Typo or no typo, Fox News has long history of presenting GOP talking points as “news”

Media Matters recently documented that Fox News anchor Jon Scott presented a Republican press release on the economic stimulus plan as Fox News' own work. But this is far from the first time Fox News has adopted Republican talking points into its “straight news” reporting or presented Republican research as “news.”

On February 10, Media Matters for America documented that Fox News anchor Jon Scott had presented a GOP press release on the economic stimulus plan (typo and all) as Fox News' own “look back at the bill, how it was born, and how it grew, and grew, and grew.” The following day, Scott acknowledged that the story was “prompted by a news release from the Senate Republican Communications Center” and apologized for including the telltale typo. Scott's report, however, was hardly the first time Fox News has adopted Republican talking points into its “straight news” reporting or presented Republican research as “news.” Media Matters presents some of the highlights -- or lowlights -- of Fox News' GOP echo chamber.

Pelosi's mouse

On February 11, The Washington Times reported:

House Republicans are challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that the massive stimulus spending bill contains no pet projects after uncovering in the bill more than $30 million for wetlands conservation in her San Francisco Bay area district, including work she previously championed to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.

“This sounds like spending projects that have been supported by a certain powerful Democrat in the past,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

“It certainly doesn't sound like it will create or save American jobs,” he said. “So can Speaker Pelosi explain exactly how we will improve the American economy by helping the adorable little” critter?

A spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said the claim was “fabricated” by Republicans.

“The speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. This is yet another contrived partisan attack,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “Restoration is key to economic activity including farming, fisheries, recreation, and clean water.”

This claim, however, was quickly debunked. In a February 12 entry on The Plum Line, blogger Greg Sargent tracked down the source of the specious salt marsh harvest mouse allegation:

How did this one get going? Yesterday a House Republican leadership staffer circulated a background email, which I obtained, charging that GOP staffers had been told by an unnamed Federal agency that if it got money from the stim package, it would spend “thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area -- including work to protect the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse.”

The GOP staffer's email didn't say what agency it was. It didn't say the money was actually in the package -- just that an unnamed agency had said they would spend it on that if they got it.


But I just contacted the House GOP staffer who wrote the initial email laying out this talking point, and he conceded that the claim by conservative media that the mouse money is currently in the bill is a misstatement. “There is not specific language in the legislation for this project,” he said.

Nonetheless, Fox News was quick to credulously report the false talking point. On the February 11 edition of Special Report, host Bret Baier reported:

BAIER: Another item tucked into the rescue plan is drawing howls from Republicans. The Washington Times reports the stimulus contains $30 million for wetlands conservation in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home district. Some of that money goes for a past Pelosi project, protecting the salt marsh harvest mouse. Pelosi and President Obama have both said the stimulus contains no earmarks. Her office says the speaker had no involvement in the initiative.

On the February 12 edition of America's Newsroom, co-hosts Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer mocked the phantom provision:

HEMMER: Have you heard of the salt water harvest mouse?

KELLY: I'm sorry, but --

HEMMER: It's not a fish, but a mouse.

KELLY: -- delta smelt --

HEMMER: Yeah. Delta smelt.

KELLY: -- reminds me of a little saying we had when we were kids.

HEMMER: I'm with you. The salt water harvest mouse is an --

KELLY: Salt water harvest mouse.

HEMMER: Salt water harvest mouse.

KELLY: What's that?

HEMMER: Apparently there's $30 million in the stimulus bill to protect it.

KELLY: It must be very important.

HEMMER: Northern California.

KELLY: Must be a very important mouse.

HEMMER: Nancy Pelosi's district. That's right. Very important --

KELLY: Yeah. Nancy Pelosi's district.

HEMMER: Eating a lot of cheese.

KELLY: There's no earmarks in here --

HEMMER: Uh-huh.

KELLY: -- nothing. Earmark has to be stuffed in secretly.

HEMMER: The salt water harvest --

KELLY: These are open. They're for everybody to read.

HEMMER: -- mouse.

Bush legacy

The Los Angeles Times reported on December 9, 2008, that the Bush White House distributed a “two-page memo” to “Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials” that “offers a guide for discussing Bush's eight-year tenure during their public speeches.” According to the Times, “the talking points state that Bush 'kept the American people safe' after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained 'the honor and the dignity of his office.' ” The following week, during an interview with then-President Bush, Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier rephrased one of those White House talking points as a question for Bush, asking: “Do you believe that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?”

“Where's Nancy?”

Just prior to the 2006 midterm elections, The Freedom Project, the political action committee of then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), posted an October 31 entry [no longer online] titled “Where is Nancy Pelosi?” The Freedom Project claimed that Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) was "[a]lmost entirely absent from the campaign trail," and speculated that she was “embarrassed about the Democrats' shameful record [sic] national security” and “would prefer not to discuss the Democrats' abysmal record on border security.” As Media Matters noted at the time, Pelosi was not “absent”; she appeared on November 1, 2006, at a campaign rally in San Francisco with former President Bill Clinton and was also interviewed by CNN, which aired portions of the interview on that day. Nonetheless, on the November 3, 2006, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy asked: “Have you noticed we really haven't seen much of Nancy Pelosi?” and asserted that “she has been laying low.” Co-host Gretchen Carlson took it a step further, saying: “And that's probably why the Democratic machinery has asked her, or demanded that she lay low in the days before the election, because that's really the Republican spin: Do you want Pelosi in charge?”

Democrats voted to make undocumented immigrants “felons”

In December 2005, the GOP-led House of Representatives passed an immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Joseph Sensenbrenner (R-WI), one of the provisions of which subjected undocumented immigrants to possible felony charges. Prior to its passage, Sensenbrenner proposed an amendment that would have reduced the penalty for unlawful presence in the U.S. from a felony to a misdemeanor, explaining on the House floor that such a change would mean “more prosecutions are likely to be brought against those aliens whose cases merit criminal prosecution” because it would obviate the due process requirements associated with felony charges. The amendment was defeated with 191 Democrats voting against it, many of them explaining at the time that they opposed subjecting undocumented immigrants to any criminal penalties for unlawful presence and favored retaining its status as a civil violation.

However, in March and April 2006, congressional Republicans began claiming that the GOP had attempted to soften the bill and attacked Democrats for, in the words of an April 11 statement from then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), “vot[ing] to make felons out of all of those who remain in our country illegally.” The Republican National Committee released a "research briefing" on April 13, 2006, that accused Democrats of “Vot[ing] To Include A Felony Provision In Immigration Reform” and claimed that “Republican Leaders Want The Felony Provision Removed.” That same day, on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that “when they go into conference, the felony will be knocked down to misdemeanor, that's what [Rep.] Peter King [R-NY] says. But they wanted to get rid of it and knock it down to a misdemeanor, but 190 Democrats voted to leave it in.” Kilmeade's colleague and co-host E.D. Hill went a step further, stating, "[Y]ou've got plenty of Democrats that ... are siding with Republicans, saying, 'Hey, yeah, make it a felony.' " Later in the day, on Fox News' Special Report, White House correspondent Wendell Goler told viewers: “The House bill makes illegal immigration a felony. Some Republicans actually tried to remove the provision, but a majority of House Democrats voted to keep it in the bill.”

“Terrorist surveillance program”

On January 22, 2006, the Bush White House press office released a backgrounder -- called “Setting the Record Straight” -- in which the term “terrorist surveillance program” appeared 10 times in reference to the National Security Agency's controversial practice, authorized by the White House, of engaging in warrantless surveillance of people in the United States, including U.S. citizens. Then-President Bush used the term in a January 23 speech at Kansas State University, which The Washington Post described as part of “a three-day blitz by the administration aimed in part at making the controversial eavesdropping program a political winner for the White House in a midterm election year." Soon afterward, Fox News began incorporating “terrorist surveillance program” into their news reports without qualification. For example, on the January 25, 2006, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News reporter Harris Faulkner stated:

FAULKNER: “Strange and far-fetched,” that's what New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling President Bush's defense of his terror surveillance program. For example, President Bush has said Congress gave him the authority as part of a terror fight resolution passed after 9-11. Senator Clinton says she doesn't buy that argument, calling it “a stretch.”

On the January 23 edition of Fox & Friends First, Kilmeade said of the domestic surveillance program: “Let's call it the terrorist surveillance program. That would be a lot easier.” Doocy replied: “And more accurate.” The following day on Fox & Friends, Doocy and Hill claimed that the administration's terminology “sounds better” and is “more accurate.” Media Matters subsequently reviewed Fox News' coverage of the warrantless surveillance program from January 30 to February 6 and found that the term “terrorist surveillance program,” or some variation of it, was used at least 26 times on 15 different programs.

Blaming Katrina response on state and local officials

On September 5, 2005, The New York Times reported that “the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.” According to the Times, the plan, orchestrated by Bush senior advisers Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett, “directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials.” The Washington Post reported the same day that in “public statements and even more bluntly behind the scenes, Bush administration officials have questioned local efforts to rescue thousands of people who were stranded for days without food, water and shelter, resulting in death of an unknown number of Americans.”

As Media Matters documented, on four successive nights coinciding with the Bush administration's reported attempts to deflect blame -- September 5 to September 8, 2005 -- Fox News' Special Report aired news segments in which reporters focused blame for the response to Hurricane Katrina almost entirely on state and local officials, largely ignoring the federal government's widely reported failures in handling the hurricane and its aftermath. Correspondent Brian Wilson asserted that "[i]n times of natural disaster, government is supposed to work from the bottom up," and that “city and county leaders across the Gulf Coast were calling the shots,” and faulted the actions of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, while correspondent Major Garrett blamed the “Louisiana department of homeland security” for purportedly barring the Red Cross from entering the city.

“Homicide bombers”

At an April 12, 2002, press briefing, then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that the “President condemns this morning's homicide bombing in Jerusalem.” Later in the briefing, a reporter noted to Fleischer that “you, the President, others in this White House have adopted a term called homicide bombings instead of suicide bombings” and asked: “Is that a coincidence, or is this an attempt to pacify his political base that's criticizing him?” Fleischer responded, in part:

FLEISCHER: But the reason I started to use that term is because it's a more accurate description. These are not suicide bombings. These are not people who just kill themselves. These are people who deliberately go to murder others, with no regard to the values of their own life. These are murderers. The President has said that in the Rose Garden. And I think that is just a more accurate description of what these people are doing. It's not suicide, it's murder.

That day, the Associated Press reported:

Fox News Channel began using “homicide bombing” to refer to Friday's Jerusalem attack almost as soon as the news broke. Dennis Murray, executive producer of daytime programming, said executives there had heard the phrase being used by administration officials in recent days and thought it was a good idea.

“Our feeling is, if you set up a bomb and kill yourself and no one else gets hurt, you're a suicide bomber,” Murray said. “If you kill others, you're a bomber who died in the act of murder.”

Media Matters demonstrated that Fox News, in addition to using the term “homicide bomber” in their own reporting, changed the language in AP articles featured on the Fox News website, replacing the terms “suicide bomber” and “suicide bombing” with “homicide bomber” and “homicide bombing” to describe attackers who kill themselves and others with explosives.