Fox Acknowledges Its "Hard Right Turn"

››› ››› HARDEEP DHILLON

In a Newsweek article titled "Roger's Reality Show," Howard Kurtz wrote that Fox executives acknowledge that the news channel "took a hard right turn." This admission confirms what has long been clear: that Fox's news division has been slanted.

Fox Executives Admit Their "Entire Network Took A Hard Right Turn"

Kurtz: "Privately, Fox Executives Say The Entire Network Took A Hard Right Turn After Obama's Election." In a Newsweek article, Howard Kurtz wrote that Fox News president Roger Ailes "is quietly repositioning America's dominant cable-news channel." He continued: "Fox executives say the entire network took a hard right turn after Obama's election, but, as the Tea Party's popularity fades, is edging back toward the mainstream." From Newsweek:

It was part political spectacle, part American Idol, part YouTube extravaganza, a pure Roger Ailes production -- and the latest sign that the Fox News chairman is quietly repositioning America's dominant cable-news channel.

Hours before last week's presidential debate in Orlando, Ailes's anchors sat in a cavernous back room, hunched over laptops, and plotted how to trap the candidates. Chris Wallace said he would aim squarely at Rick Perry's weakness: "How do you feel about being criticized by some of your rivals as being too soft on illegal immigration? Then I go to Rick Santorum: is Perry too soft?"

[...]

Ailes has always been a master showman -- he even gave advice on triple-checking the audio -- and Fox's partnership with Google produced striking videos, graphics, and a backstage smoothie bar. But the real eye-opener was the sight of his anchors grilling the Republican contenders, which pleases the White House but cuts sharply against the network's conservative image -- and risks alienating its most rabid right-wing fans.

[...]

The left has long branded Fox a propaganda arm for Ailes's pugnacious conservatism, and while his journalists maintain they play it straight, the network has certainly provided ample fodder for liberal detractors. But as President Obama's popularity has plummeted and the country has grown increasingly sick of partisan sniping, something unexpected happened. Roger Ailes pulled back a bit on the throttle.

He calls it a "course correction," quietly adopted at Fox over the last year. Glenn Beck's inflammatory rhetoric -- his ranting about Obama being a racist -- "became a bit of a branding issue for us" before the hot-button host left in July, Ailes says. So too did Sarah Palin's being widely promoted as the GOP's potential savior -- in large measure through her lucrative platform at Fox. Privately, Fox executives say the entire network took a hard right turn after Obama's election, but, as the Tea Party's popularity fades, is edging back toward the mainstream.

While Fox reporters ply their trade under Ailes's much-mocked "fair and balanced" banner, the opinion arm of the operation has been told to lower the temperature. After the Gabrielle Giffords shooting triggered a debate about feverish rhetoric, Ailes ordered his troops to tone things down. It was, in his view, a chance to boost profits by grabbing a more moderate audience.

As he embarks on his last hurrah -- Ailes's contract is up in 2013 -- he is acting not like a political operative but as a corporate chieftain who knows that fostering friction and picking fights make for good television--and good business. Next fall's election could well pivot on whether Ailes is more interested in scoring political points or ramping up ratings and revenue.

[...]

Fox, of course, still has its share of Obama bashers. Hannity's show uses a logo that asks, "Can You Afford Four More?" Ailes calls him "predictable," but Hannity says he's not a party man: "I'm a registered conservative; I'm not a registered Republican." O'Reilly, who chatted up Obama during this year's Super Bowl, occasionally defends the president against harsh attacks. Ailes says O'Reilly has "moderated" his views and that "Beck scared him" -- meaning Beck was so popular on the right that O'Reilly had to find a different niche.

For his part, O'Reilly says he supported most of George W. Bush's policies and gave Obama's economic plans a chance for 18 months -- before opposing them as unworkable. "I took flak from the far right all day long. They attacked me viciously," he says. He waves off any talk of moderation and insists he never worried about the now-departed Beck: "He's a performer, I'm a journalist."

(Ailes seems to relish the feuding among his stars, saying, "O'Reilly hates Sean and he hates Rush because they did better in radio than he did.")

Ailes keeps a wary eye on anchor Shepard Smith, who occasionally backs aspects of the Obama record: "Every once in a while Shep Smith gets out there where the buses don't run and we have a friendly talk." And Ailes likes to tease O'Reilly: "You gonna suck up to Obama so you can get another interview at the next football game?" Democrats have noticed the change. Says former Obama aide Anita Dunn: "You have the sense that they're trying to at least appear less of the hyper-partisan political network they had been." [Newsweek, 9/25/11, via Daily Beast]

And While Fox Has Claimed Its "News Hours" Were "Objective"...

New York Times: "Fox Argues That Its News Hours ... Are Objective." From The New York Times:

In an interview, Mr. [senior vice president for news Michael] Clemente suggested that there was an element of "shoot the messenger" in the back and forth. "Sometimes it's actually helpful to have an organization or a person that you can go up against for whatever reason," he said.

Fox argues that its news hours -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays -- are objective. The channel has taken pains recently to highlight its news programs, including the two hours led by Shepard Smith, its chief news anchor. And its daytime newscasts draw more viewers than CNN or MSNBC's prime-time programs.

"The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page," Mr. Clemente said. [The New York Times, 10/11/09]

Fox News SVP Compared Fox News And Opinion Programming To "The A-Section Of The Newspaper And The Editorial Page." From TVNewser:

[A] statement from Fox News SVP Michael Clemente: "An increasing number of viewers are relying on FOX News for both news and opinion. And the average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A-section of the newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents. So, with all due respect to anyone who might still be confused about the difference between news reporting and vibrant opinion, my suggestion would be to talk about the stories and the facts, rather than attack the messenger...which over time, has never worked." [TVNewser, 10/11/09]

O'Reilly: Fox News Is "Not On A Crusade To Harm The [Obama] Administration." On the February 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly discussed his February 6 interview with Obama and said:

O'REILLY: I think Fox News showed the world that we are not in business to demean the president. We want answers, but are not on a crusade to harm the administration. Since the liberal media lies about FNC all the time, that demonstration was important. Folks who don't ordinarily watch us now have some eyewitness data to go on. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 2/7/11]

...Fox's "Straight News" Division Has Long Been Rife With Conservative Bias

In 2009, Roger Ailes Reportedly Likened Fox News' Fight Against Obama To "The Alamo." From a March 2009 Los Angeles Times article titled, "Fox News' Glenn Beck strikes ratings gold by challenging Barack Obama":

Before Glenn Beck started his new show on Fox News in January, he sat down with Roger Ailes, the network's chief executive, to make sure they were on the same page.

"I wanted to meet with Roger and tell him, 'You may not want to put me on the air. I believe we are in dire trouble, and I will never shut up,' " said the conservative radio host.

But before Beck could say anything, Ailes shared a message of his own: The country faced tough times, he said, and Fox News was one of the only news outlets willing to challenge the new administration.

"I see this as the Alamo," Ailes said, according to Beck. "If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine."

That couldn't have suited Beck more. In making the jump to the top-rated cable news channel from HLN, where he had a show for two years, he hoped to alert more people to one of his consuming fears: that the government's handling of the economic crisis is ushering in an era of socialism. [Los Angeles Times, 3/6/09]

Fox Washington Editor Tried To Tie Obama To Marxism During Final Days Of Presidential Campaign. On October 27, 2008, Bill Sammon, now Fox News' Washington managing editor, sent an email to colleagues highlighting "Obama's references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists" in his 1995 autobiography. Sammon subsequently appeared on multiple Fox programs -- and penned an article for FoxNews.com -- promoting Obama's ties to "Marxists." [Media Matters, 2/1/11]

Sammon Slanted Fox News' Coverage Of Obama's Cairo Speech, Claiming He Didn't Use "The Words 'Terror,' 'Terrorist' Or 'Terrorism.' " On June 4, 2009, a couple of hours after President Obama delivered his much-anticipated speech in Cairo regarding America's relationship with the Muslim world, Bill Sammon sent an email to Fox staff pointing out that Obama did not use "the words 'terror,' 'terrorist' or 'terrorism.' " In fact, Obama devoted a significant section of his remarks to denouncing and confronting Al Qaeda and other "violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security." Despite this, Sammon's "cursory check" quickly became the editorial focus for Fox News journalists covering Obama's speech, and was repeated (in some instances almost verbatim) by the network's hosts. Sammon himself appeared on Fox shortly after sending the email and claimed that Obama, in not using "terrorism" or any of its variants, showed that "he has taken us off a war footing as a nation." [Media Matters, 2/8/11]

Fox's Hemmer "Ke[pt] Track Of The Stimulus Money" By Lifting Research From GOP Website. On the April 23, 2009, edition of Fox News' supposedly "straight news" program America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer repeatedly suggested that information about four "interesting" projects reportedly funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was obtained through Fox News' own research, even though nearly all of the information Hemmer mentioned, as well as that included in on-screen text and graphics, first appeared on Rep. Eric Cantor's Republican Whip website. [Media Matters, 4/23/09]

Fox "Straight News" Advanced Discredited GOP Calculation Of Obama's Cap-And-Trade Proposal Cost. In a March 23, 2009, "Talking Points" press release, the House Republican Conference advanced the claim that President Obama's cap-and-trade proposal would cost the average U.S. household more than $3,000 per year. Republicans reportedly purported to back up the claim by pointing to a 2007 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But MIT professor John Reilly, one of the authors of the study, has disputed the GOP's calculation, stating that his study "has been misrepresented" and that the Republicans' claim of an average household cost of $3,128 is "nearly 10 times the correct estimate" based on his study's cap-and-trade model. PolitiFact.com rated the claim a "pants on fire" falsehood. Nonetheless, on the April 2, 2009, edition of America's Newsroom, Fox's Alisyn Camerota asserted that Obama's cap-and-trade proposal "would be $3,100 per U.S. household." [Media Matters, 4/6/09]

Happening Now Passed Off GOP Press Release As Its Own Research -- Typo And All. During the February 10, 2009, edition of Fox's supposedly "straight news" program Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott purported to "take a look back" at how the economic recovery plan "grew, and grew, and grew." In doing so, Scott referenced seven dates, as on-screen graphics cited various news sources from those time periods -- all of which came directly from a Senate Republican Communications Center press release. A Fox News on-screen graphic even reproduced a typo contained in the Republican press release. The following day, Scott apologized -- for running the typo. Scott's apology was criticized by Howard Kurtz, who said: "We sometimes jab at the pundits for using talking points, but in the case of Fox News anchor Jon Scott, it was literally true this week. ... You should be apologizing for using partisan propaganda from the GOP without telling your viewers where it came from. Talk about missing the point." [Media Matters, 10/13/09]

Happening Now Cropped Clips Of Obama To Promote "Another Apology Tour." On the June 2, 2009, edition of Happening Now, Scott asked if "the president's upcoming trip [to Europe and the Middle East will] be what conservatives might call another apology tour," and both Scott and co-host Jane Skinner aired cropped clips of Obama's remarks from an April 3 speech in France to falsely suggest that Obama only criticized the United States. In doing so, Happening Now joined conservative commentators and Fox News hosts who have cropped or misrepresented Obama's overseas remarks to falsely suggest, in the words of host Sean Hannity, that Obama was "blam[ing] America first" and, more broadly, that Obama's earlier overseas trip constituted an "apology tour." [Media Matters, 10/13/09]

Fox "Straight News" Programming Hyped Phony New Black Panthers Scandal. A Media Matters report found that in more than 100 instances between June 30 and July 17, 2010 Fox News hyped the manufactured scandal that President Obama's Justice Department engaged in racially charged "corruption" in the New Black Panther Party case. The phony allegations, made by GOP activist J. Christian Adams, were largely promoted by America Live anchor Megyn Kelly, who described the false allegations as "explosive." However, her analysis relied on deceptive and misleading editing. [Media Matters, 7/17/10, 7/22/10, 12/21/10]

Fox's Shannon Bream Advanced The False Claim That Obama Gave "Major Strip" Of Land To Mexico. Fox "straight news" anchor Shannon Bream reported on June 15, 2010, that a "massive stretch of Arizona [is] now off limits to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico." The claim was completely false -- the strip of land in question was part of a national wildlife refuge that, according to refuge officials, was closed to the public in 2006 -- two years before Obama was elected -- and was under the control of the U.S. Border Patrol. [Media Matters, 6/18/10, 12/21/10]

Fox "Straight News" "Save[d] The Economy" With Right-Wing Talking Points. In a series of segments called 10 Ways to Save the Economy, Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier promoted conservative talking points on the financial crisis, stimulus package, estate tax, and deregulation. The segments also frequently echoed the viewpoint of Fox News' conservative opinion programming. None of the ten segments advocated measures favored by progressives to help the economy. [Media Matters, 7/8/11]

Fox's "Straight News" Division Parroted GOP Attack On DOJ Investigators Into Fast And Furious. During the September 21 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Baier and Fox News correspondent William La Jeunesse attacked the Department of Justice's inspector general for releasing audio tapes related to the ATF's failed Fast and Furious program. At no point did Baier or La Jeunesse note that the inspector general's office said the tapes were released in order to comply with the constitutional rights of the targets of a criminal investigation. [Media Matters, 9/22/11]

Fox's "Straight News" Correspondent Pushed Falsehood That Social Security "May Run Out Of Money." On the September 19 edition of Fox News' Your World, Fox's chief political correspondent Carl Cameron defended Gov. Rick Perry's attack on Social Security, claiming that Social Security "may run out of money." In fact, Social Security will pay full benefits until 2036, even if no changes are made to the program, and even after 2036, Social Security will be able to pay "three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2085." [Media Matters, 9/20/11]

Fox's "Straight News" Disappeared Allegation That Boeing Retaliated Against Its Workers. On the September 15 edition of Special Report, Fox "straight news" correspondent Doug McKelway promoted Republican efforts to derail a case brought by the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) general counsel against Boeing. Regarding the specific allegations against Boeing, McKelway reported only that "the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Boeing for moving the production from Washington state, calling the move quote 'discriminatory' against Boeing's unionized workers." However, the complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board states that Boeing illegally retaliated against unionized workers for engaging in lawful strikes. [Media Matters, 9/16/11]

Fox's "Straight News" Campaigned Against Obama's Jobs Plan. During an interview with Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) on the September 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, "straight news" anchor Martha MacCallum attacked Obama's jobs plan as unlikely to succeed claiming that the "original stimulus plan ... didn't work, as evidenced by the employment numbers and every other indication in the economy that we've seen." The claim that the stimulus failed is a myth that economists have debunked. The following hour on America's Newsroom, Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday, repeated the myth that the stimulus failed, saying that "the part" of the plan calling for increased infrastructure spending "sound[ed] like 'Son of Stimulus,' like we were back to the future in February of 2009, and it just hasn't worked." Shortly after Wallace made his remarks, MacCallum again bashed the plan, this time suggesting that what the economy really needs is renegotiation of union contracts. [Media Matters, 9/9/11]

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