Fox at it again: Now promoting anti-health reform disruptions of town halls

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Just as it promoted the April 15 "tea party" protests, Fox News is now promoting the disruptions of Democratic town hall events by protesters opposed to health care reform, protests that are being touted by Republican leaders and supported by conservative groups. Following the August 2 disruption of a town hall event hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Fox News personalities have repeatedly lauded such protesters and urged viewers to take similar action.

Fox hosts promote disruptions of town hall events

Fox & Friends host Johnson to protesters: "[W]e thank you for representing Americans, and we hope that other Americans get out there." From Fox & Friends' guest co-host Peter Johnson's interview of two people who said they questioned Specter and Sebelius at the Philadelphia town hall event:

CAROL O'BRIEN: I think they were -- well, personally, I think they were very unprepared for that meeting. I think they were asked questions, and they did not have valid responses. They stayed on message. Even though part of my question -- I asked them please not to insult my intelligence by staying on message, but to give us an honest answer. They did not do that. And I think if you look at their facial expressions during the town hall meeting, you could tell that they were not happy with the response of the crowd.

JOHNSON: Well, O'Briens, we're all looking for honest answers, and we thank you for representing Americans, and we hope that other Americans get out there and voice their opinions. Let's check in with you as time goes on and see what kind of progress we are making. John and Carol O'Brien, thank you so much. [Fox & Friends, 8/4/09]

Fox News' Carlson: "Are you gonna call" your member of Congress "or are you gonna go to one of these receptions where they're actually there?" Introducing the segment on the Philadelphia town hall, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson said:

CARLSON: [Y]ou probably have a lot on your mind for your respective members of Congress when they come home from recess. Are you gonna call them up and tell them how you really feel, or are you going to go to one of these receptions where they're actually there in person? That's happening now all across the country. [Fox & Friends, 8/4/09]

Johnson: "We need to have this every day throughout August." From Johnson's discussion of the Specter-Sebelius town hall meeting the previous day on Fox & Friends:

JOHNSON: Well, they sound kind of useless, and they sound kind of, really, uninformed and not -- no. We need to have this every day throughout August. People have to be contacting their congresspeople, their senators. They need to bring their congresspeople and senator every -- to account in their neighborhoods, in their congressional districts and talk about this issue and ask questions and say, "If I need to get a hip replacement, am I gonna get it? If I've got private insurance now, and I'm happy with it, am I gonna lose it? Is the government gonna decide whether I live or die at some point in the future? What is the future of my health care, one-sixth of the American budget?" [Fox & Friends, 8/3/09]

Fox News' Doocy: "If you want to contact your congressmembers and sound off, go to FoxNation.com." Also on August 3, during the same segment on the Philadelphia town hall, co-host Steve Doocy suggested people to go to Fox News' FoxNation.com to contact members of Congress:

DOOCY: That's right. So anyway, if you want to contact your congressmembers and sound off, go to FoxNation.com. It is a great interactive website where you can sound off, and you'll also find your lawmakers' phone numbers and email there. Hmm, very handy. [Fox & Friends, 8/3/09]

Sean Hannity on "Healthcare Uprising": "That's a pretty good way to fight back;" Morris: We gotta sign that [protester] up" After airing clips from the Philadelphia town hall, Sean Hannity and Fox News contributor Dick Morris stated:

HANNITY: Wow, that sounded more like a Philadelphia Eagles game or a Flyers game than a town hall. And joining me now to discuss this and more is Fox News contributor, the author of the book Catastrophe -- New York Times best-seller -- How Obama, Congress, and the Special Interests are Transforming a Slump into a Crash, Freedom into Socialism and a Disaster into a Catastrophe, and How You can Fight Back -- Dick Morris is here. That's a pretty good way to fight back.

MORRIS: It sure is. We got to sign that lady up. They wanted August. The Blue Dogs bought us August. That was all they did. And now we have got to let them have it, because they are planning to pass this bill with 50 votes. They're planning not to ask any Republican votes. They're going to just do it with hard-core Democrats. [Hannity, 8/3/09]

Cavuto on protests: "Taxpayers now speaking out in droves"

CAVUTO: Taxpayers now speaking out in droves. Taxpayers demanding answers at a Pennsylvania town hall on health care yesterday with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Democratic Senator Arlen Specter. Did they get answers? The folks asking those questions with us now: Joey Taylor, whose question you just heard. Robert Mitchell is also here, whose question you will hear in a minute. Joey, did they answer your question? [Your World with Neil Cavuto, 8/3/09]

Fox on-screen text: "Hold Congress accountable! Now is the time to speak your mind."

Fox Nation: "More Town Hall Opposition! Watch This!"

Fox echoing GOP, which touts protests as the way "real people" feel

House GOP leader John Boehner on protests: Democrats "are facing a backlash from their constituents." From a "Leader Alert" on Boehner's Republican leader website:

Back home for the August recess, rank-and-file Democratic Members of the House are facing a backlash from their constituents, who are already fed up with Washington's job-killing agenda and don't support Democrats' government takeover of health care. According to polls from WSJ/NBC News, National Public Radio, and Pew, more Americans now oppose the Democrats' government-run health plan than support it because it will raise costs, destroy jobs, and put bureaucrats in charge of decisions that only patients and doctors should make - as a new web video from House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warned today. [RepublicanLeader.house.gov, 8/3/09]

NRCC chairman Sessions: "You've now got real people who are showing up" at town halls.

"We've seen Russ Carnahan, we've seen Tim Bishop, we've seen some other people face some very different crowds back home," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas). "The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up -- they're over. You've now got real people who are showing up -- and that's going to be a factor."

Asked later how or whether the GOP would use the confrontations against Democrats, Sessions responded: "Wait till next year." [Politico, 8/3/09]

Protests following conservative playbook

Tea Party protester, conservative PAC founder authored memo calling for people to disrupt town halls. A memorandum authored by Robert MacGuffie, a conservative activist, "Tea Party Patriot," and co-founder of the conservative PAC RightPrinciples.com, described a "potential playbook" to put members of Congress "on the defensive" at town hall meetings:

We here in Fairfield County Connecticut conducted an action at Congressman Jim Himes's Town Hall meeting in May 2009. We believe there are some best practices which emerged from the event and our experience, which could be useful to activists in just about any district where their Congressperson has supported the socialist agenda of the Democrat leadership in Washington.

Our objective was to "pack the hall" with as many of our people ready to challenge the Congressman, put him on the defensive, and give him a reality check from we-the-people. We were successful in organizing about 30 people and we spread out among the crowd of about 150 people m the hall. We used some techniques on which immediately uncomfortable, and of us got our chance at the microphone to ask questions. clearly left the hall staggered, as the meeting, billed as a progress report for his economic solutions, clearly did not go as he had planned. [Memorandum by Robert MacGuffie, 5/29/09]

Memo urged people to "yell out" repeatedly. From the memo:

You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses -- call him on it, yell back and have someone else tallow-up with a shout-out. Don't carryon and make a scene -- just short intermittent shout outs. The purpose is to make him uneasy early on and set the tone for the hall as clearly informal, and free-wheeling. It will also embolden others who agree with us to call out and challenge with tough questions. The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right down. Look for those opportunities before he even takes questions. [MacGuffie memorandum]

Memo reportedly circulated among anti-reform groups. Talking Points Memo reported that the memorandum advising people to disrupt town halls has been distributed to various anti-health reform organizations as well as tea party activists:

Like many political movements in the country, the so-called Tea Party Patriots organize on a number of email list serves--an eponymous google group, one called Health Care Freedom Tea Party, the aforementioned Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee--where the broader community of tea baggers, including those working independently, co-ordinate.

MacGuffie's memo was posted to the Tea Party Patriots' list serve, which is hundreds of members large, and includes representatives from not just small protest groups, but also major anti-health reform organizations such as Conservatives for Patients Rights, and Patients First, Patients United Now (an affiliate of Americans for Prosperity), and, yes, Freedom Works. [Talking Points Memo, 8/3/09]

A spokesman for the anti-reform group Conservatives for Patients' Rights reportedly "confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform."

In response to my questions, a spokesman for the group confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform. The spokesperson, Brian Burgess, confirmed that CPR is emailing out "town hall alert" flyers, and schedules of town hall meetings, to its mailing list.

These efforts -- combined with CPR's effort to enlist Tea Party-ers, as reported yesterday by TPM -- provide a glimpse into the ways anti-reform groups are trying to create a sense of public momentum in their favor.

CPR spokesman Burgess confirmed that the group had set up a list serv designed to reach out to "third party groups" involved in the health care fight, including the Tea Party activists. And in a statement emailed to me, Scott, who was ousted as a health-care exec amid a 1990s fraud probe, took credit for the town hall showings. [The Plum Line, 8/4/09]

CPR reportedly sent a list of town halls to Tea Party listserv. "On Friday, July 24, a representative of Conservatives for Patients Rights--the anti-health care reform group run by Swift Boat message man Rick Scott--sent an email to a list serve (called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee) containing a spreadsheet that lists over one hundred congressional town halls from late July into September. The email from CPR to tea baggers suggests that, though conservatives portray the tea bagger disruptions as symptoms of a populist rebellion roiling unprompted through key districts around the country, they have to a great extent been orchestrated by anti-health care reform groups financed by industry." [Talking Points Memo, 8/3/09]

The CPR website features a list of congressional town halls. CPR has posted a list of congressional town halls on its website "as a resource for our visitors." [CPR website, Town Halls]

The CPR website has posted videos of town hall disruptions. Conservatives for Patients' Rights has also posted video clips of disruptions at congressional town halls. The website states: "Do you have a video from a Town Hall meeting you would like us to consider sharing here? Just post it to YouTube and email us ... and we will check it out." [CPR website, Town Hall Videos]

Fox News previously touted GOP-promoted tea parties

Fox News repeatedly hyped "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties." As Media Matters for America has documented, Fox News aggressively promoted the April 15 anti-Obama protests, which on-screen graphics repeatedly termed "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties," and encouraged viewers to get involved with tea party protests across the country. During the lead-up to the April 15 protests, tea party organizers also used the planned attendance of several Fox News hosts to promote their protests. Subsequently, dozens of articles about tea parties in various cities reported that Fox News and its hosts helped influence, start, or turn out participants to local protests.

Numerous Republicans spoke at FreedomWorks-"launch[ed]" tea party protests. As Media Matters documented, FreedomWorks took credit for the "launch" of the "nationwide 'tea party' tour" in April. Additionally, dozens of Republican members of Congress spoke at tea party events that month.

Transcripts

From the August 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

PETER JOHNSON (co-host): So, our guests this morning are John and Carol O'Brien, who oppose the plan and spoke up at the town hall. Good morning, O'Briens.

CAROL O'BRIEN: Good morning.

JOHN O'BRIEN: Good morning.

JOHNSON: OK, now, John, can I go to you first? You have a pacemaker. What's your concern about the health care plan?

JOHN O'BRIEN: Well, immediately, I thought of what I have heard about the plan, doctors will not have the final say as to what a patient may or may not get, what kind of care they'll get. And I'm going to need a battery in a couple of years, and I just wanted to make sure that as things are today, my doctor will decide that and not someone in Washington, D.C.

JOHNSON: Carol, what's your concern? Do you have any health issues that keep you up at night along with your husband?

CAROL O'BRIEN: No. Basically, I'm healthy. My concerns are mostly surrounding John's health. My concern with this whole issue is that they will be flooding the insurance rolls with 47 million additional people. Yet we have the same number of doctors, health care professionals, equipment, and hospital beds to accommodate these people. You cannot fit 40 gallons of water into a 20-gallon bucket. It will not work, and neither will this.

JOHNSON: Why did you go to this town hall meeting?

JOHN O'BRIEN: That's a very good question. We got an email from Senator -- actually Carol got an email from Senator Specter's office. And the funny thing is that the national media is spinning that the groups -- we were part of a group, which we were not. We were just independent people who got the email and decided to go and voice our opinion, and consequently that's how we got there.

JOHNSON: Were you happy with what you saw between the Health and Human Services secretary and Senator Specter in terms of their understanding of what is being offered in terms of a health care reform by the president and Congress?

CAROL O'BRIEN: Not at all.

JOHNSON: Why?

CAROL O'BRIEN: I think they were -- well, personally, I think they were very unprepared for that meeting. I think they were asked questions, and they did not have valid responses. They stayed on message. Even though part of my question -- I asked them please not to insult my intelligence by staying on message, but to give us an honest answer. They did not do that. And I think if you look at their facial expressions during the town hall meeting, you could tell that they were not happy with the response of the crowd.

JOHNSON: Well, O'Briens, we're all looking for honest answers, and we thank you for representing Americans, and we hope that other Americans get out there and voice their opinions. Let's check in with you as time goes on and see what kind of progress we are making. John and Carol O'Brien, thank you so much.

From the August 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

CARLSON: You probably have a lot on your mind for your respective members of Congress when they come home from recess. Are you gonna call them up and tell them how you really feel, or are you going to go to one of these receptions where they're actually there in person? That's happening now all across the country.

DOOCY: And, in fact, we've got some videotape of Kathleen Sebelius, the HSS [sic] secretary, in Philadelphia, the national center over there. Also in attendance is U.S. Senator Arlen Specter. And you know what? The people in the audience don't seem to be too happy with what's been going on in Washington. Listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [video clip]: I look at this health care plan; I see nothing that is about health or about care. What I see -- what I see is a bureaucratic nightmare, Senator. Medicaid is broke. Medicare is broke. Social Security is broke. And you want us to believe that a government that can't even run a cash for clunkers program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy? No, sir. No.

CARLSON: She just explained it for me. She invoked cash for clunkers -- my exact thoughts there. But, anyway, people are a little upset. And I think that more and more members of Congress and senators are going to hear this when they go home for recess.

DOOCY: So here they are. After that 30-second question, you would think that they would at least try to explain, and here's the answer.

SPECTER [video clip]: When you have a bill, and we have a lot of them that are 1,000 pages, is to take my entire staff and we divide up the bill. We have to make judgments very fast. We give about --

SEBELIUS [video clip]: And the Senate bill isn't written, so don't boo the senator for not reading a bill that isn't written.

DOOCY: Yeah, that would be tough.

CARLSON: They sound exasperated, and rightfully so, I think, a lot of people feel.

JOHNSON: Well, they sound kind of useless, and they sound kind of, really, uninformed and not -- no. We need to have this every day throughout August. People have to be contacting their congresspeople, their senators.

DOOCY: Right.

JOHNSON: They need to bring their congresspeople and senator every -- to account in their neighborhoods, in their congressional districts --

DOOCY: Right.

JOHNSON: -- and talk about this issue and ask questions and say, "If I need to get a hip replacement, am I gonna get it? If I've got private insurance now, and I'm happy with it, am I gonna lose it? Is the government gonna decide whether I live or die at some point in the future? What is the future of my health care --

DOOCY: Sure.

JOHNSON: -- one-sixth of the American budget?"

DOOCY: And, right, exactly. And that woman summed it up perfectly. It's something we said on the program on Friday was that if they can't even run cash for clunkers, and they ran out of money in four days for something that was supposed to go four months, why would I trust them with my spleen?

JOHNSON: And we chose Citibank to run it.

DOOCY: I --

JOHNSON: Citibank to run it.

DOOCY: That's right. That's right. So anyway, if you want to contact your congressmembers and sound off, go to FoxNation.com. It is a great interactive website where you can sound off, and you'll also find your lawmakers' phone numbers and email there. Hmm, very handy.

From the August 3 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: All right. The mass exodus out of Washington for the August recess is under way. But as Democrats arrive back home, there are angry constituents; they are waiting to greet them.

Now Americans across the country are voicing their opposition to government-run health care. And that is our headline tonight, "Healthcare Uprising."

Now last week it was Senator Claire McCaskill's staff who got an earful at a town hall in Missouri. And one of the most vocal critics at that event was a young soldier who had this message for the senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE [video clip]: We both at one time took an oath to defend the Constitution. Her oath took her to Washington; my oath took me overseas with a rifle. Claire McCaskill, I'm not so much looking for an explanation from her, because I'm looking for an apology because this should not even be introduced [inaudible].

HANNITY: All right. Well, yesterday the City of Brotherly Love didn't exactly live up to its namesake at a town hall event featuring Senator Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Now take a look at this one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE [video clip]: I look at this health care plan; I see nothing that is about health or about care. What I see -- what I see is a bureaucratic nightmare, Senator. Medicaid is broke. Medicare is broke. Social Security is broke. And you want us to believe that a government that can't even run a cash for clunkers program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy? No, sir. No.

HANNITY: Wow, that sounded more like a Philadelphia Eagles game or a Flyers game than a town hall. And joining me now to discuss this and more is Fox News contributor, the author of the book Catastrophe -- New York Times bestseller -- How Obama, Congress, and the Special Interests are Transforming a Slump into a Crash, Freedom into Socialism and a Disaster into a Catastrophe, and How You can Fight Back -- Dick Morris is here. That's a pretty good way to fight back.

MORRIS: It sure is. We got to sign that lady up. They wanted August. The Blue Dogs bought us August. That was all they did. And now we have got to let them have it, because they are planning to pass this bill with 50 votes. They're planning not to ask any Republican votes. They're going to just do it with hard-core Democrats.

From the August 3 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:

JOEY TAYLOR: Medicaid is broke. Medicare is broke. Social Security is broke and you want us to believe that a government that can't even run a Cash for Clunkers program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy? No, sir! No!

CAVUTO: Taxpayers now speaking out in droves. Taxpayers demanding answers at a Pennsylvania town hall on health care yesterday with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Democratic Senator Arlen Specter. Did they get answers? The folks asking those questions with us now: Joey Taylor, whose question you just heard. Robert Mitchell is also here, whose question you will hear in a minute. Joey, did they answer your question?

TAYLOR: Not really. He answered it basically by saying there are 50 million uninsured -- and the same answer that they give to everyone, that they're trying to get everyone insured and under the system, and then they were shouted down, of course.

CAVUTO: Yeah, we're going to get in some of that. This is Specter trying to answer your question. Let's listen to this again, Joe.

SPECTER [video clip]: We have a choice, ladies and gentlemen, of sticking with the current system, which doesn't cover 47 million people -- which has health care rising, which has insurance companies eliminating pre-existing conditions with a lot of red tape. We have a president who has organized a system to improve the situation.

CAVUTO: Well, Joey, I don't know if he answered your question. Did he?

TAYLOR: Not really.

ROBERT MITCHELL: And he fell back on that $47 million -- number or person --

CAVUTO; The 47 million people uninsured. Yeah, you guys don't buy that math. Robert, I want to get to you, but you're just not buying that figure because you think it's inflated, right?

MITCHELL: Well it's inflated by the number of illegal aliens who are being counted in that number and by a number of young people who don't want or don't need health insurance.

CAVUTO: OK. Now, Robert, you had a chance to ask a question. This is how that went. This is from this rally from yesterday. Take a look.

MITCHELL [video clip]: When congressmen scoff at the notion at the idea of reading legislation because they aren't qualified or they aren't competent to understand it, how can we be confident that those congressmen are competent to re-engineer the entire health care system?

CAVUTO: All right, well, you guys are making friends left and right. Secretary Sebelius tried to answer that. Robert, I want your thoughts on this response. This is from the secretary.

SEBELIUS [video clip]: I am not a member of Congress, have never been. That's just a fact. I'm just telling you, my observation is I have never seen members of Congress work harder, and it is unacceptable to me for somebody to -- hours and hours and hours and hours have been spent. If people say they haven't read the legislation, then tell them to go back and read it.

CAVUTO: All right, she's a former governor, as you know, Robert. She's the health secretary now. You didn't buy the argument. What did you make of it?

MITCHELL: Well, no. I mean, her response started out almost disclaiming any sort of knowledge of what's going on in Congress because she's not a congressperson, so then -- but then she jumps in and talks about how hard they're working. My question wasn't about whether or not they're working hard; it's whether or not they're competent to re-engineer the entire healthcare system for the United States when they can't even read their own legislation.

CAVUTO: Joey, now, the crowd there seemed very worked up. The people were shouting -- were they typical of the crowd? I mea,n were you two typical of the sentiment in that crowd that you were not exactly believers in this, that you had to be won over on this? How would you describe it, Joey?

TAYLOR: You mean -- I'm not sure if you mean typical for all meetings or this one that I attended.

CAVUTO: This one that you attended. Did others -- did most people in that room share your view, share Robert's view that they were skeptical?

TAYLOR: Yes, very much so. It was pretty even in terms of people that were supporting the Obama health care plan and those that supported us.

CAVUTO: Robert, what do you say?

MITCHELL: Well, I think there were a lot of people there. Maybe it was half, maybe it was a little more than half who just really weren't comfortable believing what the government had to say. And going back to this 47 million figure. When you reduce it down the amount of people who have pre-existing conditions and who have issues where they can't get insurance, you know, you're only talking about 4 percent of the population that have a problem, yet they're going to change the health insurance program for the other 96 percent of the Untied Sates.

CAVUTO: Now Senator Specter recently switched parties and is up for a tough re-election, and I want to get to both of you on that in a second -- tried to answer that very issue. This is his response directly to what you were asking.

SPECTER [video clip]: When you have, a bill, and we have a lot of them, that are a thousand pages and, I take my [inaudible] staff, and we divide up the bill. We have to make judgments very fast, and -- and every bill is read thoroughly and understood by me before I vote.

CAVUTO: All right, so more or less what he was telling you, if you could hear between the catcalls -- and this is Robert to you on that -- that he reads these things, he has read this, he is in the process of reading everything attached to it. Relax, he's on it. Do you buy it?

MITCHELL: Well, what I heard is that he breaks it up among his staff because he has to pass it so quickly, and that's what I didn't understand and that's why I was asking why, is why does this have to move so fast when it affects so many people, especially when you've got independent agencies like the Congressional Budget Office --

CAVUTO: That are saying --

MITCHELL: -- that are out there saying this isn't going to save anything.

CAVUTO: -- Joey, do you agree with that, that we're moving too fast? Is that your big concern?

TAYLOR: Well, they're moving very quickly and they're doing it on purpose, Neil. They're throwing everything that they can at us so that we can't focus and keep track of it all. They're throwing cap and trade, they're throwing government health care, they're throwing fast-track, and they're hoping that we're just going to scatter and not be able to follow any of their legislation.

CAVUTO: All right, just remind me not to be at a rally where you guys are in attendance. All right? But guys, thank you both very, very much. Man oh man, huh?

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