Fox News hosts and guests have been especially disciplined in pushing the Republican Party talking point that the vote yesterday in the U.S. Senate to reform filibusters on judicial nominees was nothing more than a Democratic “distraction” to shift attention away from President Obama's troubled health care roll-out.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell first introduced the talking point Thursday afternoon and Fox News has been loyally parroting it ever since.
“It does appear it is a distraction from the Affordable Care Act debacle,” Steve Doocy announced this morning on Fox & Friends. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck later agreed, insisting the American people are “wise to the fact” that filibuster reform is a mere “distraction.”
According to Obama's opponents, the vote taken yesterday to change the Senate rules in the wake of blanket Republican obstructionism, was actually part of an elaborate White House political strategy. That explanation leaves out the fact that simmering fight over nominations has been a decade in the making, not something the White House invented for political cover.
It also omits the fact that Democratic leaders had threatened to amend the filibuster rules for most of 2013, and that they were prompted to finally take action by yet another round of Republican filibusters blocking Obama judicial nominees over the past few weeks. While nominees have in the past been blocked due to lack of qualifications or ideological extremism, Republicans have largely eschewed these criticisms, instead stating flat out that for political reasons they don't want to allow President Obama to fill seats on a critical bench with anyone at all.
But what's especially ironic is that the “distraction” charge is being peddling by Fox News during the same week it played host to its latest gold-plated distraction, the mean-spirited claim that President Obama failed to attend the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's Gettysburg address out of some sort resentment of America. (The right-wing media accompanied that distraction with the hollow allegation that Obama purposefully omitted the phrase “under God” when reciting the Gettysburg Address for a YouTube video posting.)
Fox hosts questioned Obama's sense of honor by refusing to attend the Civil War anniversary ceremony. ( “Maybe he thought he'd be shown up,” said Greta Van Susteren,) They claimed Obama's “snubbing” was deliberate and offensive, yet carefully omitted the fact that only one U.S. president in the last 150 years had traveled to Gettysburg on the date of the Lincoln anniversary. (Nonetheless it was “a big deal” Obama didn't attend.)
The Gettysburg diversion, breathlessly hyped by an array of Fox News hosts, provided endless opportunities for phony outrage. The childish tale was utterly false and easily debunked. Yet while it raged on Fox, it certainly diverted people's attention from the topic of health care reform.
And that's why the outcry over a filibuster reform “distraction” from Fox News of all places makes no sense: The cable channel is built upon the programming foundation of inventing distractions. Fox content often resembles little more than a blizzard of endless, and quickly forgotten, anti-Obama distractions that are designed to keep viewers in a permanent state of outrage.
It's the AM talk radio model, where a well-crafted (easy-to-produce) distraction can devour hours of programming, while simultaneously eliciting strong emotions from endlessly incensed consumers. Fox pays layers and layers of producers and writers and editors and anchors to seamlessly find, create, and promote distractions.
Grand slam distractions can be stretched out over weeks and months and built into something more permanent, like Fox's Benghazi obsession. But most Fox efforts are meant to occupy just a couple news cycles.
A sampling of recent Fox News efforts:
Diversions are the turbines that drive the Fox News engine, as a former network staffer once explained to Media Matters [emphasis added]:
< “It was a kick ass mentality too,” says the former Fox News insider. "It was relentless and it never went away. If one controversy faded, goddamn it they would find another one. They were in search of these points of friction real or imagined. And most of them were imagined or fabricated. You always have to seem to be under siege.>
That's why for Fox News, the fabricated Gettysburg distraction was big news this week.