Book Excerpt: 'The Fox Effect'
The following is an excerpt from David Brock, Ari Rabin-Havt, and Media Matters’ new book, “The Fox Effect,” published by Random House.
Barack Obama was inaugurated amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and had a similar mandate for change. Many in the media alluded to Roosevelt’s first hundred days, suggesting that the beginning of the Obama presidency might bring a similar period of reform, or, at the very least, the customary “honeymoon period” that usually immediately followed an election. But Obama’s ?rst hundred days would be different. Rush Limbaugh made headlines when he declared, days before Obama’s inauguration, “I hope he fails,” and Fox News was determined to make the radio host’s desire a reality.
On the day of Obama’s swearing in, Glenn Beck, in his second day on Fox News, was ready to pass judgment on the new president. “Mr. President, I want to believe. I want to trust, I want to
hope for change,” Beck said. “But I am really failing to see how this is any different.”
On day two, Sean Hannity reached his own verdict on the Obama administration. “He’s not going to succeed,” Hannity proclaimed. “Socialism has failed.”
On day three, Fox News contributor and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham informed Fox News viewers that, under Obama, “our country is less safe today.”
On day four, Beck lied to his audience, telling them that “Obama declared the end to the war on terror.”
Fox News’s coverage of the Obama administration’s ?rst weekend was not any better. On Saturday, former Arkansas Governor, presidential candidate, and Fox News host Mike Huckabee asked, “Is this the change America voted for?” On Sunday, Brit Hume remarked, “You can’t break all your campaign promises.”
The examples above are just a small sample of the dozens of attacks leveled at President Obama during his ?rst week in of?ce. Over the next hundred days, the rhetoric would heat up steadily. On day eight, Beck asked Fox’s audience, “Do you want socialism or not?” And by day eleven, he had concluded that the country was, in fact, on a march toward socialism. Not to be outdone, Sean Hannity declared that Obama’s presidency represented the end of capitalism.
On the seventeenth day of the president’s term, Bret Baier mused, “Some are wondering if the honeymoon is already over.” On Fox News, it never began.
As the ?rst months of Obama’s presidency progressed, the differences in coverage between Fox News and other networks continued to emerge. Fox became a breeding ground for Republican talking points. This link grew so tight that Fox began airing Republican press releases verbatim, presenting them as original reporting with no citation.
On the February 10 edition of Happening Now, host Jon Scott decided to “take a look back at the [stimulus] bill, how it was born, and how it grew, and grew, and grew.” As part of his presentation, Scott cited seven news reports using on-screen graphics. Each of the articles he cited, as well as the on- screen text, came directly from a Senate Republican Communications Center press release. If this coincidence was not enough evidence to prove that Scott had lifted his work from GOP sources, one of the graphics indicated that a Wall Street Journal report that the stimulus package could reach “$775 billion over two years” was published on December 19, 2009. This obvious error — December 19, 2009, would not arrive for another nine months — was also contained in the GOP release Scott had taken his report from.
Then, in early April, as Scott was interviewing Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, seven onscreen graphics labeled “FOXfact” were lifted straight from an op-ed Ryan had published in that day’s Wall Street Journal:
1. Ryan op-ed: “The Republican budget achieves lower de?cits than the Democratic plan in every year.”
FOXfact: “GOP Budget: Achieves lower de?cits than Dem plan in every year.”
2. Ryan op-ed: “Under our plan, debt held by the public is $3.6 trillion less during the budget period.”
FOXfact: “GOP Budget: Debt held by public $3.6 trill less during budget period.”
3. Ryan op-ed: “Our budget gives priority to national defense and veterans’ health care.”
FOXfact: “GOP budget gives priority to natl defense & vet health care.”
4. Ryan op-ed: “We do these things by rejecting the president’s cap-and-trade scheme.”
FOXfact: “GOP budget rejects President’s cap-and-trade scheme.”
5. Ryan op-ed: “Our budget does not raise taxes, and makes permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax laws.”
FOXfact: “GOP budget doesn’t raise taxes; makes permanent ’01 and ’03 tax laws.”
6. Ryan op-ed: “Capital gains and dividends are taxed at 15%, and the death tax is repealed.”
FOXfact: “GOP Budget: Capital gains & dividends taxed at 15% & death tax repealed.”
7. Ryan op-ed: “The budget permanently cuts the uncompetitive corporate income tax rate.”
FOXfact: “GOP budget permanently cuts corporate income tax rate.”
Not only were these “FOXfacts” essentially a transcription of an opinion piece written by the Republican leader, but Fox News didn’t even bother to remove the slanted language — like
“president’s cap-and-trade scheme” or a reference to the “death tax” — from their list of “facts.”
Again in April, during an interview with Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, Fox host Bill Hemmer mentioned four supposedly “wasteful” projects funded by the stimulus bill. At the conclusion of the segment, Hemmer seemed to take credit for the research that uncovered the projects. “We told our viewers we’re keeping track of the stimulus money,” he said. “And that’s
what the intention of this was.”
Hemmer was “keeping track of the stimulus money” with the help of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s website, where each of the examples he mentioned was prominently displayed. At no
point did Hemmer acknowledge that the research he cited came from an unambiguously partisan source.
As a veteran of three successful presidential campaigns, Roger Ailes understood that the beginning of the Obama administration was critical to the long-term success of the president’s agenda. The network needed to make a stand against Obama’s ?rst signature piece of legislation, a stimulus package designed to boost the economy.
There was widespread agreement on the need for action to get the economy moving again, and the president even crafted his plan in a way that should have satis?ed conservatives — with an $800 billion cap on its cost and a signi?cant portion of the stimulus coming in the form of tax cuts. In fact, many liberal economists publicly argued that the package was too small.
But the attacks coming from Fox News were rarely based on reality. For example, Dick Morris told viewers of The O’Reilly Factor that the stimulus bill “won’t work” because “two hundred billion of it is just money to the state. That just stops taxes from going up, but it doesn’t stimulate anything.” Economist Mark Zandi contradicted these claims, telling Congress that “aid to ?nancially-pressed state governments” is “an economically potent stimulus.” Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Of?ce noted that cash infusions to states can produce a greater “cumulative impact on GDP” than tax cuts, the preferred policy of Morris and O’Reilly.