Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace devoted more than nine minutes of his show to asking politicians and Fox News contributors about the April 15 tea parties. At no point did Wallace -- who has previously asserted that Fox “really [is] ... fair and balanced” -- note, much less take a position on, Fox News' relentless promotion of the tea parties.
On the April 19 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace devoted more than nine minutes to asking politicians and Fox News contributors about the April 15 tea parties, which Fox News has repeatedly called “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties” and has often described as primarily a response to President Obama's fiscal policies. Wallace has previously confronted Fox News hosts for distorting Obama's words as a presidential candidate during what he described as “two hours of Obama bashing.” He also said that “one of the things that's great about Fox News is that we don't all follow talking points and we disagree about things.” Following that incident, he said that “we really are, despite the sniffing or dismissals of our liberal critics, 'fair and balanced' at Fox News” and added that Fox News does not “espouse” a “conservative point of view.” At no point during Fox News Sunday, however, did Wallace note, much less take a position on, Fox News' relentless promotion of the tea parties.
During a segment with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Wallace stated: “Senators, we've got about two minutes left, and I want to ask you each one question about the tea parties this week. On tax day, thousands of people held tea parties across the country to protest taxes and big government.” Wallace then asked McCaskill: “Senator McCaskill, you're now on Twitter, and you sent this Twitter. Let's put it up. 'The tea party thing confuses me. We've just passed one of the biggest tax cuts in American history & we had a record turnout in Nov.' Senator, are you saying there was no reason to protest?" Wallace also asked Graham: “Senator Graham, a final question for you. The Congressional Budget Office says that the federal income tax burden is near its historic low. Former Congressman Dick Armey, who was one of the central organizers of these rallies, says right now the federal income tax rate is at a good level. Why protest?” Wallace ended the segment by stating: “Up next, those tax day tea parties have some wondering, 'Is this the start of a grassroots movement?' Our Sunday regulars give us their thoughts after the break.”
During the subsequent panel discussion with Fox News' senior political correspondent Brit Hume and Fox News contributors Mara Liasson, William Kristol, and Juan Williams, Wallace aired footage of attendees at tea parties, and then asked Hume: “What are the chances, do you think, that this grows into a grassroots movement?” Wallace also asked: “What's your early sense -- and Brit is certainly right, we don't know yet, but do you think this has legs?”
Fox News' promotion of the tea parties has not gone unnoticed by other media outlets, and the consensus that Fox News played a key role goes is shared by national and local media alike. Dozens of articles about tea parties in various cities reported that Fox News and its hosts helped influence, start, or turn out participants to local protests. In numerous cases, these reports quoted local participants or organizers stating they were motivated to join or start protests because of Fox News. The Albany, New York, Times Union stated in an April 15 editorial, “This manufactured movement has been provided a sense of legitimacy and momentum by Fox News.”
From the April 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: Senators, we've got about two minutes left, and I want to ask you each one question about the tea parties this week. On tax day, thousands of people held tea parties across the country to protest taxes and big government.
Senator McCaskill, you're now on Twitter, and you sent this Twitter. Let's put it up. “The tea party thing confuses me. We've just passed one of the biggest tax cuts in American history & we had a record turnout in Nov.” Senator, are you saying there was no reason to protest?
McCASKILL: No, I respect the protests that occurred. I think they were grassroots. I think it was a remarkable turnout in many places in our country. I did want to point out that this wasn't a tax increase that had gone into effect -- in fact, we just passed a huge tax cut -- and that we had great representation in our elections last November. But I think we've got to do more. We've got to cut spending. And I'm glad the president, for his first formal cabinet meeting on Monday, what he is going to say to all of his cabinet heads is, “Figure out where we can find spending. Let's find wasteful programs and let's start cutting spending.” This former auditor -- that's like music to my ears. I think we've got a lot of work to do on the spending side.
WALLACE: Senator Graham, a final question for you. The Congressional Budget Office says that the federal income tax burden is near its historic low. Former Congressman Dick Armey, who was one of the central organizers of these rallies, says right now the federal income tax rate is at a good level. Why protest?
GRAHAM: If you're looking at what we're doing in Washington and you're not upset, the problem is with you, not the protesters. The Obama budget triples the national debt. In 2019, we'll pay more interest on the national debt than the Defense Department. He raises taxes on job creators. He cuts the defense budget dramatically over a 10-year period. This is a budget that's a nightmare for the country. The stimulus bill and the omnibus bill together have spent more money in 90 days than we did in Iraq, Afghanistan and Katrina combined. People need to be upset. This is a complete, absolute abandonment of fiscal discipline, and the Obama budget is a road map for disaster that will bankrupt this country. I am glad people took to the streets. There's nothing wrong with you. The problem's wrong in Washington. This is not the change people were hoping for. This is unbelievable growth in government at a time we can afford it the least.
WALLACE: Senator Graham, Senator McCaskill -- obviously strong views there -- thank you both. Thanks for coming on today. Please come back, both of you.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
McCASKILL: Thank you.
WALLACE: Up next, those tax day tea parties have some wondering, “Is this the start of a grassroots movement?” Our Sunday regulars give us their thoughts after the break.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE [video clip]: We want people to know that our government is out of control. Their spending is out of control.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE [video clip]: It seems like it's the other way around in Washington. They're telling us what they're going to do.
WALLACE: Some highlights from the April 15th tea parties that took place across the country. And it's time now for our Sunday regulars -- Brit Hume, Fox News senior political analyst, and contributors Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, and Juan Williams, also from National Public Radio.
So, Brit, some are comparing these tea parties to the anti-tax protests in California in the '70s that led to Proposition 8 and -- or Proposition 13, rather, and perhaps eventually to Ronald Reagan's presidential election. What are the chances, do you think, that this grows into a grassroots movement?
HUME: Well, it's way too early to say, but this was a grassroots protest. And despite the efforts of some, perhaps, in the Republican Party, other activists and so on to fan the flames of this thing, the spark for this -- and indeed, the flame of it -- was really a spontaneous thing, and I think it bears watching because of that. As we all know, no matter -- no lobby, no matter how powerful, is nearly as powerful as an aroused public. Now, obviously, this represents a subset of the public, but it was striking that there were so many of these, they sprung up in so many different places, pretty well attended, ignored by some in the media. And despite that, we had them. So there -- it represents sentiment in the country against big government, I think, more than anything else -- taxation and spending. It bears watching.
WALLACE: What's your early sense -- and Brit is certainly right, we don't know yet, but do you think this has legs?
LIASSON: I don't know yet, but it certainly is something that, for a Republican Party that's really down in the dumps, it's something -- it's a straw to grasp onto and build on. I mean, this was a cyber-organized event, so it shows that the right is beginning to use the tools that the Obama campaign and the left have kind of perfected over the past number of years, so that's a sign that the playing field might be getting a bit more level, and maybe this will go somewhere. I think one of the refrains you heard from these protesters was, “We're afraid that Obama is going to raise our taxes in the future. He hasn't done it yet.” Now, I think that on that level, the White House does take this seriously. I think on another level they kind of dismiss the protests.
But Obama -- on the very day that the protesters were out there, on tax day, he was repeating his pledge to not raise taxes for people who make less than $250,000. That's going to be a very, very hard pledge to keep, just as a practical matter, because the Congress has rejected some of his ideas to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for things like health care. He doesn't like their ideas to tax premiums in one case. So it's going to be hard for him to pay for all the things he wants to do while sticking to that pledge to not raise taxes for people under $250,000.
WALLACE: But, Bill, there are some big differences from the '70s and California and the big anti-property tax revolt -- Howard Jarvis back then. President Obama has cut taxes so far, not raised them. As I discussed with the senator, historically speaking, that -- the federal income tax burden is near its low for the last three decades, and there's a Gallup poll last week that found one of the most positive assessments in the public mind of the tax burden in decades.
KRISTOL: The same Gallup poll actually showed -- surprising to me-- hostility, though, to big government and to spending. Forty-four percent of the public doesn't think we should have much bigger government even now in this emergency. Another 39 percent say OK for now but not permanent. I think 14 percent say let's have bigger government going forward. This was, I think, more about debt and about spending than about taxes, which proves you can't mechanically apply something that happened 30 years ago today. I think this is actually a government- out-of-control rebellion. I mean, that clip you showed, I thought, epitomized it perfectly.
I've talked to fearful people who've been at -- who were at these tea parties, and they said the general spirit was that government's out of control. Obama's own budget projects the debt growing by almost threefold in 10 years. It's unsustainable. It really is irresponsible to have deficits of over half a trillion dollars as far as the eye can see. People have the sense that it's -- whatever we have to do in the short term, it's totally irresponsible to do that five, 10 years out. And I think that's what's behind this movement. And I think it's real. I mean, this thing began two months ago, only two months ago, in Seattle when they organized a little grassroots protest on February 16th. Rick Santelli of CNBC -- his great -- you know, his thing -- take to the streets -- that was February 19th. This thing happened awfully quickly, and over a quarter of a million people protested peacefully and, I gather, with quite good cheer. And I think the big government issue is much bigger than I would have thought.
WILLIAMS: I think the polls indicate most Americans think they pay about the right amount of taxes. There are some who think that we pay a little too much. But I don't think taxes are it. So if we come back to your point that this is really about debt and spending, I think it's difficult for Republicans to get their hands around it, because you go back to President Bush's time in office and you say, “Gosh, look at the way that debt was climbing. Look at the way spending increased.”
So now you get some people who are frustrated, and I think rightly frustrated, at the idea that government is spending these tremendous amounts of money. OK. So they're saying it's because we are in the midst of a generational economic crisis. But when people look at it, they say, “Wait a second. Does that mean that we are burdening future generations? And does that mean that we're going to have to raise taxes down the road?” So this is all, I think at this point, prospective; it's not about a reality. And so you wonder, “Who's out there, and who's generating this?” I think a lot of it's media generated. I think a lot of it is people who are -- you know, the same people who are getting Social Security and Medicare payments. They're the ones who are running out there -- say, “Oh, why is government growing at this time?”
KRISTOL: It's to the public's --
WILLIAMS: Government is insulating them against this economic crisis.
KRISTOL: It's the public's credit that it's prospective and it's about their children and their grandchildren. This is the media reaction: “You're getting a rebate. How can you be protesting?” As if people are entirely present-oriented and self-interested. It's very much, I think, to these protesters' credit that they actually care about the future, and they think these are unwise policies.
WILLIAMS: No, I don't think --
HUME: Think of it this way, Chris. One of the things that the Obama program has clearly done in Washington is to unite the Republican Party in Congress which had been divided by the Bush years, by discomfort among many conservatives over the level of spending that Juan just correctly mentioned, and so on. Now comes some really big spending that dwarfs, really, what the Bush administration had done over time, and it has succeeded in uniting the Republican Party. Now it appears it is beginning to unite people around the country who would be disposed in favor of the Republican Party because of the striking comparison between what it did and what the Democratic Party in control of Washington is now doing.
WALLACE: Which brings us, Mara, to the fact that the president is now ending his foreign trips, coming back to Washington, continuing the hard work of trying to get his budget passed. Where do you think the country, where do you think Congress -- excuse me -- are now in terms of his agenda of health care, energy and education reform?
LIASSON: I think that this Democratic Congress is relatively united on the goals that the president has. I think it's just the details that they're going to fight over. I mean, how are you going to pay for this stuff is going to be very, very hard, how fast you're going to do it. I think it's clear -- you know, cap and trade might wait. Health care I think is something that they probably will get done this year, but how much of it will actually be implemented right away I don't know, but I do think the president has a lot of tough decisions ahead on how to pay for these things. I think in general the public -- look at his approval ratings, look at the difference between the approval ratings of Democrats and Republicans. I think the public wants the things the president says he wants to give them, and then we'll see whether they want to pay for them in the way that, in the end, he and Congress will decide that has to happen.
WALLACE: All right. We have to take a break here.