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Fox News' rhetoric echoes Ailes' long history of race-baiting

Under its president, Roger Ailes, Fox News routinely employs racially charged appeals to foment opposition to the Obama administration and other progressive figures, such as Glenn Beck's comments that President Obama is a “racist” and “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” Before launching the Fox News Channel, Ailes worked as a media consultant for several Republican campaigns where evidence shows he similarly appealed to racial fears and biases for political gain, and as executive producer for Rush Limbaugh's television show, during which Limbaugh made several controversial statements.

  • Ailes' political and media history is littered with race-based appeals

    As Nixon campaign consultant, Ailes reportedly looked for a “Wallaceite cab-driver” to bring up race at televised town hall meetings. As media consultant for Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign, Ailes directed televised town hall meetings in which Nixon answered questions from a supportive audience. According to Rick Pearlstein, Ailes suggested Nixon take a question from “A good, mean, Wallaceite cab-driver. Wouldn't that be great? Some guy to sit there and say, 'Awright, Mac, what about these niggers?” Pearlstein wrote, “Nixon then could abhor the uncivility of the words, while endorsing a 'moderate' version of the opinion. Ailes walked up and down a nearby taxi stand until he found a cabbie who fit the bill.”

    From Nixonland by Rick Pearlstein:

    The panel questioners were unrehearsed. But they were also an effect of stagecraft. They were like those heterogeneous World War II-picture platoons: here a Jewish physician; there the president of an immigrant advocacy group; an outnumbered newsman or two to show the man in the arena wasn't ducking them; a surburban housewife; a businessman. In Philadelphia they hit a snag with the Jewish physician turned out to be a psychiatrist. “You should have heard Len on the phone when I told him I had one on the panel,” one staffer related. “If I've ever heard a guy's voice turn white, that was it.” (Garment had remembered his evening with Nixon in Elmer Bobst's Florida pool house: "anything except see a shrink.")

    Ailes hit upon an idea for a substitute: “A good, mean, Wallaceite cab-driver. Wouldn't that be great? Some guy to sit there and say, 'Awright, Mac, what about these niggers?'” Nixon then could abhor the uncivility of the words, while endorsing a “moderate” version of the opinion. Ailes walked up and down a nearby taxi stand until he found a cabbie who fit the bill. [Nixonland, p. 331]

    Ailes on 1988 strategy against Dukakis: “The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.” Ailes was credited, along with Lee Atwater, with helping George H.W. Bush come from behind to beat Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. Part of that winning strategy included portraying Dukakis as “soft on crime” and connecting him with convicted felon Willie Horton. Horton committed assault, armed robbery, and rape in Maryland during a weekend furlough -- a program granting temporary release to prisoners that Dukakis supported but was created under the previous governor. While the Bush campaign did not produce the Horton ad that was widely criticized as “racist,” Ailes did produce the "Revolving Door" ad that similarly attacked Dukakis for the furlough program. The campaign also created "The Risk," a negative ad that referenced “a furlough escapee” who “terrorized a Maryland couple.” Ailes has been quoted as saying, “The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.”

    Ailes' 1989 attacks on Dinkins for Giuliani “prey[ed] upon the fears of the Jewish community.” As media consultant for Rudy Giuliani's first mayoral campaign, Ailes placed an ad in a prominent Yiddish Newspaper, The Algemeiner Journal, that featured an image of Guiliani's opponent David Dinkins -- who would become New York City's first African-American mayor -- alongside Jesse Jackson. The ad also displayed a photo of Giuliani with President George H.W. Bush, and the headline stated, ''Let the people of New York choose their own destiny" [New York Times, 9/30/1989]. Howard Kurtz reported that “Ira Silverman, vice president of the American Jewish Committee, said the Giuliani ad seemed a 'legitimate campaign tactic,' but said that he found it 'troubling' because it 'preys upon the fears of the Jewish community' ” [Washington Post, 9/29/1989]. National Public Radio has further reported: “Giuliani also tagged Dinkins as a 'Jesse Jackson Democrat.' That was an appeal to the city's large contingent of Jewish voters, who had despised Jackson ever since he used an anti-Semitic epithet to describe New York City. In this context, Giuliani's signature issue of crime took on racial overtones, says political consultant Norman Adler.” One of Giuliani's ads featured a New Yorker stating, “I'm tired of living in New York and being scared.” From a November 4, 1989, New York Times article:

    A new Giuliani television advertisement, aimed largely at wavering Democrats, features six apparently ordinary New Yorkers, who describe Mr. Dinkins as ''a follower.'' They complain, among other things, about ''the crowd'' around Mr. Dinkins, including Robert (Sonny) Carson, a former campaign functionary who later proclaimed himself to be anti-white. Another person in the commercial says, ''I'm tired of living in New York and being scared.''

    Ailes produced Limbaugh's television show. Ailes served as executive producer for Limbaugh's syndicated late-night television show, which ran from 1992 to 1996. Limbaugh made several controversial statements on air, many of them documented by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, including his assertion in response to Spike Lee's recommendation that African-American children be permitted to skip school to view Malcolm X: “Spike, if you're going to do that, let's complete the education experience. You should tell them that they should loot the theater and then blow it up on their way out" [Nexis transcript of Limbaugh's show on October 29, 1992]. And after Sen. Strom Thurmond -- who in 1948 ran for president on a States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat) platform that advocated racial segregation -- told a gay service member during a 1993 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on gays in the military, “Your lifestyle is not normal,” and asked if he had every sought psychiatric help, Limbaugh stated of Thurmond: “He is not encumbered by trying to be politically correct. He's not encumbered by all of the -- the so-called new niceties and proprieties. He just says it, and if you want to know what America used to be -- and a lot of people wish it still were -- then you listen to Strom Thurmond.” Limbaugh added, “He got a standing ovation. Now people -- people applauded that. People applaud -- because -- you know, Strom Thurmond can say it because he's 90 years old and people say, Ah, he's just an old coot. He's from the old days,' and so forth. But that's what most people think. They just don't have the guts to say it. That's why they applaud when somebody does say it that directly and that simply” [Nexis transcript of Limbaugh's show, May 11, 1993].

    Fox News under Ailes routinely engages in race-baiting

    Beck caps off week of race-baiting by calling Obama a “racist.” During the week of July 23, Glenn Beck put forth a steady stream of race-baiting and race-based fearmongering on his television show and radio program. Beck's comments culminated in his remarks that President Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” and “is, I believe, a racist,” a statement he subsequently claimed to stand by, in spite of growing criticism.

    Hannity just can't “get over” his Rev. Wright obsession. Sean Hannity -- who claimed he “broke the story” about Obama's controversial former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, during the 2008 campaign -- mentioned Wright on at least 45 different episodes of his Fox News show between Obama's inauguration and July 31. Indeed, his repeated references to Wright -- most recently in discussions about Obama and race relations in America -- have prompted his own guests to comment, “You always want to bring up Reverend Wright,” and “Sean, you need to get over it.”

    Rev. Wright redux: Media use Jones controversy to revive Wright smear. Conservative media figures used the controversy over former White House adviser Van Jones' past statements as an excuse to again link Obama to Wright. On Fox News, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Charles Krauthammer all invoked Wright while discussing Jones in order to question Obama's associations.

    Guest-hosting O'Reilly, Ingraham claims Obama “channeled his best Jeremiah Wright accent” in NAACP speech. While guest-hosting Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, radio host Laura Ingraham stated, “Last night President Obama spoke to the NAACP and channeled his best Jeremiah Wright accent.” After airing a clip of Obama's remarks, Ingraham added, “Now, why does the first African-American feel the need to affect an accent that he clearly does not possess? Or is that the way people speak in Honolulu? It's a cheap attempt to pander to an audience that already supports him” [The O'Reilly Factor, 7/17/09].

    After asking, “Do the Obamas have a race problem of their own?” Hannity continued to smear Barack and Michelle Obama. Hannity falsely asserted that Wright “honored [Louis] Farrakhan for lifetime achievement, saying, quote, 'He truly epitomized greatness.' ” In fact, the managing editor of a magazine founded by the church wrote those words, not the minister. Hannity also stated that Michelle Obama “wrote in her [undergraduate] thesis that we see at Princeton, you know, the belief -- 'because of the belief that blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor.' ” However, as the full context of the passage makes clear, she was discussing views that black students who attended Princeton in the 1970s may have held, not asserting her own views [Hannity's America, 3/5/08].

    Ignoring Obama's statement on award, Hannity suggested that Obama “associated” himself with Farrakhan. Hannity suggested that Obama had “associated” himself with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who had received an award from a magazine founded by Obama's church. But Hannity, who described Farrakhan as “an anti-Semite racist,” did not note that Obama issued a statement “condemn[ing]” Farrakhan's “anti-Semitic statements” and saying of the award: "[I]t is not a decision with which I agree" [Hannity & Colmes, 1/18/09].

    Morris: McCain “doesn't have to” engage in Willie Horton-like campaign because O'Reilly is already doing so. After airing portions of a controversial sermon by Wright, Bill O'Reilly -- who described Wright's comments as “anti-American, to say the least” -- asked Dick Morris , “If you were [Sen. John] McCain, do you use this against Obama?” Morris replied, “He doesn't have to. You just did. And the talk radio people around the country” will. Morris continued: "[T]he other media, the other conservative media can make a big deal of it" [The O'Reilly Factor, 3/13/08].

    Hannity smeared Gates as anti-white radical by distorting 1994 interview. Hannity repeatedly misrepresented Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s 1994 interview on C-SPAN's Booknotes to suggest that Gates had recently said he agreed with Malcolm X that the “white man was the devil” and to smear Gates as “extreme” and a “radical.” In fact, in that interview, Gates was talking about events in 1959, specifically his witnessing his mother's positive reaction to a documentary they watched together about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam [Hannity, 7/28/09].

    Conservative media figures falsely suggest that Reich proposed excluding white males from stimulus package. Michelle Malkin and Hannity have falsely asserted or suggested that Robert Reich, speaking at a congressional forum, proposed that jobs created by the economic stimulus package should exclude white males. In fact, Reich has repeatedly stated that he favors a stimulus plan that “includ[es] women and minorities, and the long-term unemployed” in addition to skilled professionals and white male construction workers, not one that is solely limited to them.

    O'Reilly tease: "[S]hould white Americans be concerned about Judge Sotomayor?" O'Reilly stated, “Next on the rundown: Should white Americans be concerned about Judge Sotomayor? Later, far-left Hispanic group says if you oppose the judge, you could be racist” [The O'Reilly Factor, 7/13/09].

    Fox News is just asking about Sotomayor's “wise Latina” remarks: “New Racism?” During On The Record, guest-host Martha MacCallum stated, “The battle over Sonia Sotomayor's nomination intensifies tonight. Some conservatives continue to hammer Sotomayor and they are focused on this comment, which we've seen a lot this week.” MacCallum then aired text of Sotomayor's comments under a headline stating, “New Racism?” [On the Record, 5/31/09].

    Beck: Sotomayor “sure sounds like a racist here.” Beck said Sotomayor's “wise Latina” comment “smacks of racism” and is “one of the most outrageous racist remarks I've heard.” Beck later added: “I hate the charges and cries of racism. But when I hear this -- I mean, gee. She sure sounds like a racist here” [Glenn Beck, 5/26/09].

    Reporting on Sotomayor, “identity politics,” and “the immigration debate,” Fox shows video of apparent immigrants in detention. Wendell Goler reported, “Many observers saw President Obama's election as a validation of a post-racial campaign, and they see identity politics in Sotomayor's nomination -- an appeal to Hispanic voters, many of whom turned against Republicans in the immigration debate. But [Linda] Chavez, whose group doesn't support Sotomayor, says the Hispanic community doesn't march in lock-step.” As he spoke, Fox News showed footage of apparent immigrants in detention [Special Report, 5/29/09].

    Tucker Carlson claimed Sotomayor made “racist statement.” Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson claimed that Sotomayor had said that “because of your race or gender, you're a better or worse judge, that female Latina judges are likely to render wiser decisions than white male judges.” Carlson continued, “That's a racist statement, by any calculation” [The Live Desk, 5/26/09].

    Krauthammer declares Sotomayor “a believer in the racial spoils system.” Krauthammer stated on Special Report that Sotomayor's dismissal of the Ricci case “tells us that she really is a believer in the racial spoils system” [Special Report, 5/26/09].

    Rev. Peterson: Obama was elected “mostly by black racists and white guilty people.” Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson said, “I think we all agree that Barack Obama was elected by, mostly by black racists and white guilty people” [Hannity, 2/3/09]. Peterson also asserted that Obama is “no different than” Rev. Wright and the NAACP, who he claimed “hate white Americans, and they especially hate the white man” [Glenn Beck, 6/24/09].