By Karl Frisch
Since President Obama took office, Fox News has been acting more like the propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee than a legitimate news outlet.
Back in March, Fox News vice president of programming Bill Shine described his network as the "voice of opposition [to Obama] on some issues." Then there’s Glenn Beck, the buzz-cut conspiracy theorist who claimed Fox News president Roger Ailes wooed him over to the conservative network from CNN Headline News in part by stressing the network’s opposition to Obama, saying, "I see this as the Alamo."
We’ve seen what the Fox News brand of opposition looks like.
In the days and weeks leading up to the April 15 tea party protests, which it repeatedly described as "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties," Fox News aggressively promoted and publicized them, as well as encouraged viewers to get involved with the events. In fact, over the course of a single week, it featured at least 20 segments on the protests and over a similar time span, aired at least 107 commercial promotions for its coverage of the events, which Beck, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren each covered live from cities around the country.
Hardly skipping a beat, Fox News began publicizing subsequent tea parties almost immediately after the April 15 events ended. After repeatedly promoting "Tea Party 2.0," an event sponsored in May by the Republican Governors Association, Fox began encouraging people to register for Independence Day tea parties through the Fox Nation, which was followed by the network’s relentless promotion and live coverage of the Tea Party Express throughout the waning days of summer.
Not content with outdoor rallies full of paranoid, angry tea-partiers, Fox stepped things up in August, directing its minions to attend health care reform town hall meetings held by congressional Democrats.
The conduct on display at these events would make Rep. Joe Wilson (R-You Lie!) blush. Fox & Friends in particular repeatedly praised protesters and urged viewers to join in the, umm … fun? During one revealing Fox segment, reporter James Rosen displayed only the schedule of Democratic town halls, stating that he would display the GOP schedule if only Fox could get its hands on a copy. It wasn’t until later in the day, after apparently brushing up on basic Google skills, that Rosen displayed both Democratic and Republican town halls.
This partisan hackery paled in comparison to what was coming in the days surrounding the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
For months, Beck had been promoting his "9-12 Project" as a place for people looking to take back their country, with an eye toward organizing for a September 12 march on Washington. Beck went into overdrive, encouraging followers to turn out en masse, saying, "On 9-12, I hope to see you in Washington. I will make sure you’re seen all over the country." Fox News was there, all right, just as Beck said it would be, supplying wall-to-wall coverage of the day’s events. One producer even got in on the action, coaching a crowd of protesters to look lively and excited for the cameras just before a live shot.
When the dust finally settled, Beck was so giddy that he couldn’t decide exactly how many people had attended his event — was it the "largest march on Washington ever," 500,000 people, or 1.7 million people? Truth be told, the D.C. fire department unofficially estimated the crowd at between "60,000 and 75,000" attendees.
Yes, Fox News has proven itself quite the capable astroturf supplier, so much so that the conservative network’s contributors and hosts are cashing in.
On two separate programs this week, Fox host and potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee directed those watching at home to sign an online petition telling Congress to "balance the budget," "cut their spending," and "save American families." What he didn’t say is that once signed, the petition redirects visitors to a page soliciting donations for his political action committee, which financially supports GOP candidates and pays his daughter’s salary.
Huckabee seemed to be doing his best Dick Morris impersonation. Leading into the 2008 election and in the weeks that followed, Morris mentioned GOPTrust.com during at least 13 Fox appearances and asked viewers to "give funds to GOPTrust.com," all without disclosing that the organization had paid $24,000 to a company apparently connected to Morris, according to Federal Election Commission records. Just last month, Morris was at it again, using an appearance on Fox to raise money for a right-wing organization that he is closely tied to.
Perhaps it’s the rallies or the lobbying or the fundraising or the demonstrably false attacks that’s kept President Obama from appearing on Fox News.
Regardless, the right’s gravy train rolls on undeterred, facts be damned.
Karl Frisch is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog and research and information center based in Washington, D.C. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube or sign up to receive his columns by email.