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Megyn Kelly Hosts Dubious “Democratic Strategist” Who Criticizes Obama's Release Of OLC Memos

Reported by Ellen - April 19, 2009 -

On Friday, April 17, 2009, America's Newsroom producers booked Eric Yaverbaum as a “Democratic strategist” for some “fair and balanced” debate about whether or not President Obama's release of the Bush torture memos was a threat to national security. But Yaverbaum, who seems to have no professional experience either in Democratic politics or national security, spent almost all of his air time agreeing with genuine Republican Doug Heye, former communications director for Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who serves on the Select Committee on Intelligence and Armed Services Committee, that Obama should not have done it. The only disagreement was Yaverbaum's mild statement that the release would not “compromise anybody's security on the ground.” Given that producers screen their guests and tell them in advance what they will be discussing, it's hard to believe that they were aggressively pursuing a genuine debate. A little research quickly revealed that Yaverbaum is no politico but a PR guy who happens to call FNC's sister company HarperCollins one of his clients. With video.

Even if Yaverbaum had provided any kind of pro-Obama opinion, FOX News had already weighted the scales in favor of the other side. Host Megyn Kelly, in the introduction, never used the word
“torture” and set the stage by saying that the memos found that the “methods” they detail do not amount to torture. She also described them as “controversial techniques once deemed vital to our national security” and added that they had been used “effectively” against alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and had helped expose attack plots.

But Kelly failed to report that, as Marcy Wheeler noted, the memos show Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month, which raises the question of their effectiveness. Also, with regard to another detainee, Abu Zubaida, the Washington Post reported, “Not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.” (my emphasis)

“Will the release of these documents hurt our troops on the ground now or could they put our national security in jeopardy?” Kelly asked, seemingly ruling out any harmless or even beneficial outcome from the release of the documents.

We did a little research on Yaverbaum and discovered that when he's not on FOX News, he bills himself as a public relations specialist. His website boasts of a large number of clients. None of them are in politics or focused on national security issues. But one name on his client roster, HarperCollins, caught my eye because it just happens to be owned by News Corporation, the same company that owns FOX News. But none of that was revealed to the “we report, you decide” network's viewers on the show.

Sadly, “PR specialist” Yaverbaum didn't seem to notice or care about the way the discussion was being framed. “I'm disappointed (in Obama),” Yaverbaum said. He claimed to be dismayed by his own position and added that he has been debating people on FNC for 10 years. I'll certainly take him at his word about that but I've never seen him before and I've been watching pretty closely since February, 2004. A search of “Yaverbaum” on News Hounds (founded in May, 2004) turned up no results, either. But despite bolstering his own Democratic bona fides, he spent most of the entire “debate” attacking Obama. “I don't see why this was necessary... I'm very concerned about the notion of classified information – it's classified for a reason,” Yaverbaum said. He even called it “in line” with Obama's policy of “over transparency.”

Kelly was obviously pleasantly surprised. “That's interesting... you don't hear this from a lot of Democrats,” she told Yaverbaum. She praised him for coming on the show and saying “how you really feel.”

After granting that Obama's decision wouldn't “compromise anybody's security on the ground” Yaverbaum moved on to what he thought of as “more troubling... I just don't see anything gained by this.”

OK, I certainly wouldn't want a guest to go on television and lie about his opinion though I would think that any Democrat worth their salt would decline to appear in a FOX News debate if he knew he was going to side with the Republican. But surely as a “PR expert” who brags about being a “recognized national expert in media relations,” Yaverbaum must know how to put forth a position without endorsing it personally. It's not like he's some columnist or pundit whose independent opinion people look to. Nor was he billed as some man on the street offering a random opinion; he was there as a Democratic spokesperson. Don't tell me that he'd go on television and say about one of his own clients, “Well, Megyn, I'm disappointed that XYZ company made such a decision... I just don't see anything gained by this.” But even putting that aside, why didn't “media expert” Yaverbaum at least bring into question the anti-Obama agenda on FOX News? Besides the framing of this discussion, the “fair and balanced” network has been deliberately using inflammatory rhetoric to suggest Obama is a national security risk. (FOXNews.com even named the video of this segment "Security Risk?") How could any Democratic media expert not know and not care that this was more of that effort?

I'll probably never know what happened behind the scenes to land Yaverbaum as a “Democratic strategist” in this segment. But here's what we do know: Yaverbaum was presented as a “Democratic strategist” despite not having any apparent professional experience in that regard; Yaverbaum was there to represent the Democratic perspective in a debate with a professional Republican; Yaverbaum agreed with nearly every Republican talking point and challenged none of the premises; One of Yaverbaum's clients is a large corporation that is owned by News Corporation, the same company that owns FOX News; Yaverbaum's business relationship with News Corp was not revealed to the viewers.

A chain of ineptitude or a more calculated effort? I report, you decide.

Many thanks to long-time NH'er, Ira Rosofsky (who happens to have a new book out, called, Nasty, Brutish and Long) for his assistance with this post.