By Terry Krepel
Dana Perino cashed in on her stint as White House press secretary in the Bush administration in the usual way: by signing on with a Washington PR firm (resulting in the occasional disclosure problem). She also got a common perk for ex-employees of Republican administrations — she joined the Republican administration in exile at Fox News.
If Perino ever felt constrained by the facts while speaking from the podium in the White House, she doesn’t seem to feel that way now. Her tenure as Fox News’ press secretary in exile has been marked by one false or misleading claim after another.
This past week, Perino has engaged in a veritable parade of whoppers to attack the Obama administration’s handling of suspected terrorists in general and, in particular, alleged "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — and to try to cover for her old boss.
On Monday’s Fox & Friends, faced with the argument that the Bush administration did a fine job of handling shoe bomber Richard Reid in the criminal justice system instead of military detention, Perino claimed that the Reid case was different because "there wasn’t a system in place" for President Bush to order Reid to be held by the military. But the supposed lack of a working system didn’t prevent the Bush administration from holding others captured around the same time as Reid, or even before, in military detention.
In that same Fox & Friends appearance, Perino asserted that Abdulmutallab bought a one-way ticket to Detroit. Wrong again — administration officials say he bought a round-trip ticket.
Then, in another Fox & Friends appearance on Friday, Perino claimed that the Obama administration admitted that it "bungled" the interrogation and Mirandizing of Abdulmutallab following his arrest because "they had to do a review." In fact, the "review" in question focused on intelligence and national security measure failures prior to the incident, not Abdulmutallab’s detention and interrogation.
These are just the latest entries in Perino’s track record of misleading and botching facts on Fox. She claimed that the Obama White House’s criticism of a news outlet "feels un-American" — even though she attacked NBC from Bush’s White House. She pushed fuzzy math in attacking health care reform. And of course, there was her infamous claim that "[w]e did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term," which she had no choice but to walk back. (Somehow, that did not keep her from later insisting that Democrats are acting "as if 9-11 never happened.")
Fox News purports to have a zero-tolerance policy toward "on-screen errors," though it seems to be directed only at technical glitches and not what anyone actually says on the air. One can presume that as long as Perino contributes to Fox News’ anti-Obama narratives, she won’t be seeing adverse write-ups in her Fox News personnel file anytime soon.
Such attacks — even as false as they are — dovetail nicely with Fox News’ all-but-declared war against Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who committed the offense of pushing back against Republican attacks over the administration’s handling of terrorism. How aggressive is Fox’s anti-Brennan crusade? Gregg Jarrett — co-host of a designated "news" program that Fox wants you to think is objective — claimed that Brennan "keeps making false accusations, apparently," and asked Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, "Shouldn’t this guy, who advises the president, resign?"
That’s an attitude that comes straight from Fox News management. Washington managing editor Bill Sammon — in apparent violation of his own memo calling for Fox employees to at least pretend as though they’re real journalists — asserted on Fox News Sunday that the "mainstream media" hates Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement because it’s "galvanizing Republicans."
Perino is still a press secretary. The only differences are that the "administration" she’s spinning for is housed at a TV channel, not in the White House, and that she’s on the payroll of Fox News, not the federal government.
Other stories this week
Global warming bamboozlement, Snowpocalypse edition
The East Coast, and Washington, D.C., in particular, got clobbered over the past week with a one-two punch of winter weather — a storm leaving as much as three feet of snow, followed a few days later by a full-on blizzard. And you know what that means.
No, we’re not talking about the massive cleanup afterward. We’re talking about conservatives baselessly claiming that snow disproves the existence of global warming.
It wasn’t just the usual conservative suspects forwarding this claim, though Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and The Washington Times all did so. The Hill gave Republican Rep. Jim DeMint a platform to assert, "It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle,’ " and The Wall Street Journal promoted the igloo Sen. James Inhofe’s family built for Gore.
Missing from these reports: the fact that a snowstorm or two on the East Coast says nothing whatsoever about the global weather patterns. Indeed, while D.C. was getting hammered by the Snowpocalypse, it’s the warmest winter in years on the West Coast, where they’re bringing in snow via helicopter to Vancouver so there’s enough for the Olympics, and there’s a heat wave in Rio.
Washington likes to think it’s the center of the universe, but it’s not — especially when it comes to weather. Too bad conservatives haven’t figured that out.
The week in Sarah Palin: Talk to the hand
Palin’s speech at the National Tea Party Convention proved to be even more catnippy than usual for the right-wing media, which spent yet another week breathlessly reporting her every word while ignoring or defending this week’s round of gaffes.
Palin’s falsehoods and anti-intellectual smears generally got a pass (though Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade surprisingly showed a little backbone), as did her double standard on who is allowed to say "retard" in public — Rahm Emanuel can’t, but Rush Limbaugh can because he’s being satirical (thus overruling her own spokesperson). No word yet on whether Stephen Colbert’s meta-satire is permissible.
On the other, uh, hand, the right-wing media went into a frenzy to defend Palin from criticism that she was being hypocritical by bashing President Obama’s use of a teleprompter while not only apparently reading her Tea Party speech from printed notes, but also checking writing on her hand. Kilmeade (apparently making up for his earlier criticism of Palin) said that the notes on Palin’s palm meant she was being "folksy" and "down to earth," and National Review Online’s Stephen Spruiell claimed it showed she is "like other busy moms." Sean Hannity and Dick Morris joined in.
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly helped out by playing defense for her co-worker, even though she’s on one of the designated "news" shows that are supposed to be objective.
Lest anyone think Fox News’ love for Palin is going unreciprocated, Palin tweeted birthday greetings to Glenn Beck. But don’t expect Fox to suggest Palin’s speeches are me-centric, as it has with Obama’s.
This week’s media columns
This week’s media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert looks at how the media ignored the Tea Party Convention’s rampant birtherism; Jamison Foser says it was a bad week for conservative whining about not being taken seriously; and Karl Frisch believes the right-wing media deserve a snowball right in the kisser.
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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Terry Krepel, a senior web editor at Media Matters for America.