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NAACP Spokesman Sandbagged On O’Reilly Factor

Reported by Ellen - September 10, 2010 -

Why, oh why can’t progressives and Democrats figure out how to do a Fox News interview? I can’t tell you how tired I am of watching well-intentioned, otherwise well-spoken and principled people completely blow their appearances on Fox merely because they were ill-prepared and, as a result, become patsies for Fox News’ tactics. Sadly, that was the fate of Hilary Shelton of the NAACP on the O’Reilly Factor last night (9/9/10) when he appeared on behalf of a website tracking the tea party.

The website, TeaPartyTracker.org, recently launched by the NAACP along with ThinkProgress, Media Matters, and New Left Media, has caused a right-wing freakout. Bill O’Reilly alleged that a dirty trickster could show up in a racist t-shirt or sign that the site would then publicize in an effort to discredit the tea party.

Shelton’s big mistake, like most liberal guests who don’t come armed to deal with Fox News’ tactics, was endeavoring to partake in a reasonable discussion. He should have known that O’Reilly was going to use him as fodder for what is actually a political reality show, not a debate, not a discussion and certainly not an exploration of any real issues.

So it was no surprise that Shelton fell for O’Reilly’s first salvo: “Give me an example (since the tea party allegedly renounced racism)… of what you say is racism. What happened? Just give me one, very clear example.”

If only Shelton had read this invaluable post by TrueBlueMajority on DailyKos that should be required reading for anyone even thinking of appearing on Fox News. The post begins,

The secret to succeeding on Fox or any other hostile "interview" environment is to have one simple main point you want to make and keep making it no matter what the question is.

From The Art of War: "Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy." No matter what intro question you are asked, give the pithy (shorter than 10 seconds long) and simple answer that expresses your main point.

Rather than offer his own talking points about, say, why it’s important to monitor the tea party, what has happened at tea parties, who funds the tea parties, etc., Shelton answered by offering up one example of an unknown t-shirt wearer. That set him up not only for further attack by O’Reilly (one t-shirt out of thousands! The tea party can’t monitor every single outfit!), but also allowed O'Reilly, instead of Shelton, to control what he would say. Even worse, Shelton set himself up for O’Reilly’s next sandbag: demanding that Shelton explain why the NAACP did not disavow Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s “hate speech.”

Don’t tell me that O’Reilly didn’t have that “question” planned in advance. It was the old, “blacks are racist” meme that is so prevalent on Fox and that O’Reilly and his ilk seem to think compensates for any racism on the part of whites. It’s also a convenient way of taking the attention completely away from the tea party and making the NAACP look like the bad guy.

I’m sorry to say, Shelton fell for the tactic hook, line and sinker.

I’m a believer that Democrats and liberals should not boycott Fox. But anyone who goes on MUST be prepared. If there is a next time, Shelton would do well to keep this advice from TrueBlueMajority in mind: The key to "surviving the Fox hunt" is to stop pretending it's a fair fight or a fight by reality-based rules. It's not an actual interview or a real conversation--the questions don't deserve to be answered. If you choose to be responsive rather than proactive you have lost before you open your mouth because you have decided to let the Rs frame the agenda with loaded questions. Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy.

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