New Black Panthers just the latest bogeyman in Fox News' election ghost story

Fox News' breathless fixation on the phony New Black Panther Party scandal fits into the channel's history of pushing right-wing fears of stolen elections -- a history that conservative activists readily use to their advantage.

A telling moment occurred last night on Special Report, when The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes acknowledged that right-wing cries of voter fraud were part of a strategy for “post-election arguments in the event of close tallies and the need for recounts.” Back on script, Hayes immediately pivoted and said that claims of "rampant" voter fraud are “serious allegations.”

Think Al Franken and the Fox News-led attack on the legitimacy of his election, even though Republican candidate Norm Coleman made no claim that election fraud occurred. Those attacks were nothing new: In 2004, Fox News discussed voter fraud during at least 37 segments in the weeks leading up to the election, despite the fact that actual voting fraud is extremely rare. In 2008, that figure swelled to at least 52 segments, according to the Nexis database.

But one thing is certain: Stoking fears of stolen elections is serious red meat for Fox News.

Which brings us to the New Black Panther Party.

Today, members of the right wing-dominated U.S. Commission on Civil Rights are scheduled to vote on a report detailing their investigation into the Justice Department's decision not to pursue additional voter intimidation charges against members of the party. Despite all evidence to the contrary, right-wing activists rooted in the politicized Bush-era DOJ are accusing the Justice Department of acting out of “hostility” to enforcing voting-rights laws against minority defendants.

From the outset, the story has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Fox News. Daytime anchor Megyn Kelly -- selected to host the cable channel's election night coverage -- has led the way in promoting the scurrilous charges.

Never mind that the Obama Justice Department successfully obtained an injunction against the one New Black Panther who was holding a weapon outside a polling station, or the fact -- not in dispute -- that the Obama administration is working to extend an injunction against black leaders in Mississippi accused in part of denying white voters the right to vote. Right-wing activists are feeding up the red meat -- allegations that elections are being stolen.

And let there be no doubt that conservatives know they have a willing partner in Fox News to stoke fears of stolen elections. According to The Washington Post, after Republican activists filmed the New Black Panthers outside the Philadelphia polling station in 2008, at least one poll watcher stayed on the scene, tipped off by Republicans that “Fox News was sending a reporter.”

And sure enough, Fox aired the footage throughout the day. Every hour. Letting you know that “they” were trying to steal your election.