During an Associated Press interview, discussing the President Clinton-Chris Wallace Fox News Sunday interview, Fox News chief Roger Ailes accused Clinton of an "assault on Wallace" and an "assault on all journalists," when Clinton forcefully responded to Wallace's question about why he did not "do more to put Al Qaeda and bin Laden out of business" when he was president.
In a September 27 interview with the Associated Press, Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes accused former President Bill Clinton of displaying a "hatred for journalists" during Clinton's confrontational interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace, aired on the September 24 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday. In that interview, Clinton asserted that Wallace was doing "Fox's bidding" and accused him of a "conservative hit job" after Wallace asked him, "Why didn't you do more to put [Osama] bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?" while failing to ask similar questions of Bush administration officials. Ailes further charged that Clinton's response constituted an "assault on Wallace," and by extension, "an assault on all journalists."
In addition, Ailes asserted that Clinton failed to "sit there and answer a question from a professional, mild-mannered, respectful reporter" but the AP did not report that Clinton responded with a factual rebuttal to right-wing criticisms of his handling of terrorism while president, as Media Matters for America has noted.
Ailes made the accusation notwithstanding the frequent attacks on journalists made on his own network. Media Matters has documented countless instances during which anchors and commentators on Ailes's Fox News Channel have attacked individual journalists and media outlets as a whole. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has made a cottage industry out of attacking journalists and news organizations on his radio and television shows. As Media Matters documented, O'Reilly's latest book, Culture Warrior (Broadway Books, September 2006), is little more than a string of attacks against people and media outlets O'Reilly doesn't like. In the book, O'Reilly identifies a total of 23 news organizations, including The New York Times, CNN, and the "majority" of the Vermont press, as well as 28 individual reporters, columnists, editors, and other media figures, as his "enemies" in the "culture war." O'Reilly has even gone as far as threatening to "get into" the "lives" of New York Times columnist Frank Rich and executive editor Bill Keller.
Other recent highlights of journalist-bashing on Fox News include:
- On the June 29 edition of Hannity & Colmes, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter called her previous suggestion that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh should have bombed The New York Times' building "prescient," given the Times' publication of a June 23 article detailing a Treasury Department program designed to monitor international financial transactions for terrorist activity. On the June 6 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Coulter referred to The New York Times as "The Treason Times," a term she has used in the past to describe the newspaper.
- On the March 21 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, nationally syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham defended her assertion that NBC News was "report[ing] only on the IEDs [improvised explosive devices], only on the killings ... only on the reprisals" in Iraq, and was "reporting from hotel balconies" instead of in the field. Ingraham criticized "a group of people" in the media "who are invested in America's defeat" in Iraq, further stating that, although then-NBC reporter David Bloom -- who died in Iraq in April 2003 -- "was over there covering the war when he died," she didn't know whether NBC News was -- in O'Reilly's words -- "actively trying to undermine the war in Iraq." She added that "the media obviously has an element underneath it that really despises [President] Bush, and it's blinding them."
- On the June 29 broadcast of Fox News Radio's Brian & The Judge, co-host Brian Kilmeade, who also co-hosts Fox News' Fox & Friends, suggested that the U.S. government should "put up the Office of Censorship," in the wake of reports in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal detailing the Treasury Department financial-tracking program. Similarly, during the June 29 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host E.D. Hill wondered if it would be appropriate for the U.S. government to create an "Office of Censorship."
- On the June 1 edition of The Big Story with John Gibson, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin blasted the media coverage of alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops in Haditha, claiming that there are "puddles of drool in the offices of the L.A. Times and The New York Times."
- On the July 20 edition of The Big Story, Fox News host Julie Banderas rhetorically asked viewers to "guess which television" outlet Hezbollah leader Shiekh Hassan Nasrallah had recently appeared on. She then stated: "No, not The New York Times, but Al Jazeera television, broadcasting this terrorist on TV."
- On the March 23 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity stated that, in covering the Iraq war, the media "are fat; they are lazy; they have a pack mentality; they are partisan; and they are not doing their job; and they are not doing a service for the American people; and they are failing in their mission; and they purposely fail in their mission; and they get away with it each and every day." On Hannity & Colmes later that day, Hannity stated that, although "[t]here are some good, brave reporters ... the story is not being told about the good news and about the progress [in Iraq]. There is lazy reporting going on. It is somewhat institutional, and there is partisanship on the part of the media."
- On the August 16 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, in a segment discussing media coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, host Neil Cavuto introduced the segment by stating, "[I]s the liberal media fueling terror?" Throughout the segment, an onscreen text read, "Is the Liberal Media Helping to Fuel Terror?" On the June 1 edition of Your World, Cavuto complained that "the media is all over" the alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha, but that there has been "virtually no coverage of the daily savage attacks by insurgents on Iraqi civilians and our troops." An onscreen text during the segment read: "Blatant Bias?" But Cavuto has previously alleged that "all you see in the media out of Iraq are the insurgent activity, our soldiers getting killed or hurt."
- Discussing media coverage of the Iraq war during the June 24 edition of Fox News Watch, regular contributor and Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton asserted that the media "frame" their Iraq coverage by portraying "the U.S. military" as "evil," "bad people," and "killers." On the May 6 edition of Fox News Watch, Pinkerton asserted that a "racial typology -- brown, black, white -- was visible" in media coverage of the May 1 "Day Without Immigrants" demonstrations that took place throughout the country, and claimed that "[t]he media like brown people, but they like black people more."
- On the June 22 edition of The Big Story, host John Gibson criticized The New York Times and its former executive editor Howell Raines because "they make up" news, such as "grave threats to the environment," or that "America is the worst citizen in the world, or, worse, they reveal secrets to terrorists." On the April 21 edition of The Big Story, Gibson claimed that the December 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning report by New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau that revealed warrantless domestic wiretaps approved by the Bush administration "probably did do damage to national security because it may have tipped off Al Qaeda that we could listen to their cell-phone calls to people inside this country."
- On the July 24 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes declared that the international press and human rights organizations were "abetting the terrorists" by reporting civilian casualties in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.
- On the September 6 edition of Fox & Friends, Hill purported to impersonate Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas.
Moreover, Ailes's criticism of Clinton and his defense of Wallace stand in stark contrast to his response to another confrontational interview between a president and a reporter. In 1988, Ailes reportedly encouraged then-Vice President George H.W. Bush to attack then-CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather in order to divert attention away from questions about the Iran-Contra scandal.
During an interview with George H.W. Bush, broadcast on January 25, 1988, Rather asked Bush about his role in the Iran-Contra arms for hostages deal, prompting a heated response from Bush, who attacked Rather by pointing to an incident in 1987 when Rather had left the set of the Evening News for six minutes in protest of live coverage of the U.S. Open cutting into the Evening News broadcast. In its January 27, 1988, edition, The Washington Post reported that Ailes, serving as media adviser to Bush, had "furnished [Bush] with the rejoinder about Rather's absence from the air for several minutes during a newscast last year" as a way of "deal[ing] with Iran-contra questions." On the January 26, 1988, broadcast of the Evening News, Rather defended the previous night's interview, saying that "trying to ask honest questions is part of a reporter's job," according to a January 26, 1988, Associated Press report.
From the September 27 Associated Press article by television writer David Bauder:
Fox News chief Roger Ailes says former President Clinton's response to Chris Wallace's question about going after Osama bin Laden represents "an assault on all journalists."
Ailes said Clinton had a "wild overreaction" in the interview, broadcast on Fox News Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of people subsequently watched clips over the Internet, with Fox foes rallying behind Clinton.
"If you can't sit there and answer a question from a professional, mild-mannered, respectful reporter like Chris Wallace, then the hatred for journalists is showing," Ailes said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "All journalists need to raise their eyebrows and say, 'hold on a second.' "
Wallace has said he asked Clinton about bin Laden partly because of ABC's recent docudrama The Path to 9/11, widely criticized as full of falsehoods by former Clinton administration officials for depicting a bungling effort at going after the terrorist leader.
Wallace asked: "I understand that hindsight is always 20/20, but the question is, why didn't you connect the dots and put him out of business?"
Clinton said his administration did more than President Bush to go after bin Laden before the terrorist attacks. While Clinton said Wallace's question was legitimate, he called it a "conservative hit job" and accused Fox of not being similarly tough on Bush.
Clinton aides later said they considered the question an attack, and on Wednesday a spokesman for the former president cited what he called Ailes' and the network's "right-wing political agenda."
"Chris Wallace was clearly carrying the water for Fox," spokesman Ben Yarrow said. "President Clinton was prepared for a partisan attack; he wasn't afraid to hit back hard and he'll do it every time."
Ailes dismissed the criticism: "They're out there saying (Wallace) was savage, he sandbagged (Clinton), he was taking orders on the question. Chris Wallace has never taken orders on questions in his life. There's never been a discussion of that. I frankly think the assault on Chris Wallace is an assault on all journalists."
Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio and Television New Directors Association, said she worked with Wallace at NBC's "Meet the Press," where she was once executive producer. Wallace, who left ABC News to become "Fox News Sunday" host in 2003, was always a professional who asked tough questions and was not partisan, she said.
But Cochran said she would not comment on the larger question of what this meant for all journalists.
The liberal media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which has repeatedly criticized Fox News Channel for favoring Republican and conservative points of view, said it could see why Clinton got frustrated. Steve Rendell, FAIR senior media analyst, said it appeared Wallace was trying to cut off Clinton's answer.
"I would dismiss Roger Ailes' complaint as simply whining in an attempt to make Fox News appear the victim in this fight," Rendell said.
Ailes said he was surprised the story created such a reaction and that he understood the political response.
"They're trying to do this to rally their base, go after Fox News, set up a straw man," he said. "That's fine. America's favorite indoor sport is politics. I quit it 14 years ago because I hated it."