Speaking onboard a pricey cruise in 2009, Fox News vice president and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon admitted that during the closing weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign, he "publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched."
During a party for the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, Media Matters caught up with Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of Fox News parent company News Corp., and asked if he believes journalists should "advocate things they think are far-fetched?" Murdoch replied, "No."
Despite Murdoch's stated belief that journalists shouldn't advocate things they believe are "far-fetched," Sammon used his Fox News position to do exactly that. In the weeks leading up to the 2008 election, Sammon engaged in a campaign to tie Obama to "Marxists" and "socialism."
"Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats," Rupert Murdoch declared in a 2007 speech announcing News Corp.'s new climate initiative. "We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction."
"We can do something that's unique, different from just any other company," said Murdoch. "We can set an example, and we can reach our audiences. Our audience's carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours.
"That's the carbon footprint we want to conquer."
Four years later, News Corp. has achieved its goal of carbon neutrality. Yet no media outlet in the United States does more to aggressively undermine climate science than Fox News. The network regularly distorts data, fabricates controversies, and smears climate experts. One of Fox's top editors has even ordered reporters to cast doubt on the basic fact that the planet is warming. And Sean Hannity has used his Fox show to tell viewers that global warming "doesn't exist."
The contrast between what News Corp.'s chairman says and what its employees actually do is a stark illustration of the company's attempt to play both sides of the climate issue.
When Murdoch launched his company-wide initiative to radically reduce News Corp.'s carbon footprint and combat climate change, one business expert said that it "could be one of the most brilliant strategic moves I've ever heard of."
With Fox News, explained Joe Priester of the University of Southern California, News Corp. had secured a lucrative spot with conservative consumers but had alienated those at the opposite end of the political spectrum. By launching its climate initiative, the company could make a play for more liberal consumers too.
But now Murdoch's attempt to promote -- and profit from -- contradictory messages on climate change could put News Corp. on a collision course with its green-conscious advertisers, as environmental organizations that have partnered with the company start to speak out on the damage being done by Fox News.
Last month, Media Matters uncovered audio of Fox News executive Bill Sammon boasting that he lied repeatedly during the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism." Sammon's remarks were made onboard a pricey Mediterranean cruise sponsored by the right-wing Hillsdale College.
The Collegian, Hillsdale's newspaper, weighed in on the controversy in an editorial today criticizing both Sammon and Media Matters. The college paper wrote that "though the FOX news exec compromised his integrity by implying that he deliberately exaggerated about the then-candidate's socialism, we honestly don't think it's as big of a deal as the blog suggests. We hope Media Matters can find something better to do with its resources."
It was fascinating to watch NPR's reaction to the James O'Keefe videos. After the (deceptively edited) tapes were released, NPR rapidly and forcefully distanced itself from the two fundraising executives in question, placing them both on administrative leave. CEO Vivian Schiller was forced out, and all the while NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reported on the turmoil at his own company as if he were tapping on the glass of a fishbowl.
The two executives captured on the videos had no say over NPR's news product or editorial direction, and regardless of whether you agree with the actions NPR's senior management took, those corrective moves were clearly intended to demonstrate a culture of accountability and preserve their credibility as a news outlet. After all, that's what reputations and, ultimately, success in journalism are staked on... right?
Perhaps, for news outlets that hew to traditional modes of journalistic practice. Fox News, however, has proven to be largely disinterested in accountability, even in the face of numerous fiascoes that, had they occurred at other news outfits, would likely have sent heads rolling.
Fox News Watch has some explaining to do.
In its leading segment on Saturday's show, host Jon Scott criticized NBC News for waiting a week to report on the fact that General Electric paid $0 in taxes for their 2010 fiscal year. However, that's not the original point Scott was planning to make. As the Huffington Post discovered, Fox originally intended to hit NBC for not reporting on the story at all and began filming the segment by falsely claiming that they had ignored the GE tax story. However, as guest Jim Pinkerton immediately noted, NBC News did report on this, at length, on their March 31 broadcast of NBC Nightly News.
As Scott introduced the segment, on-screen text read "GE's Big Tax Story Not News for NBC News?" When asked to comment about NBC's supposed lack of reporting on GE's tax dodge, Pinkerton interjected, stating, "They covered it last night." What followed was a moderately-paced train wreck that led one of the show's producers, off-screen, to yell cut. But here's the best part: They didn't cut the take because Scott had gotten a key fact of his story wrong. They cut the take because, says the producer: "I didn't like the way you looked." Seriously.
While they thought they were not being filmed, the host and panelists then discussed what would be said in the second take of the segment. The conversation included Pinkerton--a conservative columnist--expressing his gratitude for the take being reshot because he didn't want the host to "wind up looking bad" for being corrected "in the first seconds" of the show. He then took the time to discuss with the host how the story should be framed. That dialogue, as follows:
PRODUCER (Off-Screen): Cut! Cut!
PINKERTON: I was going to say--
PRODUCER (Off-Screen): Cut!
PINKERTON: --I'm glad we're not doing this. Yeah, cut.
PRODUCER (Off-Screen): Sorry.
SCOTT: What happened?
PINKERTON: You can't. It was on last night, on NBC News, this story. They said - you know, and that was kind of the point.
CAL THOMAS: Did you see it?
PINKERTON: I did.
THOMAS: Oh, OK.
COLMES: Why are we cut?
PRODUCER (Off-Screen): I didn't like the way you looked.
SCOTT: Right. But the point is - and you need to remember Thursday night.
JUDY MILLER: So -
PINKERTON: Right, and I was wrong about that, but I thought we were just going to stop it because to me -I don't want-- you wind up looking bad if I correct you -
SCOTT: Right. But the point -
PINKERTON: --In the first seconds.
SCOTT: The point, the point is that it took them a week, basically.
MILLER: Yes, and, alright--
PINKERTON: Okay, it took them a week. That's true. ABC did it Wednesday night, and NBC did it Thursday night, so you can say ABC kind of shamed NBC.
SCOTT: But the Times did it Friday, and -
PINKERTON: I understand.
SCOTT: --and having worked there -
PINKERTON: I'm all set to pound away on this subject.
MILLER: And I am, too, with another issue.
Incredibly, all of this was captured on film and posted on Fox News Watch's own website, proving that the show's sloppiness extends all the way to its online content.
Miller, however, is absolutely correct. Not only would it have been better "to get it right" by doing a second take, it would have been better to have researched the story in the first place and made sure you had it "right" before you went to air. After all, this is supposed to be a media criticism show on a so-called credible news network. One would think that part of their job would be to make sure their criticism was actually based in fact. Right?
From the April 3, 2011 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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On Tuesday we released audio of Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon admitting that he had linked Obama to socialism on-air during the 2008 campaign while "privately" believing at the time that the allegation was "far-fetched." The revelation was covered by numerous media outlets and drew criticism from veteran newsroom leaders as well as Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. Sammon himself was interviewed about the story by NPR and Howard Kurtz. And yet, Fox News Watch, the one show on Fox News dedicated solely to discussing stories about the media, ignored the Sammon scandal entirely.
Instead of covering this story, which is centrally concerned with objectivity, fairness, and bias, Fox News Watch spent time today pondering what a Facebook employment offer to Robert Gibbs might mean, and vaguely accusing Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer of "media bias."
Previously, Fox News Watch ignored news of Sammon's emails directing Fox's journalists to skew climate change coverage, kept silent about Fox host Andrew Napolitano's remarks that he believed the government lied about the attacks on 9-11, and declined to disclose its parent company's $1 million donation to the Republican Governor's Association. When Fox executives ordered Sean Hannity to cancel his planned appearance at a Tea Party fundraising event, Fox News Watch said nothing.
In April 2010, Joe Strupp reported that Eric Burns, who hosted Fox News Watch from 1998 to 2008 said that in his final year hosting the program, "The show was getting to be more and more of a struggle to do fairly." Given Fox News' frequent ethical lapses, it's clear that Fox News Watch cannot be said to value fairness when it refuses to examine scandals involving its own network.
Earlier this week, Media Matters released audio of Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon admitting that he repeatedly lied when he appeared on Fox News in the final days before the 2008 election and attempted to link Barack Obama to socialism. Sammon admitted that he was being "mischievous" when he argued that Obama "really advocated socialism," because it was "a premise that privately [he] found rather far-fetched."
Last night on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart highlighted Sammon's admission and explained how "there's no line in news and opinion" at Fox. In a segment on the March 24 Daily Show, Special Report anchor Bret Baier promoted Fox's supposed distinction between its "straight news" reporting and its opinion shows. In last night's segment, Stewart summarized how Sammon's confession proves the inaccuracy of Baier's comparison: "We're all smart enough to discern the line between hard news and opinion on Fox, much in the way that you can taste all the individual ingredients that go into soup." Watch:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Bad News Baier|
** This post has been edited for clarity.
From the March 31 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show:
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It's been a few days, but the Media Research Center has finally finished crafting their response to Media Matters' report that Fox News' Bill Sammon admitted lying on-air about Obama advocating "socialism," and it is as follows:
I'm not joking:
Soros Grantee Aids Soros Grantee: NPR Covers 'Scandal' of Fox News VP Calling Obama a 'Socialist'
By Tim Graham
In the same week, leftist hedge-fund billionaire/philanthropist announced he was giving millions to Media Matters for America and to National Public Radio. So NPR might have found it wise to avoid publicizing Media Matters initiatives and risk being seen by many as a walking conflict of interest. That's not what's happening. Instead, Soros is happily seeing his grantees play very nicely together. On March 26, Politico reported that Media Matters declared "war on Fox" and a campaign of "guerrilla warfare and sabotage" against not just Fox, but Rupert Murdoch's empire in general. Three days later, on the March 29 All Things Considered, NPR was participating in it.
It began with Media Matters giving the world a tape of FNC executive Bill Sammon on a 2009 fundraising cruise for Hillsdale College proclaiming that he thought 2008 charges that Barack Obama was a socialist were "rather far-fetched," but thought Obama made it very plausible upon taking office. Media Matters said the tape showed "Lying" by Sammon. NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, already looking like a robot-for-hire in his reporting on NPR's Schillergate scandal, became the wind beneath their wings in promoting it.
Let's address matters of factual accuracy, shall we?
First off: yes, both Media Matters and NPR have received donations from George Soros or his Open Society Institute (OSI). However, the OSI donation to NPR that Graham highlights was specifically earmarked for a project to "better inform the public about the impact that the actions of state governments has on citizens and communities." How that would impact media reporter David Folkenflik's reporting on Fox News is anyone's guess. Graham certainly didn't explain, but instead lazily implied some sort of conspiratorial quid pro quo.
Second: Graham's description of Media Matters' report omitted the key fact it uncovered: that Sammon acknowledged speculating on-air about charges of Obama's socialism despite privately believing them to be "far-fetched" -- which Sammon himself described as "mischievous." Given that Sammon is a news executive at Fox and directs their Washington coverage, that makes it a major media story, Graham's protestations notwithstanding.
Notably, Graham didn't even attempt to defend Sammon. Instead, he just wrote "Soros" over and over and berated Folkenflik over matters unrelated to the story in question. Sort of makes you suspect they don't have a whole lot to say.
From the March 30 edition of MSNBC's MSNBC News Live:
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By his own "standards," Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon should be disciplined for his admission that he lied repeatedly "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism."
As Media Matters documented, while speaking onboard a pricey Mediterranean cruise in August 2009, Sammon described his attempts the previous year to link Obama to "socialism" as "mischievous speculation." Sammon, who is also a Fox News vice president, acknowledged that "privately" he had believed that the socialism allegation was "rather far-fetched."
But just one month later, Sammon reportedly wrote a "standards" memo reminding Fox's Washington bureau that "viewers are counting on us to be honest brokers." The memo was issued after Media Matters released video of a Fox News producer encouraging a group of 9/12 protesters to cheer during a Fox News report. According to Fox News Washington bureau chief Bryan Boughton, that producer was "disciplined."
Sammon also wrote that reporters "do not cheerlead for one cause or another." Yet Sammon has repeatedly used his position to slant the network's news coverage to the right. He has also fundraised for conservative causes and made his August 2009 remarks onboard a cruise sponsored by the conservative Hillsdale College.
From Mediaite, which obtained Sammon's memo (emphasis is mine):
From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 2:25 PM
To: 005 -Washington
For those of us who have only been at Fox for a relatively short period of time, it's useful to remind ourselves that, as journalists, we must always be careful to cover the story without becoming part of the story. At news events, we're supposed to function as dispassionate observers, not active participants. We are there to chronicle the news, not create it.
That means we ask questions in a fair, impartial manner. When approaching interviewees, we identify ourselves, by both name and news organization, up front. We seek out a variety of voices and views. We take note of the scene in order to bring color and context to our viewers.
We do not cheerlead for one cause or another. We do not rile up a crowd. If a crowd happens to be boisterous when we show it on TV, so be it. If it happens to be quiet, that's fine, too. It's not our job to affect the crowd's behavior one way or the other. Again, we're journalists, not participants -- and certainly not performers.
Indeed, any effort to affect the crowd's behavior only serves to undermine our legitimate journalistic role as detached eyewitnesses. Remember, our viewers are counting on us to be honest brokers when it comes to reporting -- not altering -the important events of the day. That is nothing less than a sacred trust. We must always take pains to preserve that trust.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please stop by.
Fox News has apparently taken no action against Sammon since audio of his cruise confession was uncovered. As Media Matters' Ben Dimiero wrote, if Fox News wants to be taken seriously as an organization, they can start by firing Bill Sammon.
From the March 29 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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From the March 29 edition of MSNBC Live With Cenk Uygur:
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This afternoon, CNN reported on Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon's admission -- revealed today by Media Matters -- that he attempted to link Barack Obama to socialism during the 2008 campaign despite privately believing that the socialism allegation was "far-fetched."
From the CNN report:
Is Fox News' Sammon a 'mischief' maker?
By: CNN's Rebecca Stewart
(CNN) - Washington Fox News executive Bill Sammon admitted in a newly released audio tape that in 2008 he repeatedly speculated about President Obama's support for socialism despite privately believing the idea was "far-fetched."
He made the comments before a group on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College. A recording of the audio from the event was obtained by MediaMatters.org, a well-funded, liberal media watchdog organization that says it is committed to exposing conservative bias in the media, especially from Fox News.
Discussing the 2008 campaign for the presidency, Sammon said, "I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched."