"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?"
Here's how the document described the segment featuring Malkin [emphasis added]:
8:15 (B-BLOCK) - MICHELE MALKIN - CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST & FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR - OBAMA CAMPAIGN CUTS OFF TV STATION, AFTER BIDEN ANGERED BY QUESTIONS. IS THIS A PREVIEW OF THINGS TO COME? WILL THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS ROOM BE LIKE THIS? CAN YOU NOT ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS? WILL THEY SUPPRESS THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS? ISN'T THIS WHAT HAPPENS IN COMMUNIST COUNTRIES? ((DENVER, CO)) ((STEVE AND GRETCHEN))
And here's Doocy's actual exchange with Malkin:
DOOCY: And after that line of tough questioning the Biden camp called the TV station in Orlando and said, "You are not getting any more interviews for the balance of the election cycle." Michelle Malkin is joining us right now. Of course, she is a conservative columnist and a Fox News contributor. She's out there in Denver right now. All right,Michelle, they pulled the plug on any future interviews because of that tough line of questioning. Your observations, please.
MALKIN: There's a chill wind blowing, and I think that this does signal what the future of the White House press corps would be under an Obama-Biden administration. How dare Barbara West of WFTV confront Joe Biden with some basic, simple questions that anyone who wasn't totally in the tank for Obama would feel comfortable asking? And --yes, so she's been blacklisted, and apparently the station has been bombarded by Obama cultists who are offended that she was so quote-unquote rude and quote-unquote combative to the increasingly erratic and super-gaffe-tastic Joe Biden.
DOOCY: Well, you know, Michelle, the whole thing is -- a couple weeks ago, a tough question was asked about "spreading the wealth around" by Joe The Plumber. What happens to him? He gets investigated. Now, Barbara --
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): West.
DOOCY: -- West out in Orlando, she asks some hard questions, and the station gets shut down. You know, your comment about a chill is perhaps accurate because people will think twice before they ask something like that. But isn't that what they do in socialist countries where, you know, "I don't like that, you're done"?
MALKIN: Yeah, like I said, this is a preview of things to come. And I think it's particularly interesting timing, this Barbara West interview with Biden at the same time that now we have this 2001 tape, as you guys mentioned this morning, where Obama is musing about how best to redistribute wealth. It's not about whether it's a good thing or not, whether it's American or not, it's whether he should do it through the courts or legislatively.
But Fox wasn't done with the West-Biden interview. That night, West appeared on the October 27 O'Reilly Factor, where Bill O'Reilly noted that West had "used some buzz words like 'Marxism' " but declared that her "questions were fine":
WEST: I went into the interview with the mindset that we had some serious questions and serious issues in this country that need to be answered. And we're running out of time to getting the answers to those issues.
O'REILLY: But you used some buzz words like "Marxism." I thought your questions were fine. I don't know whether I would have phrased them quite that way because you gave him a little wiggle room to do a couple of things. There's no doubt that income redistribution is controversial. And I brought it up with Barack Obama myself. But he wanted to paint you as a far right person just by the tone of your questions. Do you see what he wanted to do?
WEST: Yes, indeed. I -- I think that he would like to still do that. But, I am not. I am a reporter who works for a television station that asks probing, penetrating, straightforward, challenging questions. That is our job.
"You did your job," said O'Reilly. "I didn't have any problem with it."
The following morning, West was back on Fox News, this time appearing on the October 28, 2008, Fox & Friends. Co-host Gretchen Carlson declared it her "favorite story of the day."
"You're completely professional," Carlson told West at the conclusion of the segment. "I know that you were labeled as 'unprofessional' by the Obama campaign after that interview. Very professional."