by Michael Leon
Media Matters: The real story of the 2010 election
By most accounts, the Democrats stand to lose seats in both the House and Senate this coming Tuesday. There are, of course, a wide range of explanations for why this is the case.
However, in endeavoring to explain how the GOP has seemingly managed to reverse its political fortunes in such a short amount of time, media outlets would be remiss not to mention one of the most important factors. In fact, we don’t need to wait for Tuesday’s results to pinpoint perhaps the most significant development in the country’s political landscape over the past two years.
One of the two major political parties in the country is run by a “news” network.
Since President Obama’s inauguration, Fox News has transformed from simply the mouthpiece and oppo research shop of the Republican Party into its headquarters. For the GOP, Fox fundraises, campaigns, gives strategic advice, picks candidates (and then provides them a comfortable platform to reach millions of voters, free of charge), throws and promotes rallies, gets out the vote, and, perhaps most importantly, sets the narrative.
They do all of this while continuing their time-honored tradition of tearing down liberal initiatives and politicians with shameless smears, lies, misrepresentations, and fabricated stories. But before we get to Fox’s massive influence over the coming elections, some back-story is necessary.
Less than two months after Obama’s inauguration, Fox News senior vice president Bill Shine gave an interview with NPR about how the network’s ratings were soaring at the time. During the interview, Shine noted that some people were “rooting for [Fox] to go away” after the election, but “[w]ith this particular group of people in power right now and the honeymoon they’ve had from other members of the media, does it make it a little bit easier for us to be the voice of opposition on some issues?”
Fox’s programming has effectively answered Shine’s rhetorical question with a forceful “yes.”
The network was certainly “the voice of the opposition” on health care reform, spewing countless falsehoods about both our broken health care system and the proposals to fix it while promoting disruptions of health care town halls and GOP initiatives to kill reform.
And of course, Fox operates as a perpetual dishonesty machine, trotting out a steady stream of overhyped scandals and faux-outrages to dent the administration and Democrats (mustard on Obama’s “fancy” hamburger, anyone?)
The network was integral to fostering discontent with Democrats and the administration through their relentless promotion of the Tea Party movement. Fox gave the Tea Party a huge assist last year in the run-up to the original protests, which Fox took ownership of by sending several of their top hosts to throw “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.”
But Fox has done far more this cycle than foster an environment conducive to a GOP electoral victory, having assumed a more hands-on role in Republican electioneering. In addition to Fox’s parent company donating $1.25 million to the Republican Governors Association and another million to the GOP-aligned Chamber of Commerce, more than thirty Fox Newsers have supported GOP candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances in at least 47 states, as we detailed in a report this week.
While it would be nearly impossible to run through Fox’s influence in all of the individual races this year, their “coverage” of a select few races is indicative of the network’s complete transformation into GOP headquarters.
The network tipped its hand for how it would handle covering elections in the “voice of the opposition” era during the run-up to January’s senate election in Massachusetts. Not only did Fox portray Scott Brown as a heroic Founding Father-like figure while smearing his opponent, it also actively aided Brown’s campaign by hosting him repeatedly in the days leading up the election and allowing him to direct viewers to his website so they could find out how to “help with donating and volunteering.” After Brown’s victory, the network was jubilant.
With the successful trial run out of the way, Fox copied the Brown blueprint in several other races around the country.
In the Nevada Senate race, Fox has spent months promoting Sharron Angle and attacking Harry Reid. While Angle has mostly refused to grant interviews to news outlets, she has made an exception for Fox. In fact, their welcoming atmosphere led Angle to brag about how “friendly” outlets like Fox help her with fundraising.
Fox personalities have also worked overtime to aid her race. Fox contributor Sarah Palin endorsed Angle and her PAC gave $2,500 to the campaign. Fox contributor Karl Rove’s GOP slush fund (aka American Crossroads) has indicated it will invest in GOTV efforts to aid Angle. It is also aired an ad targeting Reid. Fox’s Dennis Miller appeared at an October fundraiser for Angle.
And then there’s Dick Morris. Fox’s human ethics scandal has repeatedly fundraised on Angle’s behalf while also touting on-air the anti-Harry Reid group that he’s advising.
And as Election Day rapidly approaches, Fox kicked off this week by launching an evidence-free smear of Reid. After Reid’s office responded to Fox’s desperate attempts to create a new “political scandal,” Fox’s flagship news program, Special Report, deceptively quoted a statement from Reid’s office in order to continue to push the story.
And, just in case their blatant efforts to get Angle elected fail, Fox already has their backup plan in place. This week, Fox News has been hyping comically flimsy allegations of “voter fraud” in Nevada. As top Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston explained to a confused Bill Hemmer, the fraud allegations are merely a “preemptive” strike so the GOP can “cry fraud” in the event Angle loses.
Rove quickly got with the program and endorsed O’Donnell. He was joined by fellow Fox personalities Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin. The network’s hosts have heaped praise on O’Donnell while playing dumb in order to claim her opponent has admitted to being a “bearded Marxist.” While it would be difficult to list all of the effusive O’Donnell praise, one characteristic outpouring of affection came from Fox Business host Stuart Varney, who labeled her precisely the kind of “new face, new blood that we need to get in there.”
Following in Angle’s footsteps by bragging about the love she gets from Fox, Christine O’Donnell told GOP insiders at a strategy meeting that she has “got Sean Hannity in my back pocket, and I can go on his show and raise money by attacking you guys.” A host who was concerned about maintaining any credibility may have bristled at being portrayed this way, but Sean Hannity has long-since demonstrated his lack of concern for ethics. Far from being upset, Hannity is still welcoming O’Donnell on his show.
The Ohio gubernatorial race features Republican candidate John Kasich, who just so happens to be a former Fox News host. Kasich repeatedly used his platform as a Fox host to position himself for a run, and continued to appear regularly as a Fox contributor and host from the time he announced that he was paving the way for a gubernatorial run in March 2008 until he officially declared his candidacy on June 1, 2009. Since declaring his candidacy, Kasich has continued to reap benefits from his cozy relationship with the network. Several Fox News personalities campaigned for him and openly root for him.
Two Fox hosts – Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee — have told Kasich that they “love” him. Hannity has appeared at a fundraiser for Kasich, invited Kasich onto his show to plug his website, and reportedly “pledged to give $10,000 to Kasich’s campaign should he run, as well as have his wife give another $10,000.”
Rupert Murdoch and his wife also donated $10,000 each to Kasich, and Murdoch initially explained News Corp.’s donation to the RGA as resulting from his “friendship” with Kasich. After Kasich’s opponent (accurately) criticized Fox as a “propaganda network” that is “committed to getting Republicans elected,” Bill O’Reilly responded by attacking him for “whining.”
Those are just three races. I haven’t even detailed Fox’s love for “rock star” Marco Rubio, or the fact that Glenn Beck (along with the rest of the network) has transformed his show into a GOTV operation for the GOP.
So when reporters sit down to explain the results of next Tuesday’s election, it’s important that they include the role of Fox News in shaping the outcome.
And if you think the last few months were bad, just wait until Tuesday’s election wraps up and attention shifts to 2012 and the GOP’s presidential primary. Fox currently employs no fewer than five potential contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, and things could get awkward as they try to figure out which of their friends they want to help elect.
It looks like FoxPAC is just getting started.
This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Ben Dimiero, a research fellow at Media Matters for America.