Fox disappears right-wing media's role in forming public's misconceptions about Obama


While discussing the September 6 Newsweek cover that highlights the commonly held and often contradictory misconceptions about Obama, Fox News contributors Angela McGlowan and John Fund disappeared the right-wing media's role in spreading the misinformation and instead attributed the misconceptions to Obama's own behavior. Indeed, Fox News and the right wing media have been at the forefront of advancing the very misinformation about Obama that Newsweek identified.

Newsweek cover highlights right-wing driven, often contradictory misinformation about Obama

Newsweek highlights Fox News' role in spreading contradictory misinformation about Obama. In the September 6 edition of Newsweek, the cover highlights the contradictory misinformation the right-wing media, led by Fox News, and Republicans have been spreading about Obama. The cover reads: "The Making of a Terrorist-Coddling, Warmongering, Wall Street-Loving, Socialistic, Godless, Muslim President...who isn't actually any of these things." From Newsweek:

Newsweek cover

Newsweek: "Fox often covers Obama's place of birth and religion more as matters of opinion than of fact." After reporting on a recent Newsweek poll which showed that an increasing number of people wrongly believe Obama to be Muslim and that a majority of Republicans believed Obama to be sympathetic "with the goals of fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world," Newsweek fingered Fox News as being partially to blame for people holding these inaccurate beliefs. From Newsweek:

The latest NEWSWEEK Poll tells a disturbing story. Obama's approval rating is 47 percent, slightly better than in the spring and not terrible for a president facing disturbing economic news. (Ronald Reagan touched bottom with 41 percent approval during the 1982-83 recession.) The problem is that some of the lies about Obama are gathering strength. In 2008, 13 percent of Americans were under the misimpression that he was a Muslim. Now the figure is 24 percent. One explanation may be that Obama's connection to his Chicago church was fresher in the public mind then. But the deeper problem is a growing number of people who think the president is not just disappointing or wrongheaded but dangerous. More than half of Republicans surveyed (52 percent) think it's "definitely true" or "probably true" that Obama "sympathizes with the goals of fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world." This says more about the mindset of the GOP than about Obama. It reflects not just the usual personal and partisan animus of the age (George W. Bush was subjected to exceptionally nasty attacks from the left) but a flight from facts--a startling disconnect between a quarter of the country and what some of Bush's aides once disparagingly called "the reality-based community."

The blame for this extends from Fox News and the Republican leadership, to the peculiar psychology of resentment in public opinion, to the ham-handed political response of the Obama White House. Whatever the cause, if smash-mouth tactics are validated by huge GOP gains in the midterm elections, then Big Lie politics may be with us for good.

In some ways, it has always been with us, going back to the 18th-century calumny of James Callender against John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. More recently, the Rev. Jerry Falwell sponsored a film that falsely accused President Clinton of ordering murders and dealing drugs. What's changed about politics as a contact sport is the reach of the lies. With the exception of Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic "radio priest" of the 1930s, reactionaries haven't generally had big audiences. But now the cranks who once could do little more than write ranting letters to the editor on the red ribbons of their typewriters (loaded with exclamation points and in all caps, of course) can spread their venom virally, with the help of right-wing billionaires underwriting their organizations. And while the cable network they watch, Fox News, might not actively promote the idea that the president is a foreign-born Muslim, it does little to knock it down. Fox often covers Obama's place of birth and religion more as matters of opinion than of fact.

Fox objects to Newsweek and declares Obama to blame for misconceptions about himself

McGlowan suggests Democrats are blaming Republicans for the misinformation to cover for Democratic losses in the midterm elections. On Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson said that, "if you go inside the article they blame it, the author blames it on the right wing putting these lies out there." Fox News Contributor Angela McGlowan suggested the criticism was unfounded, saying, "It is a right-wing conspiracy. When Republicans take over in November, you have to blame they're going to blame the fact that conservatives are putting these spots out there."

Fund: Obama "bears some of the responsibility for these misconceptions." On the September 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund claimed that Obama "allowed his image to slip away from him," in part, by "not going to church, for example, regularly, by not joining a church." Fund concluded: "He bears some of the responsibility for these misconceptions."

Right-wing rhetoric: Obama is a Muslim

Pew Research poll finding 1/5 Americans believe Obama is a Muslim says 60% of that number "cite the media" as how they learned Obama's religion. In a poll released on August 18, the Pew Research Center found that "nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009." The poll also found "When asked how they learned about Obama's religion in an open-ended question, 60% of those who say Obama is a Muslim cite the media. Among specific media sources, television (at 16%) is mentioned most frequently. About one-in-ten (11%) of those who say Obama is a Muslim say they learned of this through Obama's own words and behavior."

Right-wing media repeatedly falsely claims or suggests that Obama is a Muslim. Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances in which right-wing media figures and outlets, including Fox News, falsely assert or suggest that Obama is a Muslim. For instance:

  • Limbaugh: "How can America be Islamophobic? We elected Obama, didn't we?" On the August 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh said, "How can America be islamophobic? We elected Obama, didn't we?" On his August 19 radio show, Rush Limbaugh, who lately has taken to calling Obama "Imam Obama", said: "Has Obama ever called Muslims 'bitter clingers'? Well, he's called Christians 'bitter clingers.' He did that in San Francisco. I'm just throwing these things out here, folks, because people are questioning his Christianity. Some think he's a Muslim. I'm just saying there might be reasons why some people think this." Limbaugh also said during the same show, "If it was OK, and even laudatory, to call Bill Clinton America's first black president, why can't we call Imam Obama America's first Muslim president?"

  • Wash. Times' Kuhner: Obama is a "cultural Muslim." In a July 8 Washington Times op-ed, Jeffrey Kuhner wrote that Obama is "betraying the Jews" and that he "is a cultural Muslim whose sympathies lie with the Islamic world in its life-death struggle against Israel."
  • Geller: Obama's Pearl comments were "spoken like an" "antisemitic Muslim terrorist." In a May 18 post, Geller wrote of Obama's comments on the signing of the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act: "The Daniel Pearl beheading 'captured the world's imagination' -- spoken like an ..........antisemitic Muslim terrorist. Pearl was beheaded because of Islamic anti-semitism and violent jihadi doctrine. Freedom of the press had nothing to do with it. And this coming from a plant who is attempting to restrict these freedoms and speech." In fact, Obama was honoring Pearl in his comments.
  • Quinn on Obama: "I think he's a Muslim." Seizing on reports that Obama had gone golfing on Christmas Day 2009, Jim Quinn said on his radio show: "I know that it's very impolitic to bring this up but I think he's a Muslim. Sorry, I do." Quinn, who has also repeatedly suggested Obama is Muslim, said of Obama on his February 26 radio show, "You've got a nexus here of angry black nationalism" and "whose entire family is Muslim."
  • Geller calls Obama "the Muslim president." Geller's blog contains 267 posts tagged, "Muslim in the White House?" In a June 2, 2009, post, Geller called Obama "The Muslim president." Calling it a "critical issue," Geller wrote in January 2008 that "Obama went to a madrassa in Jakarta," that "he practiced Islam," and that "if Obama makes it to the big house, Israel is screwed. Finished." On May 30, 2009, Geller wrote that with his Cairo speech, Obama "proved everything I said to be true." In fact, CNN debunked the "madrassa" falsehood in January of 2007, and as Newsweek stated, "Barack Obama has never been Muslim and never practiced Islam."
  • Fox News' Special Report asks of Obama: "Islam or Isn't He?" During a June 4, 2009, segment, Fox News' Special Report aired a quote by Obama national security official Denis McDonough, in which he talked about how Obama "experienced Islam on three continents" and grew up in Indonesia with a Muslim father, and asked: "Islam or Isn't He?"
  • Savage: Obama is "an unknown stealth candidate" who "in fact, was a Muslim." Michael Savage falsely asserted that Obama was a Muslim and attended a madrassa, saying: "Look who we inherited in this country, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Hussein Obama, in one generation. A war hero to -- a war hero who commanded the Allied operations against Nazi Germany was running for the presidency then. Now we have an unknown stealth candidate who went to a madrassas in Indonesia and, in fact, was a Muslim."
  • KSFO's Rodgers: Obama "admits in one of his own books" that he would "stand with the Muslims" against "the Western world." Repeating a false allegation from a chain email, Lee Rodgers falsely claimed Obama "admits in one of his own books" that "in case of a confrontation between the Western world and the Islamic world, he will stand with the Muslims." In fact, what Obama wrote in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, according to, "is that he would stand with American immigrants from Pakistan or Arab countries should they be faced with something like the forced detention of Japanese-American families in World War II."
  • Right wing run with dubious claim that Obama admitted "I am a Muslim." Conservatives pushed an unsubstantiated claim that Obama admitted to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit that he is a Muslim, with G. Gordon Liddy stating that it comes under the heading "suspicions confirmed." Right-wing commentator Pamela Geller went even further and put the words "I am a Muslim" in quotation marks and attributed the statement to Obama in the title of a blog post hyping the rumor.
  • Conservative radio hosts seize on Obama comment to revive false rumors about his faith. During the 2008 campaign, numerous conservative talk-radio hosts selectively highlighted Obama's assertion, which he immediately clarified, that "John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith" to revive rumors that he is a Muslim, not a Christian. For example, Chris Baker claimed that Obama's comment was "obviously a Freudian slip" and stated, "He confessed. It's over." Savage described Obama as a "Muslim stealth candidate" and stated: "I have nothing against moderate Muslims. ... The question is, why is he covering up his Muslim faith?"

Right-wing rhetoric: Obama is a socialist

Limbaugh: "The facts are facts. The president is a socialist." On the March 24 broadcast of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh addressed the Harris poll, which he noted was flawed, saying: "'Antichrist' and 'Muslim' -- I don't know where they're getting that, because that's not a part of the program. I haven't really made that one of our topics here. ... Now, as far as this Hitler business, one of the first things that the National Socialist Party did was try to nationalize health care." He concluded, "I mean, the facts are facts. The president is a socialist. The number ought to be much higher than 67 percent." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, 3/24/10]

Limbaugh: "We are fighting a fascist, social -- whatever you call it -- takeover and remaking of the United States." In September 2009, Limbaugh said: "The Republican Party's got problems -- do not misunderstand me -- but nothing posed by the Republican Party is a threatening as what Obama is doing," adding that "[w]e are fighting a fascist, social -- whatever you call it -- takeover and remaking of the United States." He then suggested that Obama wants "to tear up the Constitution and rewrite it," "take over the mortgage business," "put the federal government in charge of every dollar the American people have access to." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/17/09]

Morris: Obama is "going to adopt the entire socialist program by essentially circumventing the Constitution." On March 19, talking about President Obama's policies, Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who has repeatedly referred to Obama as a "socialist," stated: "I think he'll pass amnesty for illegal immigrants with it [reconciliation]; he'll pass cap and trade; he'll pass financial regulation; he'll pass the public option -- between the House doing the 'deem to have passed' and the Senate doing reconciliation, he's got his own little Constitution going here." He later added that Obama "is going to adopt the entire socialist program by essentially circumventing the Constitution." [Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor; 3/19/10]

Beck: Obama "is so clearly" a socialist. Talking about an interview Obama had with The New York Times, during which Obama was asked, "Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?" Fox News host Neil Cavuto said Beck "started" the trend of questioning whether Obama is a socialist because Beck was "calling him socialist on your show." Beck replied that Obama "is so clearly" a socialist, adding that "he has surrounded himself with Marxists his whole life" and that "this is who he is." [Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, 3/9/09]

Hannity: Obama admin is pushing "the single biggest power grab and move towards socialism in the history of the country." On his Fox News show, Sean Hannity stated: "In the last two days, we know this administration has pushed the idea of the single biggest power grab and move towards socialism in the history of the country." The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Hayes and former Fox Business executive Alexis Glick both agreed, with Hayes saying, "That's right" and Glick replying, "Yeah." [Fox News' Hannity, 3/24/09]

Dobbs: "[S]ocialism has arrived in the first three months of this year." Citing an "amazing stat," which he said demonstrated that "when we talk about socialism, we're not just a-woofing, as the saying goes," Lou Dobbs said on his radio show, "For the first time in the history of the United States, the federal government has supplanted sales, property, and income taxes at the state level as the biggest source of money for state and local governments." He later added: "[S]o socialism has arrived in the first three months of this year, folks, and it is -- well, it is what it is, and it's not going to change, I'm afraid, for a little while." [United Stations Radio Networks' The Lou Dobbs Show, 5/5/09]

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John Fund, Angela McGlowan
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