Over the past week, Fox & Friends has run numerous segments promoting the "Constitutional Madness" bracket created by Republican Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse. While Sasse's bracket is ostensibly an attempt to determine the worst constitutional violation among supposed Obama administration scandals, in reality it's a thinly-veiled attempt to collect donations and email addresses. Fox News liked the Sasse idea so much they eventually plagiarized it for FoxNews.com.
To coincide with the NCAA's annual March Madness basketball tournament, last week Sasse's campaign released a bracket of 64 alleged constitutional violations by the Obama administration. Sasse is a former Bush administration official running in a Republican primary to fill Mike Johanns' Senate seat in Nebraska. The bracket is made up of a panoply of Fox News-promoted pseudoscandals, including things like "death panels."
Fox & Friends has given the bracket a major publicity boost, discussing it at length on its March 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 broadcasts. During some of the segments, Fox hosts -- and Sasse himself, who appeared on March 24 -- directed viewers to the competition website and pushed people to cast a vote. The network has also hyped how "thousands of people" are voting in the competition, which has gotten "a lot of buzz" -- thanks in no small part to Fox's efforts.
Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com -- many of whom likely did so after hearing about it on Fox News' highly-rated morning show -- are greeted with a green "CONTRIBUTE!" button above the actual voting process.
In order to submit votes, visitors must give the Sasse campaign their email address, which will undoubtedly be used for later fundraising pitches. After submitting a vote, the site redirects to the Sasse campaign's donation page, with the $100.00 donation option helpfully pre-selected. Text on the landing page reads, "Thanks for playing! Will you help fight back against Constitutional overreach by making a donation to the campaign today?"
On its March 26 broadcast, the show promoted its own version of the competition and encouraged viewers to visit the Fox & Friends website to cast votes.
Much of the language on Fox's version of the bracket is pulled directly from the Sasse campaign website, but Fox offers no attribution anywhere on its site. To the contrary, Fox News claims it's "our Constitutional Madness Bracket" and "we put together a 'Constitutional Madness' bracket." Fox also lifted language from other sources in writing "background" information about the alleged constitutional violations.
Fox News of course has routinely worked to bolster the political ambitions of Republicans, including those on its own staff. But even by the network's warped ethical standards, its week-long promotion of Sasse's campaign ploy has been egregious.
In 2010, the Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint (later dismissed) against Fox News after the network ran the campaign web address of former Fox employee and then Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich.
A rundown of Fox's "Constitutional Madness" hype is below.
March 21: "He's Been Labeled The Anti-Obamacare Candidate"
Fox & Friends first picked up on the Sasse campaign's competition on March 21. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck told viewers that Sasse was taking March Madness "to the next level" with his bracket. Hasselbeck also explained that the Nebraska Republican "has been surging ever since he's been labeled the anti-Obamacare candidate." The idea that Sasse is "the anti-Obamcare candidate" has been a central piece of his campaign's messaging.
During this first promotion, Fox encouraged people to cast their votes on Twitter and Facebook.
March 22: "Governor Huckabee Plays Constitutional Madness"
On March 22, Fox & Friends Saturday ran two segments promoting "Constitutional Madness." In the first, co-host Anna Kooiman said that Sasse is "gaining a lot of attention as this anti-Obamacare candidate, essentially." Fox contributor Peter Johnson Jr. announced that "America is going to be making their picks on Constitutional Madness, and it's a very interesting idea."
In a later segment, Fox host Mike Huckabee spent several minutes running through some of his personal picks in the bracket while rehashing conservative talking points about the various "scandals":
March 24: "We're Going To Be Tracking This All Week Here On Fox & Friends"
On March 24, Fox & Friends hosted Sasse himself to discuss the bracket, which Doocy explained started "at some of [Sasse's] townhall meetings, and now it's lit on fire." During the discussion, both Sasse and Doocy repeatedly directed people to visit the bracket competition website.
In one such instance, Doocy prompted Sasse to broadcast his website, saying "You want people to go on the website, is that it? To figure out who's gonna wind up in the Final Four?" Sasse responded by directing viewers to both the competition site and his campaign's main website.
While most of the segment revolved around the bracket, Doocy also gave Sasse a chance to plug his anti-Obamacare bona fides, telling viewers about Sasse's plan to roll out a health care alternative. Sasse explained, "Big government solutions from Washington aren't going to solve it. The private sector can."
Doocy ended the segment by promising, "We're going to be continuing to track this all week long right here on Fox & Friends. And if you'd like to vote, go to constitutionalmadness.com."
March 25: "It's The New March Madness - It's Getting A Lot Of Buzz"
On Fox & Friends' March 25 broadcast, Doocy kicked off a segment on the bracket by declaring, "It's the new March Madness -- it's getting a lot of buzz. Thousands of people have been checking out the Constitutional Madness bracket created by Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse."
After running through the "North" region matchups with Peter Johnson Jr., Doocy told viewers, "If you would like to log on and vote go to constitutionalmadness.com." Johnson Jr. responded, "thousands of people are."
March 26: "This Is An Important And Elegant Way To Look At A Real Serious Problem"
On today's show, Fox & Friends devoted nearly 4 minutes to "Constitutional Madness." In contrast to previous segments, the hosts omitted direct mention of Sasse.
Doocy did say that "America has voted at constitutionalmadness.com." But instead of pointing viewers to the Sasse campaign website to continute voting, Doocy directed people to the Fox & Friends site, where the network has set up its own version of the bracket.
Johnson Jr. declared the competition "an important and elegant way to look at a real serious problem."
Fox News apparently liked the Sasse campaign idea so much they plagiarized it. The text for the matchups -- as well as the layout of the regions -- is largely identical between the Fox bracket and the Sasse campaign version. For example, the Fox & Friends "East Region" features a matchup between "Forcing taxpayers to violate religious conscience by funding abortion through Obamacare" and "Two-year delay in ObamaCare individual mandate." That phrasing is taken word-for-word from Sasse's original website.
Similarly, the "North" region in both brackets features equivalent matchups between "Regulating carbon dioxide without congressional approval" and "Preventing layoff notices to contractors affected by sequestration prior to the election."
Fox & Friends' site does not mention at any point that the idea or much of the text is taken from Sasse's campaign.
Other sections of the Fox News page lift language from sources without attribution. For instance:
- In the section about the "War in Libya," Fox News writes: "Even if the president believes he has such authority, the War Powers Act goes on to require the president to seek congressional approval within 60 days of conflict." Fox News lifted that sentence from a Washington Times op-ed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
- In a section on appointments to the NLRB, Fox News writes: "Fed up with the Senate blocking key nominees to administration posts in the NRLB, Obama made the appointments anyway, arguing that the Senate was technically in recess since it wasn't actually conducting business." That sentence is lifted almost word for word from an MSNBC.com article by reporter Adam Serwer.
- In a section about layoff notices to contractors, Fox News writes: "Lockheed Martin threatened to send out notices of potential layoffs to all 123,000 of his employees on Nov. 2 -- four days before the presidential election -- due to the WARN Act requiring companies to give 60 days' notice of mass layoffs. But, soon after, the Department of Labor issued guidance that said that the WARN Act would not apply to immediate job losses due to sequestration because those cuts would be an 'unforeseeable business circumstance.'" Much of that language is lifted from a Hill article.
On its March 27 broadcast, Fox & Friends again promoted the bracket competition. They excluded all mention of Sasse and the original bracket website, with Doocy instead calling it "our own little competition." At the end of the segment, Doocy told viewers, "If you would like to vote, go to our website, foxandfriends.com."