The Fox News "Build That" Flop

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

It's official. The "build that" smear effort that Fox News manufactured this summer, and the same one that was quickly adopted by the Republican Party and the Romney campaign, flopped with voters. Despite the relentless promotion by Fox, the unfounded allegation that Obama insulted small business owners failed to take hold because, as new research indicates, voters are increasingly skeptical of conservative attacks on Obama, signaling that the Fox culture of constant misinformation may do little to help Republicans distract voters.

According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, when respondents were asked about Obama's "build that" comment, described to them in full context, only 32 percent said it made them feel more negative towards the president. That compared to 62 percent who either felt more positive towards Obama (36 percent), or said the quote didn't make a difference in their assessment of the president.

By comparison, as the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted, when asked about Mitt Romney's controversial remarks about 47 percent of Americans who see themselves as victims and in search of government handouts, 45 percent of respondents said they viewed the Republican candidate "more negative," while 23 percent said "more positive," and 24 percent said "not much difference."

You'll note that when Romney's "47 percent" comments became news they were part of a direct quote and were presented in their original, unedited form. The results were damaging for the candidate. As for "build that," they were hyped with wild abandon by Fox and delivered without a trace of context or honesty.

Fox succeeded in creating a campaign uproar over a single sentence from an Obama July 13 campaign appearance, and by ripping that one sentence out of context. The stunt was called out by one fact-checker ("out of context"), after another ("taken wildly out of context") after another ("ignores the larger context of the president's meaning").

Yet Fox remained relentless with its promotion of "build that," and the insinuation that Obama had besmirched small business owners by claiming they didn't build their own success. (Obama's "build that" comment was in reference to building community and infrastructure, not businesses.) Fox was soon joined by the Romney campaign, along with Karl Rove's anti-Obama super PAC who all mislead viewers and voters about what Obama said.

In the end though, it didn't' stick. And that seems to speak to a larger trend of voters being increasingly weary of partisan attempts to use Obama's words against him.

As Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo reported, a focus group of undecided voters conducted by Republican Haley Barbour's firm found that participants "were resistant to judging Obama by his quotes in comparison to Romney, often because they assumed they were taken out of context."


"Whenever we showed direct quotes from President Obama over the last few years, voters consistently say that this is probably taken out of context and they don't seem to hold that same standard with Governor Romney," pollster Linda DiVall, who conducted the Virginia focus groups, said in a conference call announcing the findings Monday.

Time and again this campaign, critics have tried to use Obama's words against him, most famously by waving around "build that." And Fox News has played a central part in that quote strategy. But polling and focus group research indicates it hasn't worked because voters simply assume those quotes are taken out of context.

Call it the Fox effect.

In that regard, the footnote to the  "build that" smear campaign is a positive one, because ultimately the Fox-led obfuscation flopped.

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