bait which Bair dangled in front of him more than once.

Kyl, needless to say, trotted out the party line on the healthcare issue, but in a manner which made his contributions seem like real food for thought instead of mere talking points. Like Gibbs, he is a master at his craft and gives the audience something to think about. I’m left wondering, though, if this makes the trademark Fox slanted questioning and biased graphics even more dangerous: if the discussion gets too technical and the audience loses track, gets bored, or only listens with one ear, emotive language and graphics are more likely to stand out and catch attention, thereby having a greater impact.

Bret broke out the bait when the conversation turned to some recent overt politicking associated with the health bill:

BAIER: Senator, your colleague from South Carolina, Senator Jim DeMint , said this this week. "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Your colleague from Oklahoma, Senator Jim Inhofe, said this, "We can stall Democratic effort on health reform. We can stall it, and it's going to be a huge gain for us, who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 elections." Senator Kyl, do you agree with them?

Kyl declared straight off the bat that he didn’t agree with that sort of language, and followed up later by saying that “because the language has a political implication, it's unfortunate. Both sides talk about the politics of these issues. I don't think we ought to be focused on that.” Awwww, poor Bret. He tried again:

BAIER: Do you think the president is in trouble with his polls sliding in recent days and weeks?

KYL: Well, from a purely political standpoint, yes, but again, that's not my main concern right now. He's only been in office six months, and he's got a long way to go...

Hmmmm. Not a good soundbite night for Bret. It didn’t get any better when Senator Kyl wouldn’t take a position one way or the other about Sarah Palin:

I, kind of, wish she had decided to stick out her term as governor. I think she was being very effective. The voters obviously had a lot of confidence in her…And once you start a job like that, it seems to me that you should try to finish it, unless there are really extenuating circumstances. And she did talk about the difficulty for her family. And, after all, our families should come first. So I'm just not sure.

As I did my homework on Jon Kyle I found that, as expected, there is a lot for a liberal to disagree with. I was particularly disgusted to discover that he invited far-right Dutch politician and film-maker Geert Wilders to screen his anti-Islamic film, Fitna, for members of Congress earlier this year (oddly Kyl didn’t stay to watch the film). On the other hand, he has worked on bipartisan legislation, including a compromise on immigration reform that had the Republican base foaming at the mouth. It may be that his bipartisanship is more a matter of practical politics than Kumbayah, but in any case, it was refreshing to see a Republican on Fox News who didn’t give the impression that he’d rent his mother out to the trailer park in return for votes. And its not the first time he has resisted the call of the lowest common denominator on Fox: Earlier this month he politely slapped down Greta Van Susteren for suggesting that President Obama’s cabinet had tried to blackmail (her word) him over his position on stimulus funds.

Fox News: “Without the agenda. Without the bias. Without the spin.” And without any class.