Media Matters: Fox News, a Beck revival, and the fringe “Woodstock” that wasn't

It should come as no surprise that March 27's kickoff to the Tea Party Express III tour in Searchlight, Nevada, transformed Fox News hosts into giddy adolescents awaiting what “organizers” had “hop[ed]” this event would become: “a conservative Woodstock.”

Fox News has promoted and defended the Tea Party movement since that movement's inception in early 2009. It should come as no surprise, then, that March 27's kickoff to the Tea Party Express III bus tour in Searchlight, Nevada, transformed Fox hosts into giddy adolescents awaiting what “organizers” had “hop[ed]” this event would become: "a conservative Woodstock." The rally -- which was sponsored by Republican consultants and headlined by Fox News' resident Tea Party hero, Sarah Palin -- centered itself around defeating Sen. Harry Reid and other members of Congress who support health care reform. But aggressively promoting the rally was really just another day in Fox News' continued political activism.

Six hours before the rally started, Fox & Friends Saturday co-host Clayton Morris was already unable to contain his excitement, as he declared the Nevada rally was a “huge day for the tea party” as they begin “getting ready to rumble.” Co-host Dave Briggs concluded that “all eyes” were on the Nevada rally that day.

Fox's Neil Cavuto was hosting a two-hour health care special, but that didn't keep him from repeatedly profiling the upcoming rally. Fueling the hype, he announced, “We're going to be going back and forth to Nevada for something that doesn't take place for another five hours or so.” He showed footage of the protesters gathering for the rally and concluded “God bless these folks.” On the same show, Fox's Casey Stegall -- live on the ground in Searchlight -- offered a bit of that “fair and balanced” analysis that only Fox can give: "[There is] a real energy that you feel from the people who are out here ... this is a very grassroots campaign." (Note: The Tea Party Express is not a “grassroots campaign,” it's run by Republican consultants.)

Promoting both their employee and movement of choice simultaneously, Fox carried “keynote speaker” Palin's speech live in its entirety. Afterward, Stegall described Palin as a “rock star” and reported which Palin comments caused the crowd to go “really wild” and “nuts.”

And a fringe party wouldn't be complete without the ramblings and rantings of Andrew Breitbart. In exclusive footage taken by Media Matters, Breitbart attacked George Soros and John Podesta as the biggest enemies of freedom, ranted about ACORN, and, of course, dubbed Media Matters and Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert “a vile group of people.”

In another of our exclusive clips, Fox News' Griff Jenkins attempted to interview a child about her feelings on how the “costs of the government might be on your shoulders.” That one went about as well as could be expected.

But, alas, even after all of Fox's fevered promotion and coverage, “Conservative Woodstock” it was not. As Boehlert noted: “Woodstock's approximate attendance: 500,000. Searchlight's approximate attendance: 8,000.” I'm sure Fox isn't feeling too defeated, though. There's always April 15.

Not to be outdone by his Fox friend Sarah Palin, Fox's resident "rodeo clown" Glenn Beck spent the same day hosting his “day-long American Revival for 8,000 die-hard fanatics." There, Beck touted his “100-year plan” for the nation, as well as a “budget” for America devised by experts he promised to roll out in the weeks to come, complete with tax reductions down to a rate of 12 percent.

To combat all of those pesky accusations that the right-wing media has been inciting the fringe to violence, Beck made sure to add this jewel into his monologue:

“Get God on your side, and then pick up a hammer...with non-violence, take your hammer and POUND that truth every day and everything that doesn't fit, toss it out! We have the truth. ... [W]ith non-violence, be the anvil of truth every single day!”

Well. That's reassuring.

Beck wept several times during the seven-hour long revival -- no doubt a sign of the genuine “love” and “fear” he has for this country. The most notable line from the revival was rampant fear-mongering right out of his radio and TV playbook: “If we don't face the truth right now, we'll be dead in five years -- this country can't survive.” As a result, he declared that he is “stockpiling food.” You should do the same.

Other stories this week

Obama nominee with hunt continues: Targeting Donald Berwick

Showing no signs of giving up on Glenn Beck's pledge to “take the administration down,” Fox continued its witch hunt of Obama nominees this week, by turning their arrows on Donald Berwick, whom Obama reportedly will nominate to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.

Attacking comments Berwick made regarding the racial disparity in U.S. life expectancies, a front-page Fox Nation graphic twisted Berwick's words to say Berwick thinks that “U.S. Health Care Is Racist.” Fox Nation linked to and excerpted from a WorldNetDaily article, headlined “Obama Medicare pick urges 'radical transfer of power'; Claims U.S. system measures patients' quality of care by 'color of their skin.' ” In other words, the Obama wants reparations for black people meme just will not die.

But as we noted, the context of the comments WND cited show that Berwick was making the point that there is a well-documented racial disparity in life expectancies in the United States.

Furthermore, a 2009 report from the Department of Health and Human Services substantiated Berwick's statement, showing that life expectancy is shorter for black women and men than it is for their white counterparts. And incidentally, Berwick has received praise from Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, the American Medical Association, the AARP, and many more.

Berwick probably shouldn't take Fox's attack on him personally. He may have been the network's newest target, but Fox News also found time to regurgitate false and baseless smears of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appointee Chai Feldblum, Obama court of appeals nominee Goodwin Liu, and National Labor Relations Board appointee Craig Becker. Who knows what next week will hold?

Obama's government takeover of ... education?

The conservative media has been complaining for some time now about Obama's supposed “government takeover” of health care through his reform legislation. But last week, they came up with a new one: Apparently, the bill was a government takeover of education, too!

It all started when Democrats included the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act in the health care reconciliation package. The provision simply eliminates a program that allowed private lenders to issue student loans that were backed by the federal government, and allows the government to distribute the loans directly instead. Essentially, they're cutting out the middleman, thus saving “more than $60 billion over the next 10 years.” Since “cutting government spending” has been a right-wing meme for some time now, one would think Fox and its friends would declare victory that their year-long activism has paid off.

Oh no. Instead, Fox & Friends' Gretchen Carlson falsely claimed the provision means that students can now only get loans “through the government.” Rush Limbaugh's substitute host Mark Steyn took the fear-mongering one step further with his claim that “federalization of college loans is about making it easier for the government to control what is taught” in college.

Meanwhile, Politics Daily columnist Matt Lewis and the Wall Street Journal have been pushing the dubious claim that the provision was added to benefit, in the words of Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, who hosted Lewis, “some of” the Democrats' “nonprofit pals.” Their evidence? Apparently one of the “several dozen nonprofit firms” that could be affected by the provision retained a lobbyist who is friends with a Rep. George Miller (D-CA). The conservative media just LOVES to push baseless claims about Democratic vote-buying, but they never seem to have the evidence to back it up.

But for Fox News, hyping a false claim about the Obama administration is just another day at the studio.

This week's media columns

This week's media column from Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert examines Fox News' role in inciting and justifying violence among right-wing anti-health care reform protesters.

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