Media Matters: Fox News: “Voice of the opposition” on health care reform

Fox News has made defeating health care reform its top priority, as the channel's hosts, reporters and pundits have pushed a steady stream of falsehoods and smears about “death panels,” euthanasia, deficit explosions, the public option, constitutionality, rationing, abortion, and socialized medicine.

Last March, Fox News VP Bill Shine was asked how his channel would adjust to life under a Democratic Congress and White House. Shine responded with a simple plan: Fox can be the “voice of opposition.”

Nearly a year later, Shine's strategy proved correct as Fox News has opposed the White House on nearly every issue: economy, foreign policy, administration officials, environment, taxes, judicial nominations -- even Obama's supposedly elitist choice of mustard.

But Fox News has made defeating health care reform its top priority, as the channel's hosts, reporters and pundits have pushed a steady stream of falsehoods and smears about "death panels," euthanasia, deficit explosions, the public option, constitutionality, rationing, abortion, and socialized medicine. Fox News served as the chief promoters of anti-health care reform disruptions of town halls, the anti-health care “Code Red” rally and Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-MN) anti-health care demonstrations.

With so much practice, and the bipartisan health care summit at the top of this week's political agenda, there was then little surprise that Fox News ran its full-court press against health care reform.

Even before the summit began, Fox News personalities agreed with Rush Limbaugh that Obama was setting a “trap” for Republicans -- never mind that just months ago, Fox Newsers were complaining that Republicans were “locked out” and “excluded” from health care discussions.

Discussing Democratic health care proposals, Bill O'Reilly and contributor Doug Schoen falsely suggested that GOP ideas like interstate competition -- not a great idea to begin with -- “aren't in the bill” (they're in the Senate version). Contributor Karl Rove distorted a Congressional Budget Office report to claim that “everybody's health care premiums are going to be higher than they would be otherwise” and falsely claimed that an excise tax on plans would be “paid by people who are not in unions ... [union members] don't have to pay.” And contributor Newt Gingrich falsely claimed that “all” the Democrats' health care proposals “require...higher deficits” and would add “big deficits” -- actually, the CBO found that the House and Senate bills would reduce the deficit.

After the summit, Fox News figures reacted predictably by declaring the meeting “boring” and claiming that Obama “lowered himself” by participating. Fox Nation, meanwhile, decided that the “Dems lose summit on substance.

Republican health care falsehoods also got an on-air pass from White House senior correspondent Major Garrett, who presented Sen. Lamar Alexander's falsehood that the Senate bill would increase premiums “because of the government mandate” and Rep. Paul Ryan's falsehood that the Senate bill “does not ... reduce the deficit” as a he-said, he-said with Obama. Garrett did not point out that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) supports Obama.

As they have on numerous other issues, Fox News adopted the GOP's anti-Dem strategy as their own. In 2005, former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) coined the phrase “nuclear option” to describe a proposal to change filibuster rules for judicial nominations. After Republican strategists deemed the term a political liability, Republicans began to attribute it to Democrats. Fast-forward to today, and the term has shifted again: In just the past week, Fox News hosts Martha MacCalllum, Megyn Kelly, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren, Sean Hannity and Bret Baier redefined the “nuclear option” to mean the unrelated process of using reconciliation to pass tweaks to the health care legislation.

Rebranding the “nuclear option” not only gives conservatives a more ominous sounding phrase to replace the wonkish “reconciliation,” it also allows them to falsely accuse Democrats of hypocrisy for expressing opposition to the actual “nuclear option” in 2005 -- as Fox News repeatedly did in using oppo-material promoted by the website of Fox favorite and unabashed partisan Andrew Breitbart.

Just how indistinguishable has the rhetoric from Fox News and GOP officials been? Try matching the following statements about the Democrats' potential attempt to pass health care with a majority vote to either a Fox News employee (Fox's Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity or Charles Krauthammer) or GOP official (Sen. Jon Kyl or Rep. John Boehner). (No cheating -- answers at this section's end.):

1) Democrats are “going to ram it through, whether we like it or whether the American people like it.”

2) Democrats are threatening “to ram this through with 51 votes.”

3) Democrats are “going to ram it down America's throat.”

4) Democrats are “preparing to employ a 'trick' to bypass rules in the Senate and ram legislation through on a one-party vote.”

5) Democrats are preparing “to try to ram it through on a procedural trick in the Senate.”

Fox News also (again) allowed disgraced political adviser turned disgraced Fox “political analyst” Dick Morris to use his employment to organize opposition -- and funds -- against health care reform. On The O'Reilly Factor, Fox & Friends, and Hannity, Morris urged viewers to visit his website to learn how to pressure “vulnerable” congressmembers to vote against health care reform. Morris' Fox-promoted website features numerous fund solicitations (“give us money to run the ad!”) for the League of American Voters, a conservative group that employs him as a chief strategist. According to Morris, the group has “raised $200,000 in the past three days.”

Has the conservative news organization's year-long drumbeat against health care reform had an effect? Separate Pew Research Center and NBC News polls found that Fox News viewers are more likely than any other viewer to believe health care “misinformation” such as the “death panels” lie. Meanwhile, the channel continues to misinform viewers on “death panels,” and executives actually awarded the claim originator (Sarah Palin) a multi-year contract.

With activism like that -- from both the purported “news” and “opinion” sides -- it's no wonder Fox News has become the favorite of Republican officials.

But don't just believe one of the Fox News-described "Media Matters blogger[s] ... stuck in the attic taking turns trying on grandma's underwear." In the past year, the news channel has drawn praise from GOPers like Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Mike Pence, Rep. Eric Cantor, Rep. Lamar Smith and pretend-Sen. Liz Cheney. Sen. Jim DeMint touted Fox's conservative agenda-setting; contributor Newt Gingrich told conservative activists that Fox News helped make Scott Brown's “insurgency possible”; and Mitt Romney expressed optimism that the news organization would give the GOP “strength” in 2010 and beyond.

Back in 1994, House Republicans made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of their caucus for aiding their political efforts. One can't help wonder what's taking the Republican Party so long to bestow a similar honor to the men and women of Fox News.

Fox News employee or GOP official answer key: 1) Sen. Jon Kyl. 2) Fox's Megyn Kelly. 3) Fox's Sean Hannity. 4) Rep. John Boehner. 5) Fox's Charles Krauthammer.

Other stories this week

Conservatives mock the uninsured

For the conservative perspective on the country's health care problems, look no further than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Since the beginning of time, politicians have used personal anecdotes to accentuate policy points, and the bipartisan health care summit was no different. But conservatives went out of their way to respond to the summit by mocking the uninsured -- specifically, remarks from Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who told the story of a woman without health insurance who “had no denture. She wore her dead sister's teeth.”

Multi-millionaire Limbaugh, who has claimed “there is no health care crisis,” responded to Slaughter by asking, “Isn't that why they make applesauce?”

LIMBAUGH: You know I'm getting so many people -- this Louise Slaughter comment on the dentures? I'm getting so many people -- this is big. I mean, that gets a one-time mention for a laugh, but there are people out there that think this is huge because it's so stupid. I mean, for example, well, what's wrong with using a dead person's teeth? Aren't the Democrats big into recycling? Save the planet? And so what? So if you don't have any teeth, so what? What's applesauce for? Isn't that why they make applesauce?

Multi-millionaire Glenn Beck similarly stated, “I've read the Constitution ... I didn't see that you had a right to teeth.” One of Beck's co-hosts responded to the anecdote by talking in a baby's voice: “I have no health care, Mr. Pwesident, and I have no feet and no tonsils because doctors took 'em out.”

Conservative attitudes to the health care crisis perhaps can perhaps best be summed up in Limbaugh's advice to a caller who couldn't afford the $6,000 cost to treat his broken wrist: “Well, you shouldn't have broken your wrist.” Media Matters' John Santore wrote: “Politics aside, the real question is this: Why do ordinary Americans continue to listen to conservatives who don't even pretend to care about the senseless indignities and horrors experienced by countless citizens of this country?”

The reaction to Slaughter's health care anecdote comes days after conservatives also mocked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for linking unemployment to a rise in domestic abuse (a claim supposed by several studies). Steve Doocy,, Jim Hoft, Mike Gallagher, and The Jawa Report all suggested Reid will abuse his wife if he loses his Senate seat. Conservative radio host James Harris, who describes himself as possessing “humor, grace, and insight,” went one further on Fox and claimed that Obama's to blame for increased domestic violence reports in Nevada.

Don't Lie, Don't Misinform

Following President Obama's call for a repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy in favor of allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, Media Matters released a comprehensive guide reviewing the myths and falsehoods conservative media figures have pushed in their efforts to prevent repeal.

Among the myths: DADT is working; repealing DADT would undermine morale and unit cohesion; and the public does not support the policy's repeal.

Earlier this week, NATO military committee chairman Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola drew on his experiences in Afghanistan and told CNN that allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly is “working out quite well,” adding that unit cohesion and combat readiness have "[a]bsolutely not" been undermined.

Media Matters has joined a coalition of leading organizations and activists who have signed an open letter demanding that news reports on DADT remain accurate and fair. Fox News' Special Report demonstrated -- twice -- how not to report on DADT by pushing the debunked claim that repealing DADT would “adversely impact” troop readiness.

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert asks if Andrew Breitbart, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles will “come clean about the ACORN pimp hoax”; and Jamison Foser writes, “If newspapers like The New York Times want people to pay for online news, they need to demonstrate greater commitment to accuracy -- and to correcting their mistakes.”

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Eric Hananoki, a senior researcher at Media Matters for America.