Fox News continues to ignore its previously favored Republican Congressman who is currently being hailed as a civil rights champion for supporting the revitalization of the Voting Rights Act.
Fox News has been spending an inordinate amount of negative attention on race relations, anti-discrimination law, and civil rights advocates and organizations in the aftermath of the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial. High-profile Fox News hosts and personalities have dismissed any concern for the role that systemic racial discrimination played in the profiling and killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and have attacked anyone who suggests otherwise as “race hustlers” and part of a “grievance industry.”
Simultaneously, another significant news event involving systemic racial discrimination is under way. Both houses of Congress just completed initial hearings on how to fix the Voting Rights Act of 1965, an event Fox News barely covered.
This hugely important civil rights law, which protects the right to vote against illegal voter suppression on the basis of race, was severely weakened by a conservative majority of the Supreme Court in the recent Shelby County v. Holder decision. But a bipartisan coalition seeking to repair the damage is currently forming, led on the Republican side by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee led the overwhelmingly bipartisan reauthorization of the VRA in 2006.
Sensenbrenner also was recently a frequent authority on Fox News due to his expertise on the interaction of civil liberties and national security, a topic Fox News repeatedly focused on after revelations about National Security Agency surveillance. During this time, Fox News host Sean Hannity was particularly effusive in praise of Sensenbrenner's principles and stature, even calling on the congressman to defend the Fox News host's character against charges of hypocrisy. However, in the wake of Shelby County and Sensenbrenner's immediate condemnation of the Supreme Court for striking down the core of the VRA, Fox News ignored their formerly favored guest, despite his obvious relevance to the many voting rights pieces it aired.
This absence of Sensenbrenner on Fox News now that he has renewed his strong defense of civil rights and condemnation of systemic racial discrimination was especially noticeable during the week when both the House of Representatives and the Senate held VRA hearings.
Sensenbrenner was an invited guest to the Senate hearing (a "civil rights icon" in his own right, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)) where he blasted Shelby County and reminded the senators that he “did not expect my career to include a third reauthorization of the VRA, but I believe it is a necessary challenge. Voter discrimination still exists, and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a final victory.”
The brief segment on the Senate hearing that Fox News ran, however, completely ignored Sensenbrenner. From the July 18 edition of Happening Now:
Although host Jenna Lee prefaced the segment by claiming it was highlighting what's “important for our viewers to know,” it made no mention of the fact that not only did Sensenbrenner give a ringing endorsement of the VRA as necessary against continued systemic racial discrimination, he was sitting right next to Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in the clip Fox News ran. Indeed, at the beginning of his testimony, Lewis explicitly recognized Sensenbrenner's support by turning to him and thanking him for being “a tireless champion of the Voting Rights Act, I'm very proud and pleased to be with him today, my friend, my brother.” As reported by the Associated Press:
The white Wisconsin lawyer and the black preacher from Georgia strode into the Senate hearing room together and took their seats, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the witness table. Veteran lawmakers and experts in civil rights law, they had been here before.
Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Democratic Rep. John Lewis are men of a certain age and experience amid a Congress marked by a bitter aversion to working together. Though political and temperamental opposites, they have paired up for decades on one of the nation's most painful issues-- racial politics -- and won overwhelming bipartisan passage when they have sought to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
According to a Media Matters search of news transcripts on both Nexis and Snapstream, Sensenbrenner was not only unmentioned in relation to these hearings in which he played such a prominent role, he still has yet to be a guest on any Fox News show since he announced his continued support for this prominent civil rights law. Instead, the discussion of civil rights advocates and anti-discrimination law on Fox News has become increasingly virulent, culminating in Media Research Center President Brent Bozell's comparison of Rev. Al Sharpton to a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, on the July 18 edition of Hannity.
If Fox News does not approve of the civil rights bona fides of Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Attorney General Eric Holder, perhaps they should bring back Sensenbrenner so he can discuss his views on anti-discrimination law and systemic racial discrimination. He is, after all, someone Hannity has called not only “enlightening, edifying” but also “one of the guys that has always been on principle, which I admire and I know you have been there a while, fighting the good fight every day.”