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White House Slaps Down Fox News During Press Briefing - And Fox Ignores It Covers It Up

Reported by Guest Blogger - May 5, 2010 -

Guest blogged by Aunty Em and Ellen

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs slapped down Fox News yesterday for having given credence to former FEMA director Michael "Heckuva job, Brownie" Brown's baseless accusation that President Obama deliberately sabotaged the clean up of the Louisiana oil spill in order to derail his own offshore drilling policy and enact a greener agenda. Such a confrontation would have surely made headlines had it involved, say, a George W. Bush spokesperson slapping down MSNBC. But on Fox? Nothing that we saw. With video.

UPDATE: Special Report whitewashed the controversy.

It was a banner day for Fox News’ parent company, NewsCorp, yesterday (05-04-10). The media conglomerate got good news and even better news. First the good news: News Corporation, owner of everything Fox, had better than expected earnings for the first quarter of the year with $839 million in profit, much of that due to the success of Avatar.

When he appeared on Your World with Neil Cavuto, News Corp head Rupert Murdoch and Cavuto failed to mention that earnings were still off last year’s profits and newspaper earnings were still “dismal.”

And the better news? An arrest was made in the Times Square Bomber case and he didn’t turn out to be a white guy without a shirt after all. For Fox News, the fact that Faisal Shahzad was being linked to the Pakistani Taliban meant the purported news channel could go back to the usual meme: terrorism = bad = Muslim. It’s a win/win for the so-called news channel.

Just before Your World, on Studio B, Shepard Smith, who always seems more biased towards actual news than the rest of the channel, was breathlessly awaiting the upcoming press conference by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Shep told the vast viewing audience that the presser had been delayed a few times already, as the news about the terrorist arrest was ongoing. However, Shep said that they had now been given the 2 minute warning and that usually means two minutes.

It was clear Shep was stalling for time so he could cut to the live presser, when suddenly he snapped at the person talking to him in his IFB words to the effect of “I heard you the first time. Go to commercial.” [I did not have a pen in my hand and finding tape of this little incident has been impossible.]

Smith was obviously angry and those few intemperate words were telling for someone who has worked in tee vee. Here’s what I believe was happening behind the scenes. Shep wanted to throw to the presser because he has a tendency to prefer actual news. The control room wanted the commercial break instead. Shep ignored the control room, hoping the presser would start, until he was finally forced to react. “Go to commercial.” He was disgusted because he now knew the presser would begin in the middle of the 3 minute commercial break and all he would have time to do was throw to Neil Cavuto, about to begin his show.

Sure enough, when the break was over, all Shep had time to say was, “Here’s Neil Cavuto,” or something as quick.

Of course, Cavuto was not going to cover the presser because he had a Special Guest: Some Aussie named Rupert Mudoch, coming on to tout the big earnings posted on Wall Street. This was a reach-around of epic proportions and Cavuto could be forgiven for kowtowing to and wanting to stroke The Boss.

To be absolutely fair: CNN didn’t cover the presser either. The press conference was not discussed on The O'Reilly Factor, nor Hannity, either.

I had to turn on C-SPAN to watch Robert Gibb smack down Fox News for its coverage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and it was so much fun. Fox News Correspondent Wendell Goler asked:

WG: As for critics who are calling this your Katrina, is there -- President Obama’s Katrina—

MR. GIBBS: Can I say this -- I watched FOX yesterday.

WG: I really didn’t want you to go there. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: But you sort of -- you opened both the double doors and voila, here I am. (Laughter.)

WG: But it wasn’t just FOX calling this your Katrina.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, but FOX had the very special and unique interview with Michael Brown -- you opened it and I had to do it -- who for those who weren’t let in on the big secret, Mr. Brown, FEMA Director Brown under Katrina, intimated on FOX, and it wasn’t -- I will editorially say, didn’t appear to be pushed back on real hard -- that this spill was leaked on purpose in order for us to walk back our environmental and drilling decisions, and that the leak that we did on purpose got out of control and now is too big to contain.

So suffice to say, Wendell --

WG: What is his attribution? What is his -- Mr. Brown’s attribution?

MR. GIBBS: I can only wish that the network that you work for had asked that prior to interviewing him yesterday.

WG: But reporters in here asked that.

MR. GIBBS: Well, you should—

WG: So I’m asking you—

MR. GIBBS: You should call headquarters, my friend, and—

WG: I’m asking you—

MR. GIBBS: —ask for somebody who makes the decisions to put people like that—because I got to tell you, Wendell, I’m not entirely sure that a factual answer that I might give to any one of your questions is going to change the notion that your network put out the former FEMA director to make an accusation that the well had been purposely set off in order to change an offshore drilling decision.

WG: Nor would that affect the reporting I do.

MR. GIBBS: I didn’t intimate that it did. Again, I would—you and Major should—

WG: If we can, let’s move on from it.

MR. GIBBS: You could get on a conference call and maybe do some work. Go ahead.

GW: Are there lessons learned here?

MR. GIBBS: From?

GW: This oil spill -- from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.*

[Video courtesy of Media Matters.]

Watching Goler walk it back to the innocuous question, “Are there lessons learned there?” was well worth the price of admission.

As Think Progress told us, “It’s important to note that Brown wasn’t the only one on Fox spreading these theories. On Fox and Friends yesterday, former Bush press secretary and current Fox News contributor [Dana Perino] asked whether the oil spill was ‘deliberate.’ Fox Business’ Eric Bolling later similarly asked, ‘The question is did they let this thing leak?’”

Just another day in Fox Land, where Fair & Balanced is just a slogan and actual news takes a backseat to The Big Boss and conspiracy theories.

With all my love,

Aunty Em

*Official White House Transcript

5/5/10 UPDATE: Media Matters has a spot on analysis of Special Report's coverage of the press briefing: First, Fox News' James Rosen conveniently left out of his report the conspiracy theory Brown pushed in order to convey the impression that Brown had merely suggested the Obama administration had been negligently slow to respond to the oil spill. Then, Bret Baier and Brit Hume misrepresented Brown's comments as saying that Obama had merely taken advantage of the oil spill, as opposed to having sabotaged the response, which Brown very definitely and clearly suggested. Lastly, Fox News overlooked the fact that host Neil Cavuto offered absolutely no pushback on Brown's theory, therefore giving him undeserved credibility. In fact, Cavuto's only real comment was one of agreement.

It's time for Fox News to man up about what it did and apologize.

You can contact them at special@foxnews.com.

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