Media Matters: Fox News isn't news -- this is news?

The problems with Fox News aren't confined to “certain reports.” Nor are they confined to Fox's “opinion programming.” Fox has organized and promoted campaigns against the Obama administration. Fox has allowed its personalities to use the network to raise money for conservative PACs -- money that is used for more attacks on the administration. And Fox News' actual “news” is anything but. As Media Matters President Eric Burns pointed out this week, “Fox News is the story.”

It is perhaps not unsurprising but still disappointing that several in the mainstream media rallied around Fox News this week following the White House's well-warranted castigation of the network as an “arm” of the Republican Party. The most prominent defense of “one of our sister organizations” came from ABC News' Jake Tapper, who was baffled as to why the White House would declare Fox News “not a news organization.” On Tuesday, he had the following exchange with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

Tapper: It's escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it's appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one --


Gibbs: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.

Tapper: But that's a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say --

Gibbs: ABC --

Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?

Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o'clock tonight. Or 5 o'clock this afternoon.

Tapper: I'm not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I'm talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a “news organization” -- why is that appropriate for the White House to say?

Gibbs: That's our opinion.

Of course, Tapper was lauded by Fox News and other conservatives. (Which is not the first time.) Glenn Beck called Tapper a “watchdog of freedom,” while Sean Hannity praised Tapper's ability to “recognize the great quality of Fox News.” Bill O'Reilly said Tapper did “pretty good” and “really challenged” Gibbs, and the Fox & Friends gang called him a “great reporter” for his defense of Fox. Lou Dobbs called it an “extraordinary exchange.”

But Tapper's real mistake was suggesting that the White House's criticism of Fox News amounted only to criticism of their “opinion programming or issues ... with certain reports.” Tapper's remarks echoed Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente's comments from last week: “It's astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming.”

Putting aside the suggestion that the relentless and vicious assaults on Barack Obama and the administration by Beck, Hannity, and O'Reilly alone shouldn't have any bearing on how the White House treats the network, Tapper is ignoring that those shows set the agenda for the rest of the network. And of course, Tapper is ignoring that the attacks of Fox's triumvirate dictate his own network's -- and the rest of the media's -- agenda as well. Is there any doubt that Glenn Beck's war on ACORN -- he's reportedly mentioned ACORN 1,224 times (versus 50 mentions of Al Qaeda) since his Fox News show started -- is the primary reason his network and other media are still talking about the organization? Beck and his fellow Fox News personalities have repeatedly called for Obama administration officials to be fired, asked viewers to dig up information on administration officials, and fearmongered about Obama, his advisers, and his policies. How can that not affect Fox's “news” coverage of those same officials?

Fox's “news” staff regularly conflates commentary and news reporting. The network's “news” reporting is full of smears, falsehoods, deceptive editing, and GOP talking points. Just Thursday morning, the Fox & Friends crew parroted a House Republican press release and repeated its claim that the stimulus impact is “6 million jobs shy of what the administration promised us” since the administration stated “that 3.5 million jobs would be created. And, in fact, the United States has lost 2.7 million since the stimulus plan.” However, the administration estimated 3.5 millions jobs created or saved by 2011. It's so much easier to read GOP talking points than actually do journalism!

The problems with Fox News aren't confined to “certain reports.” Nor are they confined to Fox's “opinion programming.”

Fox has organized and promoted campaigns against the administration. Fox has allowed its personalities to use the network to raise money for conservative PACs -- money that is used for more attacks on the administration.

And Fox News' actual “news” is anything but.

As Media Matters President Eric Burns pointed out this week, “Fox News is the story.”

Beck's little red book of smears

On the walls of the Forbidden City, looming over Beijing's Tiananmen Square, there is a giant portrait of Mao Zedong. Mao's specter similarly looms over Glenn Beck's show.

Beck has figured out that Chairman Mao is the best vehicle for him to attack progressives as “communists.” After all, communism is still kicking in China -- well, not really, but just enough for Beck to launch McCarthyism 2.0: Great Wall Edition.

And as was the case with Joseph McCarthy's crusade, no connection is too tenuous, no comment too innocuous. Beck's favorite target du jour is White House communications director Anita Dunn -- no doubt because she was the first to call out Fox News for its “war against Barack Obama and the White House.”

Beck managed to dig up a speech Dunn gave to graduating students earlier this year in which Dunn called Mao one of her “favorite political philosophers” (she also mentioned Mother Teresa) and related this anecdote:

In 1947, when Mao Zedong was being challenged within his own party on his plan to basically take China over, Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist Chinese held the cities, they had the army, they had the air force, they had everything on their side. And people said, “How can you win? How can you do this? How can you do this against all of the odds against you?” And Mao Zedong said, you know, “You fight your war, and I'll fight mine.” And think about that for a second.

And to think that she was allowed to encourage students to follow their own paths and not do what they are told! Wait a minute, isn't that pretty much the message Beck preaches every day?

Well, no matter. It doesn't matter what she said -- it's that she quoted Chairman Mao! Gasp! You know, like John McCain did -- repeatedly. And Newt Gingrich did. And numerous other conservatives did.

Dunn's reference to Mao even made its way to a straight news story on Monday's Special Report (take note, Jake Tapper).

On Monday, Beck ranted that, because of the overlap in the message of volunteerism from President Obama's “Corporation for National and Community Service and a call for more service and volunteerism” on network television from the Entertainment Industry Foundation, "[i]t's almost like we're living in Mao's China right now" and noted that NBC executive Mitch Metcalf is an “EIF board member,” exclaiming, "[M]y God, it can't be." But, predictably, Beck's wild conspiracy theory overlooks that Fox Broadcasting Co. -- which airs Fox News programming and, like Fox News, is owned by News Corp. -- is also participating in EIF's volunteer initiative and has a vice president who sit on EIF's board of directors with Metcalf. Further, News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch sits on EIF's “honorary board of governors.”

On Tuesday, Beck moved on to attacking “manufacturing czar” Ron Bloom because he once employed Mao's quote that power stems from the barrel of a gun -- a quote so threatening it can be found on a junior-high boy's Rage Against the Machine T-shirt.

Beck has taken Dunn's and Bloom's employment of these quotes to ridiculous levels, claiming Mao is “the man that [Dunn] turns to most” and that Bloom is the latest in “long line of White House officials who seem to just love Chairman Mao.”

(Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs followed Beck's lead again, attacking both Dunn and Bloom over the quotes.)

And of course, it should be noted that Beck's (Chinese) communist witch hunt goes all the way to the top.

In one of his countless bizarre rants in front of a chalkboard last week, Beck started with the premise, “If the president of the United States, Barack Obama, said to you, 'You know who I really love? Chairman Mao.' ” With a premise that absurd, you can only guess where it headed. He then proceeded to explain how people like Van Jones, Valerie Jarrett, and John Podesta were somehow used to “keep separating” Obama from Mao so people wouldn't see the direct connection between the two (the “six degrees of Obama” ). You know, because President Obama loves Chairman Mao.

This from a guy who wrote that McCarthy made the “cries” of communism and socialism a “joke.”

Other notable quotes this week:

  • “The Obama administration going to issue a new medical marijuana policy today, which I'm frankly thankful for folks, because we're going to need to be stoned to live for the next three and a half years.” -- Rush Limbaugh on Monday. Limbaugh cleverly dubbed the proposal “Don't Ask, Don't Smell.”
  • "[W]hy doesn't President Obama have his children vaccinated in front of us on TV?" -- Deirdre Imus on Wednesday's Hannity expressing concerns about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine.
  • “Jerome Corsi, a terrific author, an amazing, amazing book, an important book.” -- Lou Dobbs on his radio show Wednesday following an interview with birther and widely discredited smear merchant Corsi.
  • “What was interesting to me is, just from my perspective having been in a White House, there is a network, MSNBC, that I could have said that about the evening anchors, or some people in the morning or -- I could have taken that tack, but I thought it was not the right thing to do, and I think it's mostly because it's really unproductive, it feels un-American, and it's not inspiring.” -- former White House press secretary and Fox News contributor Dana Perino, ignoring her own role in advancing Bush administration attacks on NBC.

This week's media columns

In this week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows, Jamison Foser exposes the absurdities of the comparisons between Obama and Richard Nixon, and Eric Boehlert explains why the NFL and corporate America reject Limbaugh and Beck.

In The Friday Rush, a review of Limbaugh's shows during the past week, Greg Lewis discusses how Rush's conspiracy theorizing is taking a backseat to Glenn Beck's.

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Brian Frederick, deputy editorial director at Media Matters for America. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Colorado.