Off The Rails in 2010: The Year In Fox News Misinformation

Media Matters Dec 21, 2010


As the year comes to a close, Media Matters offers a month-by-month look back at Fox News’ most outrageous and factually challenged moments of 2010.



Hume Counsels Tiger Woods To Ditch Buddhism To “Make A Total Recovery.” On the January 3 edition of Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume commented on the scandal surrounding golfer Tiger Woods: “He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn your faith — turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’ ” Hume’s attack on Buddhism was criticized by religious leaders, but endorsed by Hume’s Fox News colleagues Tucker Carlson and Fred Barnes. Hume stood by his comments despite the criticism.

Fox Hires Palin As A Contributor. On January 11, The New York Times reported that Fox News had hired former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a contributor who “would appear on the network’s programming on a regular basis as part of a multiyear deal.” Her well-established record of pushing falsehoods notwithstanding, Palin said that she would provide “the fair and the balanced reporting and analysis that voters in this country deserve.” One of her first Fox News appearances was an hour-long interview with Glenn Beck on January 13 in which the two misled on the Federal Reserve, and Beck read to Palin from his diary.

Fox Campaigns For Scott Brown. In the run-up to the January 19 special Senate election in Massachusetts, Fox News hosted Republican candidate Scott Brown several times for softball interviews and provided a forum for Brown to raise funds. Fox News personalities like Dick Morris made explicit appeals on Brown’s behalf, telling viewers to “please, please help” Brown. Stuart Varney claimed that “your 401(k) could do well” in response to a Brown victory, and Bret Baier compared Brown’s candidacy to the “Miracle on Ice.”


Fox Campaign Season Heats Up. Following Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, Fox began promoting more Republican Senate candidates, like Illinois’ Mark Kirk and Florida’s Marco Rubio. Several Fox News personalitieslikened Kirk to Brown; Fox repeatedly aired a National Republican Senatorial Committee attack ad on Kirk’s Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias; and the network gave Kirk a platform to attack Giannoulias. Fox alsoheavily promoted “political star” Rubio, reporting extensively on his fundraising appeals and speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. On the February 1 edition of Hannity, Dick Morris solicited GOP candidatesfor Senate, which precipitated Republican Ron Johnson’s campaign in Wisconsin.

Fearmongering Over Health Care Reconciliation. Reacting to reports that Senate Democrats were considering using the budget reconciliation process to pass the health care reform bill and circumvent a Republican filibuster, Fox News adopted the GOP framing of reconciliation as a violation of Senate rulesundemocratic, and contrary to thewill of the people. Fox also falsely characterized reconciliation as the “nuclear option” to wrongly accuse Democrats of hypocrisy.


Open Activism Against Health Care Reform. As the health care reform bill moved toward passage, Fox News’ opinion and news personalities engaged in open opposition to the bill. Fox news anchors agreed that the bill was unconstitutional and said they would vote against it, while the network’s opinion-makers lobbied for the bill’s defeat. Commentators like Dick MorrisGlenn Beck, and Mike Huckabee encouraged viewers to contact members of Congress and urge them to oppose the bill, and the network helped to publicize anti-health reform rallies.

Fearmongering was rampant as Fox News compared the bill to a tumor and a nuclear weapon. Fox News also pushed misinformation and falsehoods about health care reform, falsely claiming the bill provided increased federal funding for abortion, promoting a non-scientific “survey” of doctors claiming they would leave medicine if reform passed, accusing Democrats of making “special deals” and offering “bribes” to ensure passage, andattacking the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the bill.

Glenn Beck’s Fiascoes Multiply. Beck devoted his entire March 9 program to an interview with former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) after Massa claimed — without any evidence — that the Democrats had forced him out of the House because he refused to vote for health care reform. The hour-long interview did not produce any evidence of Democratic wrongdoing — instead, Massa acknowledged that he resigned under allegations of sexual harassment. Beck concluded the program by apologizing to his viewers: “I have wasted an hour of your time.”

Later in the month, Beck went on a tirade against Democratic leaders, like Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who “wanted to compare themselves to the civil rights activists” as they walked arm-in-arm to the House health care vote. Beck screamed at them: “How dare you!” Lewis is, of course, an icon of the civil rights movement who marched, arm-in-arm, with a group including Martin Luther King Jr. at the Selma Civil Rights March.


Hannity’s Tea Party Appearance Canceled. Of the many Fox News personalities appearing at tea party events coinciding with Tax Day, Sean Hannity drew additional scrutiny for the fact that he was set to tape an episode of his Fox News program at an April 15 Cincinnati Tea Party event and charge audience members for tickets, with proceeds going to the tea party group. Hannity’s plan was criticized by veteran journalists as crossing ethical lines, and reportedly “furious” Fox News executives yanked Hannity from the event at the last minute. Earlier in the month, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News parent company News Corp., said that Fox News “shouldn’t be supporting the Tea Party.”

O’Reilly’s Fox News Defense Fails Spectacularly. Responding to Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) suggestion that Fox News perpetuated the falsehood that individuals without health insurance can be sent to prison under the new health care reform legislation, Bill O’Reilly said on April 13: “[W]e researched to find out if anybody had ever said you are going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance. Nobody has ever said it. What it seems to me is you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn’t qualify there.” In fact, that very falsehood had been repeated countless times across Fox News’ many platforms, including on O’Reilly’s own show.

Dick Morris Invents, And Then Retracts, Clinton-Reno-Waco Story. On the April 19 edition of Hannity, Dick Morris claimed that Bill Clinton had told him that he had retained Janet Reno as attorney general because she threatened to “tell the truth about Waco.” Morris explained that this story “had never been said before.” The next day, Rush Limbaugh picked up Morris’ story, claiming that “Reno’s appointment to a second term as attorney general was to keep her quiet about the Waco invasion.” One day later, Morris appeared on Fox & Friends to walk back the false story, claiming to separate “the facts” from his “conjecture based on the facts.”


John Stossel Calls For Repeal Of Civil Rights Legislation. Echoing comments made by Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-KY), Fox News’ John Stossel argued against the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act, which ended lunch-counter discrimination, saying that “private businesses ought to get to discriminate.” According to Stossel: “I would go further than [Paul] was willing to go … and say it’s time now to repeal that part of the law.” Stossel repeated his argument several times throughout the month, while Fox News’ media criticism and news programs steadfastly ignored the controversy surrounding Stossel’s comments.

Crusading Against Justice Kagan. Not long after President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Fox News began their assault on Kagan, dredging up a 30-year-old college quote to claim she has “written derisively about conservatives.” From there, the attacks grew only more strident, with Sean Hannity leading the charge, suggesting Kagan was “just another radical,” lying about Kagan’s experience and suggesting she’s a socialist, and falsely claiming she “kick[ed] military recruiters off of campus” at Harvard.

Calling For Impeachment Over Sestak Non-Scandal. Reacting to news reports that the White House had offered Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) an unpaid position on a presidential panel if he chose not to seek the Democratic nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania, Fox News personalities falsely claimed that the White House had broken the law and “bribed” Sestak. Even though legal experts across the ideological spectrum rejected such claims, Fox News commentators suggested that the White House committed a “crime” that rose to the level of an “impeachable offense.”


Giving Land Back To Mexico. On June 15, Fox News reported that a “massive stretch of Arizona [is] now off limits to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico.” The next day, Fox Nation reported: “Obama Gives Back Major Strip of AZ to Mexico.” The claim was completely false — the strip of land in question is part of a national wildlife refuge that, according to refuge officials, was closed to the public in 2006 — two years before Obama was elected — and is still very much under the control of the U.S. Border Patrol. Even after the story was debunked, Fox News continued to mislead, reporting that the land had been “quietly surrendered” to “Mexican drug gangs and illegals.”

Standing Up For BP. As the Gulf oil spill grew worse, Fox News led the conservative media in defending BP, attacking the Obama administration for “demonizing” the company. Many of the attacks were centered on a $20 billion escrow account BP set up, at the urging of the White House, to pay damage claims from Gulf residents. Monica Crowley attacked Obama for “continuing to villainize” the oil company. On Hannity, Newt Gingrich claimedObama was “directly engaged in extorting money” from BP. Stuart Varney called the account a “political slush fund” that was “Hugo Chavez-like.”


Fox Hypes Phony New Black Panthers Scandal. A Media Matters report found that in more than 100 instances between June 30 and July 17, Fox News hyped the manufactured scandal that President Obama’s Justice Department engaged in racially charged “corruption” in the New Black Panther Party case. The phony allegations, made by GOP activist J. Christian Adams, were largely promoted by America Live anchor Megyn Kelly and, following a familiar patternwere picked up by non-Fox media outlets. Still, numerous media and political figures, including Fox News contributors and Republicans, have dismissed the phony scandal.

Fox Assists Breitbart’s Smears of Shirley Sherrod As Racist. On July 19, Andrew Breitbart posted a deceptively edited clip of then-USDA official Shirley Sherrod and accused her of racism. Following Breitbart’s post, FoxNews.comran an article headlined “Video Shows USDA Official Saying She Didn’t Give ‘Full Force’ of Help to White Farmer,” before the USDA announced Sherrod’s resignation on July 19. Following her resignation, Fox News programs amplified attacks against Sherrod. Fox News Senior Vice President Michael Clemente later admitted that a “breakdown” allowed to run the story about Sherrod’s comments. Prior to Clemente’s admission, however, Fox aggressively claimed it did not cover the story prior to her resignation.


Fox Provides Megaphone To Park51 Opponents. A Media Matters review of Fox News’ evening coverage of the planned Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero found that between May and August 13, the shows hosted at least 47 guests to discuss the project, nearly 75 percent of whom opposed the center. Over the summer, Fox News routinely used anti-Muslim rhetoric and dubious arguments to attack the proposed center.

8-28 “Restoring Honor”: Glenn Beck Honors Glenn Beck. On August 28, Glenn Beck hosted his heavily promoted “Restoring Honor” weekend in Washington, D.C. Beck’s event was focused on one thing: Glenn Beck. Beck introduced a Beck-sanctioned clergy group that he claimed represented “180 million people,” comically associated himself with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, made outlandish claims about the impact of the events, and was praised as “one of America’s most trusted and honored citizens.” Beck’s “non-political” rally was also steeped in politics.


Glenn Beck And Fox News’ Anti-Semitism Problem. Following a pattern, Glenn Beck promoted a book by Eustace Mullins, who has been described as an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist” and a “nationally known white supremacist”; the ADL called the book “a re-hash of Mullins’ anti-Semitic theories about the origins of the Federal Reserve.” In October and November, Beck repeatedly attacked financier and philanthropist George Soros with anti-Semitic stereotypes, referring to Soros as a “puppet master” and accusing him of controlling the media, the political process, and the global economy.

Fox Calls For Repeal Of The 20th Century. In September, Media Matters documented that since President Obama’s election, Fox personalities have expressed opposition to or called for the repeal of virtually every progressive achievement of the 20th century, including Social Security, Medicare, the Americans with Disabilities Act, portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution.

Fox News’ Christine O’Donnell Problem. Following Christine O’Donnell’s surprise victory in the Delaware Republican Senate primary, many Fox media figures coalesced around O’Donnell and took to bullying other Republicans — including Fox News’ Karl Rove — into supporting her. O’Donnell, who was told by Sarah Palin to “speak through Fox News,” reportedly said she had Hannity “in her back pocket” and a Fox source told Media Matters that O’Donnell appeared on Hannity after canceling on Fox News Sunday in order to “get a certain kind of treatment.”


Kilmeade “Misspoke” About “All Terrorists” Being “Muslims” — Twice. On the October 15 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that “[n]ot all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” Later that day on his radio program, Kilmeade asserted that it’s a “fact” that “every terrorist is a Muslim” and questioned whether “moderate Muslims” need to prove “you’re not one of them.” Kilmeade — who, like his Fox News colleagues, has a history of bigoted and anti-Muslim statements — later “clarif[ied]” that he “misspoke.”

Glenn Beck’s Violent Rhetoric — And Its Consequences. In October, nearly three months after Byron Williams was arrested on his way to kill “people of importance at the Tides Foundation and ACLU,” Media Matters released “Progressive Hunter,” a report from journalist John Hamilton, who spoke with Williams at the California jail where he currently awaits trial. In his interviews with Hamilton, Williams described Beck as “a schoolteacher” and said “it was the things [Beck] exposed that blew my mind.” Beck has a long history of using violent rhetoric to attack progressives and Democrats.


How Fox News Won The Elections. Throughout the 2010 election cycle, Media Matters documented how Fox News, its employees, and its parent company engaged in an unprecedented campaign in support of the Republican Party. The network served as the communications and fundraising wing of the GOP while fervently promoting — and sometimes creating — the party’s candidates. Specifically:

  • Fox Parent Company Donates $2.25 Million To GOP-Linked Groups. On September 30, Politico reported that News Corp. had donated $1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Following the donation, Fox offered little in the way of disclosure. On August 16, Bloomberg reported that News Corp. gave the Republican Governors Association (RGA) “$1 million in June” and that News Corp. was “[t]he Republicans’ biggest corporate donor” for 2010. The New York Times further reported on August 17 that the donation “is one of the biggest ever given by a media organization, campaign finance experts said.” On October 15, The New York Times reported that News Corp. donated an additional $250,000 to the RGA in July. In the weeks that followed, Fox often neglected to disclose the donation while reporting and discussing gubernatorial races.
  • FoxPAC: Fox News Figures Raise Big Bucks For GOP. Fox News contributors Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum all raised tens of millions combined for Republican causes. Contributor Karl Rove ran a shadow Republican National Committee during the election that directed tens of millions to Republican causes and ran tens of thousands of TV ads. And contributor Dick Morris served as a one-man campaign for the Republican Party.
  • GOP Candidates “Speak Through Fox News.” Republican candidates took the advice of Sarah Palin, who advised Christine O’Donnell to “speak through Fox News,” and participated in numerous softball interviews and fundraising pushes on the network.
  • Fox News Builds Conservative Movement, Creates 2010 Candidates. Media Matters documented how Fox News engaged in conservative movement-building by heavily promoting and taking ownership of the tea parties and guiding them toward the Republican Party. The election also featured Republican candidates who were previously employed by, or inspired by, Fox News.
  • More Than 30 Fox Newsers Support GOP In 600-Plus Instances During Midterms. During the election cycle, more than 30 Fox News personalities endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances. The Republican support was given to more than 300 different races or party organizations in at least 47 states. Media Matters found that Republicans routinely tout the Fox News affiliations of their supporters.

Fox News’ “Nazi” And “Socialism” Rhetoric Comes Straight From The Top. In a November interview, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes referred to National Public Radio executives as “Nazis” with a “Nazi attitude” and claimed that “[t]hey are the left wing of Nazism.” As Media Matters documented, Ailes’ employees at Fox News, particularly Glenn Beck, have also used Nazi and Holocaust imagery to smear President Obama, Democrats, and progressives. Ailes also referred to Obama’s policies as “socialism.” Ailes’ opinion is shared by his Fox News employees, who regularly characterize Obama and his administration as “socialist.”

Lou Dobbs Joins Fox Birther Network. In November, Fox Business Network hired Lou Dobbs. While with CNN, Dobbs repeatedly advanced false conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birth certificate. Dobbs has company at Fox, as his new colleagues have a history of embracing birtherism. In December, The Washington Post noted that Fox is the “second-chance employer” for those who “ran afoul” of liberals, such as Don Imus and former WJLA (DC) anchor Doug McKelway.

Andrew Napolitano Pushes 9-11 Conspiracy Theories — Fox Is Hypocritically Silent. On November 23, Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano told 9-11 conspiracy theory leader Alex Jones that it’s “hard for me to believe that” World Trade Center Building 7 “came down by itself” — a central tenet of 9-11 conspiracy theories — and claimed that “twenty years from now, people will look at 9-11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn’t possibly have been done the way the government told us.” Napolitano made similar remarks in May on a separate radio program. Despite criticizing 9-11 conspiracy theorists in the past, Fox News was silent about Napolitano’s remarks.

Fox News’ 2012 Presidential Roster. In November, Media Matters released a report estimating that between January 1 and October 31 of this year, five potential Republican presidential candidates who also serve as Fox News contributors or hosts — Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, John Bolton, and Rick Santorum — had appeared on the network for a combined total of nearly 66 hours. Media Matters estimates this time to be worth at least $40 million in advertising costs. Figures both within and outside Fox News — including some of the potential candidates — have praised Fox News as a helpful vehicle for a potential run for the Republican nomination.


Fox News Vs. The DREAM Act. According to a Media Matters analysis, Fox News gave guests who oppose the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a path to legal status for certain immigrants who came to the United States as children, more than 40 minutes of airtime from November 23 through December 6, but only about 7 minutes to supporters during that same period. In November and December, Fox News regularly resorted to inflammatory rhetoric and false claims to attack the legislation.

Fox Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon Caught Slanting News Reporting. Media Matters released emails showing Washington managing editor Bill Sammon directing staff not to use the phrase “public option” when discussing health care reform legislation. The emails, which were sent during the height of the health care debate, echoed Republican pollster Frank Luntz’s appearance on Hannity in which he encouraged host Sean Hannity not to say “public option,” but instead use the term “government option,” because “if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.”

Media Matters also obtained emails from Sammon in which he instructed news staff to “refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.” This directive was issued less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.” Sammon’s email was sent as the network heavily promoted the fabricated “Climategate” scandal.

Media Matters previously reported that sources with knowledge of the situation had raised concerns about the direction of Fox’s Washington bureau under Sammon, who took over as managing editor in February 2009.

— E.H.H. & S.S.M.

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