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."
Earlier this month, Bret Baier, who hosts Fox News' Special Report, sat for an interview with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart. During the interview, Baier argued that his program, which is Fox's flagship straight "news" show, is objective and under no political pressure to slant coverage.
"I have a morning meeting," said Baier. "We talk about the news of the day. We have correspondents all over the world. We say, 'What's happening?' The thing develops throughout the day. Today in Syria, there were 25 people killed. In Yemen, the president's going to step down in a couple of days. We've got the situation in Libya. I just got back from Afghanistan. That's not faking it. That's real stuff."
Baier went on to reject the idea that "the entire network is driven by this top-down" process in which he gets "a call" dictating slanted news coverage.
But the meetings Baier referenced, which take place at 10:30 every morning at the network's D.C. bureau office, do not consist solely of legitimate news reporters. As Baier explained in a November 18, 2010, blog post, those present at the daily meeting include Bill Sammon, Fox News' controversial Washington managing editor and vice president of news.
At the annual CPAC convention, Think Progress' Ben Armbruster confronted The O'Reilly Factor producer Jesse Watters, who is famous for ambushing progressives and others with whom Bill O'Reilly has taken issue. Armbruster questioned Watters about a recent Media Matters exclusive from a Fox News insider, who said that Fox is a "propaganda outfit" and "their M.O. [is] to undermine the administration and to undermine Democrats." The former Fox News employee said to Media Matters: "I don't think people would believe it's as concocted as it is; that stuff is just made up."
Despite repeated attempts, Watters refused to answer Armbruster's question. Instead, as Think Progress reported, "he tried to divert the issue by attempting to belittle ThinkProgress' 'ambush' skills," at one point "seem[ing] to take offense at a slight brush on his sport jacket, saying, 'Watch my blazer, bro.'"
From Think Progress:
This week, Media Matters reported that an unnamed former "Fox News insider" confirmed once again the network's aversion to the truth in the name of promoting the Republican Party. "I don't think people would believe it's as concocted as it is; that stuff is just made up," the former insider said. Fox News' "M.O. [is] to undermine the administration and to undermine Democrats," said the source. "They're a propaganda outfit but they call themselves news." ThinkProgress ran into Fox News ambusher-in-chief Jesse Watters at CPAC this week and wanted to know what he thought about Media Matters' report. However, Watters wouldn't comment. Instead, he tried to divert the issue by attempting to belittle ThinkProgress' "ambush" skills (yes, admittedly, we didn't stalk Watters to a vacation spot with his significant other) and trying to give us some advice. "You're just kind of, a little JV," Watters said on the defensive. While ThinkProgress repeatedly tried to get comment from Watters, he still refused to answer. However, at one point, he seemed to take offense at a slight brush on his sport jacket, saying, "Watch my blazer, bro."
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, Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon sent an email to Fox staff pointing out that Obama did not use "the words 'terror,' 'terrorist' or 'terrorism.' "
The email, which did not include any text beyond the subject line, read as follows:
From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 9:23 AM
To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 036 -FOX.WHU; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers
Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay
Subject: FYI: My cursory check of Obama's 6,000-word speech to the Muslim world did not turn up the words "terror," "terrorist" or "terrorism"
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."
Sammon's criticism, however, was misleading. 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." Sammon's criticism also disregarded the analyses of Middle East and terrorism experts who viewed Obama's word choice as an effort to remove as a source of tension terms that, through overuse and misuse, have become incendiary in the Muslim world.
The New York Times noted the rationale behind Obama's word choice in a June 4, 2009, article:
But while he spoke uncompromisingly of the American fight against Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama never mentioned the words "terrorism" or "terrorist." That was a departure from the language used by the Bush administration, but one that some Middle East experts suggested reflected a belief by the new administration that overuse had made the words inflammatory.
Similarly, then-CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour explained: "I don't know what goes on in his head. But I certainly know what the people in the Islamic world say. In all those countries which I visited, where there are wars or not, they are fed up with being completely and monolithically associated with terror. Perhaps that was what was going through the president's mind when he chose not to use that word."
"Isn't that what they do in socialist countries?"
Steve Doocy's question sounded like a spontaneous reaction to what he apparently saw as the threat Barack Obama would pose to freedom of the press.
The Fox News host's inflammatory question had, in fact, been scripted the night before in an email sent by a Fox producer.
The incident, which occurred on the October 27, 2008, edition of Fox & Friends, came during what appears to have been a network-wide campaign to tie Obama to socialism in the month leading up to the presidential election. Internal Fox documents obtained by Media Matters and a review of the network's pre-election coverage show that Fox hosts, producers, and other journalists were involved in the effort.
October 27 was also the day that Fox's then-deputy managing editor Bill Sammon sent an internal email referencing what he described in the subject line as "Obama's references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists in his autobiography, 'Dreams from My Father.' " Sammon appeared on multiple Fox shows to discuss his "research" and also wrote a FoxNews.com piece about Obama's "affinity to Marxists."
The events leading up to Doocy's "socialist" question began four days earlier, when WFTV (ABC's Orlando affiliate) anchor Barbara West interviewed Joe Biden. During the interview, West suggested Obama's infamous exchange with "Joe the Plumber" -- in which Obama had advocated, "spread[ing] the wealth around" -- was a "potentially crushing political blunder."
West then asked: "You may recognize this famous quote: 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.' That's from Karl Marx. How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?"
"Are you joking?" asked a stunned Biden. "Is this a joke?"
"No," said West. "That's a question."
In response to West's interview, the Obama campaign reportedly cancelled a planned appearance by Jill Biden on WFTV and told the station, "This cancellation is non-negotiable, and further opportunities for your station to interview with this campaign are unlikely, at best for the duration of the remaining days until the election."
On the evening of October 26, a Fox producer named Elizabeth Fanning emailed an outline of the next morning's Fox & Friends to numerous staffers at the network. The document, obtained by Media Matters, listed five separate segments about the WFTV interview that were scheduled for the October 27 show. For each segment, the document listed an identical series of questions, including: "Isn't this what happens in communist countries?"
And that's almost exactly what Doocy said on the air. Interviewing Fox contributor Michelle Malkin, Doocy asked, "Isn't that what they do in socialist countries?"
During the final days of the 2008 presidential race, Bill Sammon used his position as a top Fox News editor to engage in a campaign to link then-Sen. Barack Obama to "Marxists" and "socialism," internal Fox documents and a review of his televised appearances show.
On October 27, 2008, Sammon sent an email to colleagues highlighting what he described as "Obama's references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists" in his 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father. Shortly after sending the email, Sammon -- then the network's Washington deputy managing editor -- appeared on two Fox News programs to discuss his research and also wrote a FoxNews.com piece about Obama's "affinity to Marxists" that was disseminated throughout the conservative blogosphere.
From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Monday, October 27, 2008 1:02 PM
To: 069 -Politics; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com)
Subject: fyi: Obama's references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists in his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father." Plus a couple of his many self-described "racial obsessions"...
* "To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists." (Obama writing about his time at Occidental College in "Dreams.")
* After his sophomore year, Obama transferred to Columbia University. He lived on Manhattan's Upper East Side, venturing to the East Village for "thesocialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union," he recalled, adding: "Much of what I absorbed from the sixties was filtered through my mother, who to the end of her life would proudly proclaim herself an unreconstructed liberal."
* After graduating from Columbia in 1983, Obama spent a year working for a consulting firm and then went to work for "a Ralph Nader offshoot" in Harlem. "In search of some inspiration, I went to hear Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and Black Panther fame, speak at Columbia. At the entrance to the auditorium, two women, one black, one Asian, were selling Marxist literature."
During this period, according to Obama, he began a serious romantic relationship.
* "There was a woman in New York that I loved. She was white," Obama wrote in "Dreams." "We saw each other for almost a year. On the weekends, mostly. Sometimes in her apartment, sometimes in mine. You know how you can fall into your own private world? Just two people, hidden and warm. Your own language. Your own customs." But Obama said their relationship was doomed by the racial difference. "I pushed her away," he recalled."The emotion between the races could never be pure; even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing from ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that: menacing, alien, and apart."
* In June 1985, Obama was interviewed in New York by Marty Kaufman, a community organizer from Chicago. Obama recalled: "There was something about him that made me wary. A little too sure of himself, maybe. And white."
By that evening, the subject line of Sammon's email had been inserted -- word-for-word -- into show notes written in preparation for the next morning's Fox & Friends, which featured an appearance by Sammon.
The information in Sammon's email wasn't exactly breaking news. He had already published essentially the same research about Obama's 1995 memoir a year earlier in his book Meet the Next President. But Sammon, who has since been promoted to Washington managing editor, believed the "biased" media were failing to question Obama's purported links to radicals and socialism. Sammon also believed Sen. John McCain's campaign could gain momentum by capitalizing on those links.
For weeks, Sammon had used Fox's airwaves to promote efforts to tie Obama to socialism. On October 14, 2008, Sammon said that Obama's "spread the wealth" remark to Joe the Plumber "is red meat when you're talking to conservatives and you start talking about spread the wealth around. That is tantamount to socialism."
Sammon repeated the "tantamount to socialism" line about Obama's remark later that day, stating: "That's anathema to conservatives. That's the same as saying spread the misery around. That's basically tantamount to socialism. And that bothers a lot of people. So I think if McCain is going to have any chance of moving ahead, he's got to turn this economic discussion from something that's been hurting him for the last couple of weeks to something that can help him by focusing on what to do about the economy in the future."
On October 21, 2008, Sammon appeared on Greta Van Susteren's show, where he referred to Bill Ayers "talking about being a Marxist." Sammon then said, "I have read Barack Obama's books pretty carefully, and he in his own words talks about being drawn to Marxists. ... Now all this stuff's coming out about whether he's a socialist. I don't know why anyone is surprised by it, because if you read his own words and his sort of, you know, orientation coming up as a liberal through college and as a young man, it's not a huge shock."
Sammon appeared on Fox & Friends' October 25, 2008, program and said that the McCain campaign "has now picked up this socialism word on their own, and they're running with it. I think it's their one opportunity that they have to turn this economy into something that actually works for their campaign because as you know, for weeks the economy has been killing the McCain campaign and I think this helps them."
Then, on October 27, 2008, the Drudge Report posted audio of a 2001 radio interview with Obama. Fox News and conservative commentators distorted the interview, with some falsely claiming that Obama said it was a "tragedy" that the Supreme Court had not pursued "redistribution of wealth."
It was in this context Sammon sent his "Marxism" email to journalists at Fox.
Less than 90 minutes after sending the email, Sammon appeared on the October 27, 2008, broadcast of Fox's Live Desk -- one of Fox's supposedly straight news daytime programs -- to discuss, in co-anchor Martha MacCallum's words, how "quotes that you found earlier in one of Barack Obama's books" relate to questions about whether Obama's policies are "socialism." Sammon said Obama was "drawn to Marxists" and "socialists." Sammon declared that Obama had been posturing "as a moderate" when "his heart is really towards the hard left."
This week, we reported on a staff email from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon questioning the "veracity of climate change data" and directing the network's journalists to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." While most of the nation's media have reported or commented on the story, Fox News has conspicuously avoided passing reference to it. Even Fox News' so-called media criticism show has ignored the story.
During its Saturday broadcast, Fox News Watch touched on a variety of issues from this week, including former President Clinton's return to the White House press briefing room and Larry King's departure from CNN. Host Jon Scott and the panel found time to talk about why the Tea Party wasn't chosen as Time's "Person of the Year," the Media Research Center's "Poison Tea Pot Award," and it even allowed Greg Gutfeld to get in a dig or two at the "No Label" campaign. But amidst all this, it didn't find any time to talk about Sammon's email.
As we reported, Sammon sent the email during crucial global climate change talks in Denmark, a mere 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was "on track to be the warmest [decade] on record." At the time, Fox was relentlessly engaged in promoting the fabricated "Climategate" scandal, which revolved around misrepresentations of emails sent to and from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit. But as we noted, the "scandal" did not undermine the scientific basis for global warming. Moreover, scientists, independent fact-checkers, and several investigations have since confirmed that the CRU emails do not undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet.
That leaked email followed on the heels of another: Last week we reported on another email sent by Sammon to Fox journalists at the peak of the health care reform debate, ordering them to avoid using the term "public option" and instead use variations of "government option." That email echoed advice from a prominent Republican pollster on how to help turn public opinion against health care reform.
This is just the latest example of Fox News Watch avoiding stories of its network's ethical problems. As we previously noted, the program has kept silent about Fox host Andrew Napolitano's remarks that he believed the government lied about the attacks on 9-11. The program also failed to comment on the five potential Republican candidates for president Fox News employs.
As Media Matters reported, last week, the Program on International Policy Attitudes released a report on "Misinformation and the 2010 Election," which examined variations in misinformation by exposure to news sources, among other subjects. The study found that "those who had greater exposure to news sources were generally better informed."
However, the study also found that there were "a number of cases where greater exposure to a news source increased misinformation on a specific issue," and highlighted Fox News' viewers higher levels of misinformation on a variety of topics.
Of the many issues that regular Fox News viewers were found to have been misinformed about, their false beliefs about climate change stood out, in light of the recent revelation that Fox News boss Bill Sammon ordered his staff to cast doubt on climate change science in reports that are supposed to convey "straight news."
Of those who said they watched Fox News "almost every day," a whopping 60 percent believed, incorrectly, that "most scientists think climate change is not occurring" or that "views are divided evenly." Compare that with those who said that they watched other news programs almost every day: 25% of regular CNN viewers, 20% of MSNBC viewers, and 35% of Network TV news broadcasts viewers believed that falsehood. Of those who reported that they read newspapers and news magazines (in print or online) "almost every day,"40 percent believed that falsehood. Of those that reported watching or listening almost every day to public broadcasting, which Fox News has repeatedly demonized, only 13 percent believed that falsehood.
Two members of a House committee focused on global warming issues are criticizing a top Fox News editor for directing reporters to slant coverage of the issue.
Rep. John Hall, D-New York, and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., took issue with an e-mail sent from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon to staffers in late 2009.
Media Matters disclosed the e-mail this week from Sammon that questioned the "veracity of climate change data" and ordered the network's journalists to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."
Hall and Inslee are members of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Hall responded by telling Media Matters: "It is what I already know about Fox, which is the coverage is slanted. It is regrettable that Fox's management would issue a directive like this to its supposed reporters ordering them to slant coverage. This is one of the more blatant examples I have seen of that."
Hall said the danger of such an approach is that it makes it difficult for the truth about global warming to be reported and, consequently, for steps to be taken to prevent it.
"The window of time we have left for action to prevent the worst case scenario may still be closing," he said. "We can't afford to waste two years if the changes are already happening. It is really important that the public gets educated. I do think Congress responds to public pressure. If the public is being misinformed, we have very little chance of reversing the trend."
Robert Kellar, communications director for Rep. Inslee, offered this statement in response to the Fox News e-mail:
I can't believe this would be actual news to anyone. FOX has been and continues to be a vehicle for Republican talking points. And this kind of news tampering would have to be organized from the top. No news reporter in their right mind would be so galactically stupid as to come up with this. I'm surprised we didn't see memos telling reporters to mention a controversy on gravity.
On a more serious note, Fox News shouldn't be so cavalier with their power. You may not agree with the policy, but report the facts and have a discussion. Fox has decided that Republican talking points are more important than information, even if it means their viewers wind up underwater.
Fox News has yet to respond to requests for comment on the e-mail.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow spoke with David Letterman last night about Fox News' history of "mak[ing] up stories out of whole cloth and then mak[ing] a big deal out of them," and highlighting recent emails leaked to Media Matters showing Fox News officials slanting news coverage.
Reacting to news that Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon sent a directive to the network's journalists to cast doubt on climate science, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote:
The email was not surprising to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which tracks climate misinformation on Fox News and other media outlets, but it is nonetheless revealing. While UCS has had productive interactions with a number of Fox News staff members, the network's coverage regularly gives unwarranted weight to anti-scientific claims regarding climate change.
UCS has asked Fox News to improve its poor coverage of climate science. NewsCorp, which owns Fox News, has a stated policy to "engage our audiences and enable them to find ways to reduce carbon emissions in their own lives." Sammon's email, which urges reporters to misinform their audiences about climate change, is an apparent violation of that policy.
To date, UCS activists have submitted more than 35,000 letters to Rupert Murdoch, the owner of NewsCorp, urging him to stop allowing false claims about climate science on Fox News and in the newspapers he owns. The letters are part of UCS's Got Science? campaign, which debunks misinformation about climate change by governments, corporations and the news media.
This morning, Media Matters exposed a directive sent by Fox News Washington Managing editor Bill Sammon to the network's journalists questioning the "veracity of climate change data" and ordering them to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." Sammon added that "It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies."
Sammon's email was sent during crucial global climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, and came amid the network's relentless promotion of the manufactured "Climategate" scandal.
It's important to point out that what Sammon calls "notions" about climate change are anything but -- as far as the science is concerned, the fact that the planet is currently warming is well-established. As the National Climatic Data Center explains, the warming trend "is apparent in all of the independent methods of calculating global temperature change" and "is also confirmed by other independent observations."
In contrast to Sammon, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has stated unequivocally that "climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats," and that "we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction."
In 2007, Murdoch announced an initiative to make News Corp. carbon neutral in the hopes that it would inspire their audience to also reduce their carbon footprint. In his words, "we can do something that's unique, different from just any other company. 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."
Murdoch is right. The carbon footprint of News Corp.'s audience is "10,000 times bigger than" the company's, which is why the benefits of his company's attempt to become carbon neutral pale in comparison to the damage done by the network's ongoing war on climate science.
For his part, Murdoch has repeatedly stressed the division between Fox's "news" and "opinion" programs in order to defend the network from criticism. But Sammon is firmly in the supposed "news" camp, and is using his position to order the network to poison the well of public opinion on an issue Murdoch thinks -- and the world's climate scientists agree -- poses "clear, catastrophic threats."
As CEO of News Corp., Murdoch can either profess to care about them setting an "example" for their audience on climate change, or he can employ a Washington managing editor that directs his staff to push phony stories to cast doubt on the science behind it.
He can't do both.
From the December 9 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
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Today, health care reform advocates responded to Media Matters' release of leaked emails obtained from a Fox News source showing the network's Washington managing editor Bill Sammon directing staff not to use the phrase "public option" when discussing health care reform legislation.
"Today's revelation shows just how far Fox is willing to go to slant their news reporting. The fact is, they had to spin because they know that as more Americans benefit from things like free preventive care, and increased access to more affordable care, the more they like the health reform that created those benefits. And let's face it, nearly a year later, you can call it whatever you want, just so long as you call it the law."
"At a time when right-wing extremists were trying to make the case that the health care reform bill was a government takeover plot, Fox News incorporated politically charged language into its day-to-day reporting to mislead its audience into thinking the public option was something that it wasn't. The public option would have competed with private insurance companies to help lower costs and give consumers more choices.
"The commonly used term was 'public option' for a reason – it was precise and descriptive of a policy that would have given consumers another choice of coverage.
"But Fox News's policy is to drive a political agenda and systematically influence its audience's views. Fox News wanted to smear health care reform by choosing a poll-tested phrase crafted by a Republican communications consultant so itsallegedly objective news reporters could describe health care reform as something that it is not."
Health Information Center's communications director Erikka Knuti provided Media Matters with the following statement:
"Bill Sammon directed the news division to use language he knew to be politically charged. His emails were journalistically unethical. Their existence calls in to question the integrity of every minute of Fox News' health care coverage under his management."
Full Disclosure: Erikka Knuti was previously employed by Media Matters.
From the December 9 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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