Fox News' media critics ignore recent Hannity, O'Reilly scandals

Fox News bills Fox News Watch as a program where “media analysts cover the coverage of the week's biggest stories.” But this week's edition completely ignored recent scandals involving its own network: Fox cancelled Sean Hannity's plan to broadcast his show from a tea party event with an admission fee, and Bill O'Reilly issued repeated false claims to defend Fox News' coverage of the health care reform legislation.

Fox News Watch isn't watching Hannity, O'Reilly

Fox News Watch billed as Fox News' media analysis program. Fox News Watch's website promotes the program as: “Host Jon Scott and his panel of media analysts cover the coverage of the week's biggest stories.” For example, the program recently analyzed the media's “failure” in the West Virginia mine tragedy, the media's treatment of the pope in the latest sex abuse scandal, the media's reaction to President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit, and whether ABC News “cross[ed] a line by paying for footage of Casey Anthony.”

Most recent program examined media's coverage of new Oprah bio, Ailes' new ratings “high.” The April 17 edition of Fox News Watch did not mention the scandals involving Hannity and O'Reilly; instead, the program devoted time to whether the media are purportedly ignoring Kitty Kelley's new biography of Oprah Winfrey because they are “protecting their favorite media maven” ; whether President Obama was taking “his cue from the mainstream press” when he “t[ook] his shot at the tea party movement” ; how The National Enquirer “c[ame] up empty-handed” in the Pulitzer Prize race “despite their [John] Edwards blockbuster” ; and how “the top guy at Fox News [Roger Ailes] hits another high, fairness plus balance equals success.”

Hannity's Tea Party show taping raised ethical questions

The plan: Want to see Hannity? Pay the Cincy Tea Party. Hannity was scheduled to tape his April 15 Fox News show at the Cincinnati Tea Party's (CTP) 2010 Tax Day Tea Party, which required paid admission, with higher prices charged for better viewing of the program. According to a CTP flyer, “All proceeds benefit the Cincinnati Tea Party,” and a CTP official stated that “our tea party people coordinated with [Hannity's] staff to plan the logistics of the event.”

Hannity promoted Cincy appearance on 18 shows since early March. According to a Media Matters search of the Nexis database, Hannity promoted his Cincinnati appearance 18 times since March 5. In doing so, Hannity routinely directed viewers to his personal website ( to find out how “you can join us” and “be a part of the studio audience, meet us on our tour.” Fox News also routinely aired on-screen text directing viewers to Hannity's website. On his personal website, Hannity linked viewers to the University of Cincinnati box office to buy tickets.

Hannity Tea Party show taping raised ethical eyebrows. On April 14, Media Matters investigative reporter Joe Strupp reported that “Hannity's plan to do his show Thursday night from a Tea Party event in Cincinnati that will charge admission is raising ethical worries among several news and broadcast veterans. The idea that a news show that covers the Tea Party issue, among others, would seek to raise money for the event during a production of the show has some in the industry crying foul." Strupp's report included critical comments from Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists; Alicia Shepard, ombudsman for National Public Radio; Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University; The Poynter Institute's Bob Steele; and Dow Smith, a journalism professor at Siena College in New York."

“Furious” Fox News execs yanked Hannity from tea party event

Fox News demands Hannity cancel event, requires him to do show from NY studio. The Los Angeles Times reported in an April 15 article that "[a]ngry Fox News executives ordered host Sean Hannity to abandon plans to broadcast his nightly show as part of a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati on Thursday after top executives learned that he was set to headline the event, proceeds from which would benefit the local Tea Party organization." The Times provided this statement from Bill Shine, Fox News' executive vice president of programming: “Fox News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity's television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event. ... When senior executives in New York were made aware of this, we changed our plans for tonight's show.”

Wallace on Hannity tea party event: I think “Fox folks were upset when they found out.” On the April 16 edition of KTTV's (FOX) Good Day L.A., Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace was asked about the canceled tea party program. He acknowledged that the “rally was canceled,” adding, “I think what happened is that the Fox folks were upset when they found out that they were selling tickets to the rally, and that the idea that maybe they were going to be profiting from the rally, and from Sean's involvement in it. I don't know that Sean's in trouble, but I think that there's -- people are looking at Fox, and, you know, how do we avoid being taken advantage of.”

NYT: Hannity scandal “caused consternation inside Fox” over “perceived closeness” to tea party. In an April 16 article, The New York Times reported: “The incident caused consternation inside Fox News Channel, which is a unit of the News Corporation, over its perceived closeness to the antigovernment Tea Party movement, especially in its highly rated opinion shows. The network has faced regular accusations that it is promoting -- not just covering -- the Tea Party movement, something that its executives deny.”

CNN's Kurtz reports that “Fox now plans to keep a tighter rein on Hannity and others.” On his CNN media criticism program Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz called the planned show an example of how Fox News has “given Hannity and some of the other hosts a really loose rein.” He also reported that in the wake of the show's cancellation, “I am told by sources that Fox now plans to keep a tighter rein on Hannity and others.” Kurtz added: “I can't remember the last time I've seen a program actually get canceled and the host unceremoniously ordered back to headquarters.”

O'Reilly repeatedly offered false defense of Fox News' coverage of purported health insurance jail-time

O'Reilly falsely claimed "[n]obody" on Fox pushed health care jail-time falsehood. On the April 13 edition of his show, O'Reilly responded to Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) suggestion that Fox News perpetuated the false claim that under the health care reform legislation, individuals can be sent to jail for not having health insurance by repeatedly insisting that “nobody” on Fox advanced that claim. In fact, Fox News relentlessly pushed that falsehood -- including on O'Reilly's own show.

Contradicting O'Reilly, Cavuto acknowledged Fox pushed health care jail-time falsehood. On the April 14 edition of his program, Neil Cavuto admitted that Fox News pushed the false claim that, under the health care reform legislation, individuals can be sent to jail for not having health insurance, saying: “I've researched this and a number of Fox personalities had made that comment.”

O'Reilly digs in, falsely claims Coburn didn't have “his facts in line.” On his April 14 program, O'Reilly again denied Coburn's statement that Fox News pushed the health insurance jail-time falsehood, stating that Coburn “didn't really have his facts in line.”

O'Reilly's new bogus spin: Nobody at Fox pushed jail-time falsehood about “final bill.” Following criticism from Media Matters, MSNBC's Ed Schultz, and Time magazine's Kate Pickert, O'Reilly claimed on his April 15 program that when “jail time” had been “on the table,” Fox News had reported on it, but no one on Fox News made the claim after that provision was supposedly removed. O'Reilly concluded: “Nobody at Fox News reported inaccurately about the Obamacare prison situation. Nobody.” In fact, the health care bill Fox News had been reporting on also did not have “jail time” as a penalty for not having health insurance. Moreover, five days before O'Reilly's statement, Fox Business' Eric Bolling made a false statement about “the Obamacare prison situation.”