Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fox’s History of Dishonesty

Over the past two years, Fox News has promoted several egregious lies that have had serious political repercussions. These fake scandals have not been the result of a lone wolf; each was promoted by multiple hosts on the network. While those on other networks have stated falsehoods (which I have extensively documented), none can claim to have pushed so many lies that have proven to be so false.

This is not to say that Fox hasn’t done some superb journalism, it has. I praised Fox News for its fair and well rounded presidential debate. I am also a fan of the Fox Report and Greta Van Susteren. Even if Fox’s hard news anchors (and Greta) were completely without fault, it would not excuse Fox’s opinion hosts from having to be accurate. Occasionally, some of Fox’s hard news anchors promoted faux controversies, but I will be focusing on the failures of Fox’s opinion hosts. 

Death Panels

During the Summer of 2009, America was debating Heath Care Reform. Few people were able to understand the complicated and nuanced legislation. The media primarily focused on the strategy and gamesmanship surrounding the bill rather than explaining what it would do. As a result many lies snuck into the debate with one rising above all the rest: Death Panels.

On August 7th Sarah Palin wrote on her facebook page that  

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

She was referring to a provision in the bill that pays doctors for voluntary meetings to discuss end of life issues, such as how long a person wants to live on life-support. Such measures would give patients more control over their health care. It would also save Medicare money by not having to spend on end of life care beyond the point that patients desire it. There is no panel involved, just you and your doctor. Sarah Palin used her son with Down syndrome to push a sensationalistic and outright false claim about health care reform. Politifact rated Sarah Palin’s facebook message “pants on fire,” a designation that they save for the most ridiculous claims.

Fox News prominently promoted this lie on Hannity, Fox and Friends, Glenn Beck, Your World  with Neil Cavuto, and the O’Reilly Factor. When Andrew Napolitano filled in for Glenn Beck on January 3rd, 2011 he said that there are now death panels that will “tell Grandma and Granpa, which will someday be all of us, how and when to die.”

Politifact made “Death Panels” its 2009 lie of the year.

[Read more about the Death Panels myth: Politifact]

ACORN Videos

On September 10, 2009 James O’Keefe announced on, a website run by Andrew Breitbart, that he would reveal on that website the results of an undercover investigation into the community organizing group ACORN showing their willingness to aid O’Keefe in starting a child prostitution business.

Fox News ran with the story immediately. They gave it wall to wall coverage on Hannity, Fox and Friends, Glenn Beck, and the O’Reilly Factor. The story they told was shocking. Dressed as a pimp and a prostitute, James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles entered ACORN offices across the country and were given advice on starting a child prostitution ring. The ACORN workers encouraged them in their efforts and even offered to help smuggle girls into the country.

The only problem is that none of it was true. O’Keefe and Giles did not enter the ACORN offices dressed as a pimp and a prostitute. The encouragement expressed in the tape was encouraging the pretend prostitute to keep trying to find housing. The guy who was offering to help smuggle girls into the country was actually doing so to collect information from them that he later gave to the police.

Unfortunetly, before anyone knew any of this, the federal government defunded ACORN on September 15th.  On November 2nd, ACORN declared bankruptcy.

Former Massachusetts Attorney-General Scott Harshbarger was hired by ACORN to look into the allegations. His report found that,

While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff; in fact there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers.

Then California Attorney-General Edmund Brown said in his investigation of the incident, Things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through selective editing of reality. Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor.”

[Find out more about the fake ACORN controversy: The Rachel Maddow Show]

Shirley Sherrod

On July 19, 2010 Andrew Breitbart posted a video at that he claimed showed Shirley Sherrod, the USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, admitting to using her position to discriminate against a white farmer based on his race. Within hours and Fox Nation (an online opinion website run by Fox News) posted the story. Shirley Sherrod was fired/forced to resign by the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that day.

Here is what Fox’s opinion hosts had to say about the story:

O’Reilly: This is simply unacceptable and Ms. Sherrod must resign immediately.
(The firing/forced resignation occurred after O’Reilly’s show was taped)

Hannity: “[This is] just the latest in a string of racial incidents [involving the Obama administration]”

Alisyn Camerota (on Fox and Friends): Perhaps everyone needs a refresher course in what racism looks like. That is…
Doocy: Exhibit A

Glenn Beck (on his radio show): Excuse me, have we transformed into 1956, only the other way around?

Once the full speech was obtained by CNN and MSNBC it was clear that the incident Shirley Sherrod was describing occurred 24 years ago when she was working for a non-profit, not the USDA. The speech also showed that she ended up changing her mind and saving the white farmer’s farm. Her story was one of overcoming racism, not displaying it. When asked if there was anything that Shirley Sherrod had done that seemed racist the white farmer in the story told CNN, “No way in the world. No way. I don’t even want to talk about it. It doesn’t make sense.”  

[Discover more about the Shirley Sherrod scandal: The Rachel Maddow Show (video one) (video two)]

200 Million dollars a day

During the first week of November 2010 Fox was abuzz about the cost of Obama’s trip to India. Mike Huckabee was the first to discuss the controversy on fox, stating during fox’s election coverage that the trip would cost 200 Million dollars a day. Hannity, Fox and Friends, and Glenn Beck soon followed. But the description by Eric Bolling took the cake.

It’s a trip equipped for a king, a president. 40 planes, 6 armored cars including the Barack-mobile, you know, the beast, the entire Taj Mahal, 570 rooms in all, an entourage of 3,000 people, 3 choppers, 30 bomb sniffing dogs, a total cost: 200 Million dollars a day.

Now that’s just comical.  The war in Afghanistan costs 190 million dollars a day. The 200 million dollar figure came from an alleged Indian provincial official. No one who had done their research on this issue could have believed that number to be reliable. Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, and Jon Stewart debunked this myth, among others.

[Watch Jon Stewart skewer Fox over their promotion of the 200 million dollar a day falsehood]

Planned Parenthood videos

On February 1st, 2011, Lila Rosa released videos at purporting to show “Planned Parenthood’s cover-up of child sex trafficking.” Sound familiar? Fox News gave it extensive coverage on Fox Nation, Special Report, Follow the Money with Eric Bolling (on Fox Business), and the O’Reilly Factor. Glenn Beck devoted an entire show to the videos.

But they all left out one critical detail. Planned Parenthood altered the FBI about the potential child sex trafficking before any of the videos were released.

From Planned Parenthood’s press release from January 24, 2011, “Last week, Planned Parenthood Federation of America alerted federal authorities to a potential multi-state sex trafficking ring.”

Planned Parenthood also stated in their press release that they realized the actors from Live Action may be trying to set them up,

If a multistate sex trafficking operation is in place, those responsible must be pursued to stop the exploitation of girls and young women," said Schear.  "If these visits are part of a 'dirty tricks' campaign, they must be condemned.  Falsely claiming sex trafficking to health professionals to advance a political agenda is an astoundingly cynical form of political activity.

This stunt by Lila Rose which was aided by Fox News nearly cost Planned Parenthood its federal funding (which doesn’t go towards abortions).

[Read more about the Planned Parenthood defamation: Media Matters]


Each of these controversies unjustly poisoned the well of public opinion against these groups. If past is prologue, we can have no doubt that Fox News will continue to push egregious falsehoods. Keep that in mind the next time you tune in.

P.S. I would like to thank Media Matters, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Show, and Politifact for their help in creating this post. Keep up the good work.

Originally Posted May 25, 2011

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