Pulitizer Prize-winning author and journalist Tom Ricks is denying a claim by a Fox News executive that he privately apologized for an interview on the channel in which he said that Fox News has been "operating as a wing of the Republican Party" in its coverage of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
In an email to The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Clemente, Fox News executive vice president, accused Ricks of dodging a question by Fox host Jon Scott on the Benghazi attack. "When Mr. Ricks ignored the anchor's question, it became clear that his goal was to bring attention to himself -- and his book. ... He apologized in our offices afterward but doesn't have the strength of character to do that publicly."
Ricks responded to Clemente's claim in an email to the Reporter: "Please ask Mr. Clemente what the words of my supposed apology were. I'd be interested to know. ... Frankly, I don't remember any such apology."
Ricks said in an interview with Media Matters' Joe Strupp that Fox staffers "seemed surprised" after the interview. Ricks further said that he told Fox before the interview that he thought the Benghazi story had been "hyped," and that he was not given any restrictions by Fox prior to going on the air.
Ricks expected the interview to go on for "several more minutes," he told Media Matters. It lasted less than two minutes, abruptly ending after he said that Fox was "operating as a wing of the Republican Party."
Ricks' criticism echoes that of other media critics who have pointed out Fox's role as a mouthpiece for Republican candidates and causes.
Fox News is, in many ways, run like a political campaign. They openly advocate for specific candidates, they churn out copious amounts of opposition research, and they have a hair-trigger communications operation that is ready to fire off a snarky response to any criticism, no matter how mild.
So it makes sense that they would respond to the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes survey showing that Fox News viewers are "significantly more likely" to be misinformed about issues of national significance. What doesn't make sense, however, is their response:
Asked for comment on the study, Fox News seemingly dismissed the findings. In a statement, Michael Clemente, who is the senior vice president of news editorial for the network, said: "The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having 'Students Who Study The Least' and being the 'Best Party School' -- given these fine academic distinctions, we'll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was 'researched' with.'"
Mr. Clemente oversees every hour of objective news programming on Fox News, which is by far the nation's most popular cable news channel.
I see ... they're so unconcerned about this study that they took the time to comb through the Princeton Review's college ranking lists and cherry-pick a couple of negative rankings to smear the entire UMD student body as a collection of uneducated clods (for what it's worth, the Princeton Review also found that UMD had one of the best libraries, one of the best newspapers, and was one of the best Northeastern colleges).
And, of course, the merit of a survey conducted by academics and graduate students can clearly be divined from the study habits of UMD undergrads.
Also, if Clemente has such a dim view of UMD students, then he should have a discussion with Rebecca Diamond, Fox News' business correspondent, who graduated from the University of Maryland's College of Journalism. She might be interested to know of her superior's low regard for her "fine academic distinctions."
But let's take a step back and appreciate that Fox News and Clemente clearly took the time to research and craft this reaction. And after this careful consideration, they decided that their best response to an academic study on their misinformative news habits was to call college students stupid.
You stay classy, Fox News.
Today, Media Matters released emails obtained from a Fox News source, showing Washington managing editor Bill Sammon directing staff not to use the phrase "public option" when discussing health care reform legislation. The emails, which were sent during the height of the health care debate, echoed Republican pollster Frank Luntz's appearance on Hannity where he encouraged host Sean Hannity not to use "public option," but instead use the term "government option" because "if you call it the 'government option,' the public is overwhelmingly against it."
It is not the first time that Media Matters obtained leaked Fox News documents that paint a picture of network management attempting to slant the news toward the right (and often succeeding.)
As the then two-month-old Media Matters noted on July 14, 2004, just months before the 2004 election:
As The Washington Post reported on July 11, [documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald's new film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism] features "a handful of memos from a top FOX executive that appear to suggest tilting the news." Media Matters for America has analyzed 33 such internal FOX memos, issued by FOX News Senior Vice President, News Editorial John Moody and Los Angeles Bureau Chief Ken LaCoste between May 9 and June 3, 2003 and March 12 and May 5, 2004.
In the memos, some of which appear in Outfoxed, Moody instructs employees on the approach to take on particular stories. His instructions reflect a clear interest in furthering a conservative agenda and in supporting the Bush administration. The Post quoted Larry Johnson, identified by the paper as "a former part-time Fox commentator who appears in the film," describing the Moody memos as "talking points instructing us what the themes are supposed to be, and God help you if you stray." On July 13, Salon.com reviewed the film, and provided "some of the most notable excerpts" from the memos, referred to as "marching orders" by Jon DuPre, whom Salon identifies as "formerly of Fox News."
Some highlights from the leaked memos that Media Matters analyzed at the time (emphasis added):
Moody on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal:
[T]he pictures from Abu Graeb [sic] prison are disturbing. They have rightly provoked outrage. Today we have a picture -- aired on Al Arabiya -- of an American hostage being held with a scarf over his eyes, clearly against his will. Who's outraged on his behalf? It is important that we keep the Abu Graeb [sic] situation in perspective (5/5/04).
Moody on abortion:
[Le]t's spend a good deal of time on the battle over judicial nominations, which [th]e President will address this morning. Nominees who both sides admit are [qu]alified are being held up because of their POSSIBLE, not demonstrated, views [on] one issue -- abortion. This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in [th]e days to come (5/9/03).
Two style notes: [Eric Ru]dolph is charged with bombing an abortion clinic, not a "health clinic." ...[TO]DAY'S HEARING IS NOT AN ARRAIGNMENT. IT IS AN INITIAL HEARING (6/2/03).
Moody on the 9/11 Commission:
The so-called 9/11 commission has already been meeting. In fact, this is its eighth session. The fact that former Clinton and both frmer [sic] and current Bush administration officials are testifying gives it a certain tension, but this is not "what did he know and when did he know it" stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that (3/23/04).
Remember that while there are obvious political implications for Bush, the commission is looking at eight years of the Clinton Administration versus eight months (the time prior to 9/11 that Bush was in office) for the incumbent (3/24/04).
There's a lot more to read in this one. Be sure to jump back in time a bit and check out Media Matters' original research on the subject here.
Don't forget, Media Matters has also launched email@example.com, an email address where conscientious Fox News employees can anonymously send evidence of their employer's complete disregard for journalism.
At the height of the health care reform debate last fall, Bill Sammon, Fox News' controversial Washington managing editor, sent a memo directing his network's journalists not to use the phrase "public option."
Instead, Sammon wrote, Fox's reporters should use "government option" and similar phrases -- wording that a top Republican pollster had recommended in order to turn public opinion against the Democrats' reform efforts.
Journalists on the network's flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier, appear to have followed Sammon's directive in reporting on health care reform that evening.
Sources familiar with the situation in Fox's Washington bureau have told Media Matters that Sammon uses his position as managing editor to "slant" Fox's supposedly neutral news coverage to the right. Sammon's "government option" email is the clearest evidence yet that Sammon is aggressively pushing Fox's reporting to the right -- in this case by issuing written orders to his staff.
As far back as March 2009, Fox personalities had sporadically referred to the "government option."
Two months prior to Sammon's 2009 memo, Republican pollster Frank Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity's August 18 Fox News program. Luntz scolded Hannity for referring to the "public option" and encouraged Hannity to use "government option" instead.
Luntz argued that "if you call it a 'public option,' the American people are split," but that "if you call it the 'government option,' the public is overwhelmingly against it." Luntz explained that the program would be "sponsored by the government" and falsely claimed that it would also be "paid for by the government."
"You know what," Hannity replied, "it's a great point, and from now on, I'm going to call it the government option."
On October 26, 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the inclusion of a public insurance option that states could opt out of in the Senate's health care bill.
That night, Special Report used "public" and "government" interchangeably when describing the public option provision.
Anchor Bret Baier referred to "a so-called public option"; the "public option"; "government-provided insurance coverage"; "this government-run insurance option"; the "healthcare public option"; and "the government-run option, the public option." Correspondent Shannon Bream referred to "a government-run public option"; "a public option"; "a government-run option"; and "the public option."
The next morning, October 27, Sammon sent an email to the staffs of Special Report, Fox News Sunday, and FoxNews.com, as well as to other reporters and producers at the network. The subject line read: "friendly reminder: let's not slip back into calling it the 'public option.' "
Sammon instructed staff to refer on air to "government-run health insurance," the "government option," "the public option, which is the government-run plan," or -- when "necessary" -- "the so-called public option":
From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:23 AM
To: 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers
Subject: friendly reminder: let's not slip back into calling it the "public option"
1) Please use the term "government-run health insurance" or, when brevity is a concern, "government option," whenever possible.
2) When it is necessary to use the term "public option" (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation's lexicon), use the qualifier "so-called," as in "the so-called public option."
3) Here's another way to phrase it: "The public option, which is the government-run plan."
4) When newsmakers and sources use the term "public option" in our stories, there's not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.
Fox's senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, soon replied. He thanked Sammon for his email and said that he preferred Fox staffers use Sammon's third phrasing: "The public option, which is the government-run plan."
Fox News Senior Vice President Michael Clemente has now admitted that a "breakdown" allowed Foxnews.com to run a story about Shirley Sherrod's comments before she resigned. Prior to this statement, a barrage of Fox personalities aggressively pushed the claim that Fox had not run with the story before Sherrod's resignation.
Back in March of last year, while promoting its newly launched website TheFoxNation.com, Fox News ran advertisements telling viewers that it was "time to say 'no' to biased media and 'yes' to fair play and free speech."
In the year plus since the website's launch it has proven each and every day that it has no intention of "fair play" and has, if anything, emulated the very essence of "biased media."
Now, according to a Reuters report, Fox News is preparing to launch a new website targeting the Latino audience, FoxNewsLatino.com.
Interestingly, the public relations surrounding the conservative network's latest online endeavor seems eerily similar to the spin offered surrounding the launch of TheFoxNation.com. Check out these comments from Michael Clemente, Fox News' senior vice president of news editorial:
Clemente said he sees little risk that a Latino audience would avoid a website backed by Fox News because of the cable TV network's conservative pundits, whose views on issues like immigration can be at odds with the Latino community.
"I don't think there'll be conflict," he said. "We will do what we always do on the news side which is to be very fair and balanced on all sides of the issue in our reporting."
Notice that Clemente said FoxNewsLatino.com will be "fair and balanced." That's very similar to the language Fox News senior vice president Joel Cheatwood used in advance of launching TheFoxNation.com:
"I don't think this is going to be limited to die-hard Fox News fans," Cheatwood says. When registration begins in two months, users will be asked to abide by "core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse and fair and balanced coverage of the news," with insulting comments deleted.
So, I'm guessing it is only a matter of time until FoxNewsLatino.com serves as a platform for the immigrant bashing personalities that so regularly pepper the network's airwaves? Or perhaps they've hired Bill O'Reilly's buddy Lou Dobbs as the website's first editor?
At this point I wouldn't put anything past them.
By now you've likely heard the story. Appearing at a recent town hall meeting, Sen. Tom Coburn responded to a woman who had suggested that under President Obama's health care reform she could be put in jail for not having health insurance, the Okalhoma Republican saying, "the intention is not to put any one in jail. That makes for good TV news on FOX but that isn't the intention."
Then came Bill O'Reilly... and the lies.
On April 13, during an interview with Coburn, O'Reilly repeatedly insisted that "nobody" on Fox News advanced the "jail" assertion. He even laughably said, "we researched" and "[n]obody" on Fox "ever said you are going to jail if you don't buy health insurance." But as Media Matters went on to demonstrate in meticulous detail, Fox has relentlessly pushed the "jail" falsehood sometimes even on O'Reilly's own show.
Later in the week after being confronted with the truth, O'Reilly dug in deeper claiming nobody at Fox had pushed the jail-time falsehood about the "final bill." Talk about spin... there was no jail-time provision in the final bill or the previous House and Senate versions.
Now that we've established that Bill O'Reilly is so easily ambushed by the truth, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit this past November when FishbowlDC posted an internal Fox News memo acknowledging "a series of mistakes on FNC in recent months" and pledging to "quality check everything before it makes air, and we never having [sic] to explain, retract, qualify or apologize again." The memo added that "[m]istakes by any member of the show team that end up on air may result in immediate disciplinary action" and "jobs are on the line here."
The memo in question was written by Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente. Of course, Fox has made many, many -- truly many -- "mistakes" since November and still seems to be operating with a sense of impunity but the O'Reilly situation stands out for a few reasons.
First, O'Reilly essentially accused a U.S. Senator of making things up when in fact it was O'Reilly himself that was wrong. Second, O'Reilly has been directly contradicted by one of his colleagues, Neil Cavuto. And third, rather than correcting the public record with an apology to Coburn and moving on, O'Reilly has dug in even deeper with more lies on the subject.
I realize Clemente's memo was likely intended to speak more to production staff but aren't the lies spouted by Fox News hosts just as damaging as misleading on-air graphics and video?
What I wouldn't give to ask Clemente about his plans for dealing with O'Reilly's "mistakes?" After all, O'Reilly certainly qualifies as a "member of the show team" and his "mistakes" did "end up on air" so it only makes sense that he would face "immediate disciplinary action" perhaps placing his job "on the line" as well.
We can dream, can't we?
"This was a production error in which the copy editor changed a script and didn't alert the control room to update the video,'' Michael Clemente, senior vice president of news at FOX, sad this evening. "There will be an on-air explanation during Happening Now on Thursday."