Click on Fox News these days and you'll more than likely see Glenn Beck or Megyn Kelly or any other of the network's professional news manglers talking in loud, outraged tones about how the Justice Department's decision not to pursue voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party shows that the Obama administration is racially biased in favor of black people and against whites.
It's hardly surprising. Fox News has long been pushing the notion that the first black president is an anti-white racist -- sometimes more subtly, sometimes not -- so it makes sense that they'd be all over the New Black Panthers. And the story first got rolling in the fringier corners of the right-wing online media, from which Fox News regularly and shamelessly poaches news content.
There are, of course, a few problems.
First, the whole story is phony. Completely bogus. Manufactured out of thinly-veiled racism and even thinner air. It doesn't even make rational sense - why would the Obama team, renowned for their political savvy, stick out their necks for an extremist hate group?
Second, you won't just see it on Fox News. You'll also see it on CNN. You'll see White House press secretary Robert Gibbs asked about it. Already conservatives are complaining that the media are ignoring the story. Before long you'll see other major media outlets reporting on the “controversy” and how the administration is facing accusations of “reverse racism.”
The New Black Panther story is in the middle stages of the Fox Cycle -- the process by which the false, ridiculous ramblings of right-wing bloggers and partisan media hacks can, with a generous assist from Fox News, make it to the front pages of the New York Times.
Put simply, the Fox Cycle begins with the blogosphere. Conservative bloggers seize on a story and start twisting it and injecting falsehoods. Before long, Fox News catches on and, usually with Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity playing the lead role, devotes obscene amounts of coverage to the bogus story. The bloggers take Fox News' heavy coverage as validation of the story's veracity, and before long they join with the conservative network in carping that the rest of the media are ignoring it. Soon after, the rest of the media relent and start covering the story, at which point it becomes a mini-frenzy. Then the pundits chime in, crediting Fox News for giving the story legs and being ahead of the rest of media. Finally, long after the damage has been done and the media have largely moved on, the facts emerge and the story is confirmed to be junk.
It's a cycle that's been repeated over and over in the past, with varying degrees of success. The ACORN videos, Obama's “relationship” with William Ayers, and the “Climategate” non-scandal managed to make it all the way through the cycle, inflicting irreparable and unjustified damage to the community organizing movement and the reputations of respected climate scientists, not to mention the President of the United States, who was at one point accused of “palling around with terrorists.”
But there are many, many others that never quite made it all the way through. Remember when Obama threatened to close an Air Force base to get Ben Nelson's vote on health care? Or when he ogled a young girl at the G8? Or when he attended a madrassa as a young boy? Or when he put commies on his Christmas tree? Each story was thoroughly ridiculous, illogical, and factless, each had its roots in the right-wing blogosphere, and each one made its way to Fox News, where they were treated not just credulously but as the unvarnished truth.
They never made it far past the moment when Fox News picked them up, and went on to die richly deserved deaths. But in some ways these failed smears are more instructive than the stories that made it through the Fox Cycle. They demonstrate that Fox News and the right-wingers who set its news agenda are willing to broadcast pretty much anything - no matter how ridiculously self-refuting - if it passes ideological muster. And on rare occasions they're rewarded with media circuses a la ACORN, Ayers, and Climategate.
And those moments serve as a damning critique of the rest of the media, who are supposed to act as barriers against such toxicity. They covered those stories largely because Fox News forced their hand, and there are any number of “madrassa” moments that speak warning to never let Fox News set your agenda.