Confronted with clear falsehood, Fox News scraps its “zero tolerance” policy

On November 23, Fishbowl DC published an internal Fox News memo detailing the network's new “zero tolerance” policy for errors. Today -- barely two weeks later -- Fox News attempted to explain why it wasn't going to take any action to correct the following December 4 segment in which three Fox hosts and the Fox News graphics department used a string of falsehoods to turn “59 percent” into “close to 100 percent.”

Here's what happened.

This morning, Media Matters' Simon Maloy caught Fox & Friends displaying a graphic that falsely suggested that 94 percent of respondents told Rasmussen Reports that it is somewhat or very likely that “scientists falsif[ied] research to support their own theories on global warming.”

As Simon explained:

What happened? Well, here's the Rasmussen poll Fox & Friends cited. They asked respondents: “In order to support their own theories and beliefs about global warming, how likely is it that some scientists have falsified research data?” According to the poll, 35 percent thought it very likely, 24 percent somewhat likely, 21 percent not very likely, and 5 percent not likely at all (15 percent weren't sure).

Fox News' graphics department added together the “very likely” and “somewhat likely” numbers to reach 59 percent, and called that new group “somewhat likely.” Then, for some reason, they threw in the 35 percent “very likely” as their own group, even though they already added that number to the “somewhat likely” percentage. Then they mashed together the “not very likely” and “not likely at all” groups, and threw the 15 percent who were unsure into the waste bin. Voila -- 120 percent.

As such, Fox News' presentation of the data made it seem as though 94 percent of Americans think it's at least “somewhat likely” that climate scientists falsify their research data.

So Media Matters sent an open letter to Fox News asking how the network would deal with the falsehood in light of its new policy of “zero tolerance for on-screen errors.”

Well, Politico's Michael Calderone reports that Fox News has decided to respond to the falsehood by claiming it didn't happen:

But Lauren Petterson, executive producer of Fox & Friends, told POLITICO that she sees no error in the graphic. And for that reason, there will be no reprimand of staff under the “zero tolerance” policy.

“We were just talking about three interesting pieces of information from Rasmussen,” Petterson said. “We didn't put on the screen that it added up to 100 percent.”


While Petterson maintains that Fox & Friend's didn't err in displaying the information from Rasmussen, she acknowledges that the presentation wasn't perfect. “The mistake I do see is we could have been a little clearer here,” she said.

Fox's position is absurd. As Calderone notes, “its understandable why a viewer would look at the numbers stacked up like this on-screen and assume that '94 percent of American's think it's at least ”somewhat likely" that climate scientists falsify their research data.' "

One “viewer” who apparently “assumed” that was ... Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy. Here's how he described the Rasmussen poll while Fox was showing that graphic:

DOOCY: Let's go ahead and take a look: Did scientists falsify research to support their own theories on global warming? This is a brand new Rasmussen poll. About 60 percent of you say, “Somewhat likely.” Thirty-five percent say, “Very likely.” So you got 90 -- you got a lot of people right there thinking it is likely, although 26 percent say, “Not very likely.”

So in purporting to explain the poll results, Doocy claimed that 60 percent of respondents answered, “Somewhat likely.” This is false. Only 24 percent of respondents said that; the “about 60 percent” figure actually combines the “somewhat likely” and “very likely” respondents. Doocy then suggested that a separate group of respondents -- 35 percent -- said, “Very likely.” Doocy then attempted to add those two figures together, saying, “So you got 90 -- you got a lot of people right there thinking it is likely.”

But the falsehoods didn't stop there. As soon as Doocy finished misrepresenting the poll, co-hosts Gretchen Carlson and Eric Bolling explained that since the poll had been conducted before the apparent theft and disclosure of climate scientists' private emails, the percentage of people who think scientists are falsifying data might now be “substantially higher” -- perhaps “close to 100 percent”:

CARLSON: In the spirit of fairness, I believe that question was asked before these emails were revealed, so that poll number may actually be different now.

BOLLING: Substantially higher?

CARLSON: It might be, yes.

BOLLING: Close to 100 percent now.

This is completely false. The right-wing media began lying about the Climatic Research Unit emails on November 20. The Rasmussen poll was conducted December 1-2. It included a question about the CRU emails. So, no, the current figure is probably not “substantially higher,” and it is certainly not “close to 100 percent.”

As Media Matters' Ari Rabin-Havt put it, “On Fox News, percentages don't add up to 100 and, apparently, 'zero tolerance' means unless we get caught.”