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Cavuto Employs The “He Did It Too” Defense For Fox News’ Misinformation

Reported by Ellen - April 17, 2010 -

Co-authored by Brian

Sen. Tom Coburn returned to Fox News Wednesday (4/14/10) ostensibly to discuss why he was blocking a bill extending unemployment insurance benefits (he wanted cuts made elsewhere to pay for it). Before long, however, host Neil Cavuto was pressing him about his recent criticisms of Fox News at a town hall. Cavuto acknowledged that, despite Bill O'Reilly's claim to the contrary, Fox News personalities had wrongly argued that health care reform legislation can send someone to jail if they refuse to get health insurance. But instead of correcting the record and informing viewers about what the bill really contains, Cavuto chastised Coburn for not telling his town hall attendees that Fox was not alone in pushing the misinformation. To Coburn’s credit, he didn’t buy it. But first, he had to defend to Cavuto that extending unemployment benefits was not just encouraging people to loaf on the government dime. With video.

One of Coburn’s arguments (which we heartily endorse) has been that Fox News inflames rather than informs. So, perhaps as a peace offering, Cavuto gave Coburn a few moments to discuss his amendment to the unemployment insurance bill that, he said, would save $900 million in interest costs over 10 years and would not add “another” $18.2 billion to the debt.

But rather than probe the details of how that might work, Cavuto decided to “step back” and approach “the third rail of politics.” He continued, "We're approaching in excess of two years worth of benefits. It does do a lot to disincentivize folks, does it not?"

Coburn disagreed. "We've never had this kind of unemployment, this magnitude of number of people. We've had high unemployment, but never had 13, 14 million people."

“So where do you draw the line on how long and how much the benefits continue?” Cavuto asked. He kept harping on the same “third rail.” “Are you helping anyone when you keep the jobless benefits going, regardless of the severity of the recession that you quite astutely point out remains severe… How are you helping them by continuing to feed checks?” …I know I'm going to sound callous here, and I’m not, I’m wondering, the longer the government provides a backup, does it give anyone any incentive to find an alternative?"

Coburn thought a line should be drawn somewhere but that the real issue was how to pay for helping people in trouble. “I reject the idea that the majority of people on unemployment insurance wouldn’t rather have a job,” he said. "There's always going to be an incentive because what you can make on unemployment doesn't come close to what you can earn with a real job… Think about the human dignity there.”

Once again, Cavuto dodged the substantive “how to pay” issue. Instead, he moved on to the Fox News controversy. Cavuto acknowledged what Bill O’Reilly had not - that Fox News personalities had, in fact, wrongly argued that someone could be sent to jail under the new health care reform legislation if they did not obtain health insurance. But, he insisted, Fox News was not alone in doing that.

Yes, it was the old “He did it, too!” defense. Which is completely indefensible in a news organization. Either something is newsworthy and accurate or it’s not. “A number of Fox personalities HAD made that comment. But they were not alone at the time it was made,” Cavuto said. He added accusingly, “But you cited only Fox.”

Coburn said that his questioner cited Fox (which I did not hear) and added, as if by way of proof that it had to have come from Fox, that he had been talking to a very conservative crowd. “The Fox News crowd are the conservatives who follow me. They’re Fox News junkies… Most of the people that come to my town halls are conservative.” Hmm, seems like it's not just liberals who think Fox has a conservative bias.

As Cavuto continued to suggest that Coburn should have told his town hall that it was not just Fox News pushing misinformation, Coburn said, “Look… We have to win (over the public) based on facts and on principles... When we overstate the case, that’s not connected with reality, we hurt our credibility… I’m glad Fox is there because they do lend a voice that we haven’t had for so long, counter to what the rest of the media has out there. So, it’s not being upset with Fox… We have to be, those of us who listen to the media, we have to figure out what ‘fair and balanced’ is. You can say ‘fair and balanced’ all you want. But the way you figure that out is based on what your core values are and what you’re hearing.”

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