Yesterday, my colleague Jeremy Schulman said that it's time for Fox News to own up to its role in airing the wild conspiracy theories of former FEMA director Michael Brown. Neil Cavuto addressed the controversy on his show today, but he didn't shed any light on the issue, and he certainly didn't own up to his role in it.
Instead, he threw his viewers a red herring -- making much of a largely insignificant distinction between White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' description of what Brown said and Brown's actual remarks -- while never playing the most egregious of Brown's remarks and never addressing Gibbs' criticism that Cavuto did little to "push back" against Brown's conspiracy theory.
Cavuto played a video clip of Gibbs stating that Fox News had "put out the former FEMA director to make an accusation that the well had been purposefully set off in order to change an offshore drilling decision." Cavuto responded:
CAVUTO: No. No, he didn't say that, Robert. Michael Brown never said the administration deliberately set off the leak. Not once, not ever. He was invited on to compare this administration's response to this Gulf disaster to the Bush administration's response to another famous Gulf disaster -- Katrina.
What Brown did say was that he "would not be surprised if the White House said, you know what, we might be able to, guess what, do what? Use this crisis to our advantage. Let this crisis get really bad, and then we will step in. We will be able to shut down offshore drilling. We will be able to turn to all these alternate fuels." Cavuto's entire pushback to Gibbs' criticism was that Gibbs inaccurately characterized Brown's remarks, but what Brown did say -- that the administration purposely delayed its response to the spill to maximize the damage for political gain -- isn't significantly different than if the administration had purposely caused the spill. Cavuto was making a distinction without a difference.
Next, Cavuto played a clip of Brown's remarks on the May 3 edition of Fox News' Your World, in which Brown stated that "I think the delay was this. It's pure politics. This president has never supported big oil. He has never supported offshore drilling. And now he has an excuse to shut it back down." But what was absent from the clip Cavuto played was Brown's later comment that the administration deliberately delayed its response:
BROWN: I would not be surprised if the White House said, you know what, we might be able to, guess what, do what? Use this crisis to our advantage. Let this crisis get really bad, and then we will step in. We will be able to shut down offshore drilling. We will be able to turn to all these alternate fuels.
After playing the clip of Brown's remarks (minus, of course, the most egregious claim Brown made -- that Obama may have "let this crisis get really bad" for political gain), Cavuto reiterated that "nowhere in that exchange nor in the rest of the interview ... did Michael Brown ever say -- ever say -- that this White House was behind this spill or set this spill or start this spill." But at no point in the segment did Cavuto address Gibbs' criticism that the Fox News host had failed to "push back" against Brown's conspiracy theory.
Cavuto ignored that criticism -- perhaps because it's accurate. Bill O'Reilly, his fellow Fox News host, has falsely claimed that Cavuto "stuck up" for Obama in the interview. But if he had, why didn't Cavuto himself try to make that point in addressing Gibbs' criticism?