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Fox News Gives Undue Weight To Bighollywood.com Conspiracy Theory

Reported by Ellen - October 19, 2009 -

In the “Unresolved problem segment” of Friday night’s (10/16/09) O’Reilly Factor, guest host Juan Williams (one of Fox News' liberals) gave unquestioned credibility to an unsubstantiated accusation by a Bighollywood.com writer, that the Obama administration had engaged in “prime time propaganda.” With video.

Williams opened the segment by saying, “The federal government has teamed up with the Entertainment Industry Foundation to promote, ‘service and volunteerism’ on network TV shows. But the website bighollywood.com may have a smoking gun that some say shows evidence of a government propaganda movement.”

Williams went on to play a clip from a recent episode of the CBS show, “The New Adventures of Old Christine” in which the title character, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, finds out she’s no longer covered under her old health insurance plan. “What are we supposed to do? People can’t go around without health insurance. This is America!” Christine says. Her friend, played by Wanda Sykes, shocks her friend by saying, “And 45 million people don’t have health insurance.” “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?” Christine asks. “Maybe because you get all your news from Nicole Richie’s blog,” Sykes tells her.

Somehow, that was proof enough for Big Hollywood that the Obama administration was behind this and proof enough for Fox News to suggest Big Hollywood was right. FNC called its video “Prime-Time Propaganda?” and went on to host a debate clearly framed to suggest an answer in the affirmative. “Is the Obama administration using Hollywood to push health care reform?” Williams asked. Never mind that the clip he showed did not push health care reform but only underscored the problem, one which, presumably, is non-partisan.

Williams asked New York Post television critic Linda Stasi, “Explain to me what is going on. What did we see in terms of the administration trying to get big Hollywood types to push their agenda on the prime time shows?”

Williams seemed to have missed the fact that he had shown absolutely no evidence such a thing had actually happened. There was no spokesperson for The New Adventures of Old Christine nor the White House. If anyone from either Fox News or Big Hollywood had tried to contact either of the parties involved to discuss whether or not there had been any actual collaboration, they kept it to themselves

Stasi noted that the administration’s memo was about “volunteerism, supporting the military families” and was not about health care. Indeed, a leaked memo from the Entertainment Industry Foundation talks about its own initiatives to “answer the call” on behalf of “service and volunteerism” and says nothing about the Obama administration playing a part in any programming. Stasi noted that the “Christine” segment had aired long before Obama’s September 11th call for service and volunteerism. “That is about (the show’s) agenda. It’s not about the agenda of the White House,” she said.

That was not good enough proof for Williams (who asked for none from his other guest). “It does seem as if what they’re (EIF) saying is, ‘Here’s the way to go about just what we’re talking about: supporting the administration’s legislative agenda,’” Williams said on behalf of the other side.

Sure enough, Big Hollywood’s Patrick Courrielche, the other guest, concurred. “This is a pattern that we’ve been seeing going on. This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen this happen. There’s been other policy advocacy that’s come out of other initiatives from the White House and from the corporation.” Courrielche said that Obama’s initiative had begun in June, and therefore, according to him, gave the show enough time to incorporate it whenever the segment we saw aired.

Courrielche continued, “By giving issues to people to discuss, and doing this backhandedly, and behind closed doors, you’ve seen policy advocacy come out. You’ve seen this on this show, we’ve seen it in other videos that have come out, in posters that have come out, so, um, to be naïve and to think that’s not what they’re doing is, I think, a naïve assumption… There’s too much going on here at a coincidental time.”

In other words, Courrielche had no proof that this is what had in fact happened. It just looked that way to him. And that was enough for Fox News to have characterized his accusation as a possible smoking gun. Unfortunately, Williams showed none of the skepticism he repeatedly presented to Stasi. Williams never even noted that Courrielche’s entire argument was based on assumption and suspicion.

Stasi noted that Courrielche’s accusations sounded “very conspiracy theory.” She pointed out that there is a long history of television and movies supporting American policies. She cited “Saving Jessica Lynch” as an example.

“But is the White House telling people to make ‘Saving Jessica Lynch?’” Williams asked Stasi, without bothering to ask whether the White House had really told anyone to put in the comments about health care.

Nevertheless, Williams and Courrielche jumped to assume the White House had done so. “That’s where the difference is,” Courrielche said, echoing Williams' “That’s different.” Williams went on to accuse Stasi of “bringing apples and oranges to the table.”

Stasi correctly noted that there were several messages on Fox Broadcasting (Fox Broadcasting's scheduling chief called the effort "heartwarming"). “With such a smoking gun, why didn’t Fox come out and say, ‘We’re directed to do this?’” Stasi asked.

Nobody had an answer for that. Courrielche reiterated, “We’re talking about policy advocacy. They are talking about specific legislation.”

Williams concluded the segment by saying, “We’ve had a fair and honest and balanced debate. You decide.”