Coverage of CNBC's economic town hall meeting with President Obama has been dominated by analysis over poignant comments made by middle-class Maryland resident Velma Hart. Hart, who voted for Obama in 2008, told the president she was "exhausted" of defending him, expressed her fears about her family's economic future and famously asked him, "Quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?"
Unsurprisingly, Hart's comments, which were evocative of the nationwide uncertainty in the wake of the economic downturn, have been distilled by Fox News into a simplistic attack on the president: "Is Velma Hart the next Joe the Plumber?"
On this morning's Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy went from describing Hart as speaking "from the heart and sa[ying] I don't want to have to make those choices at the grocery store. I got kids going to college," before marginalizing her by asking, "Is she the new Joe the Plumber?" On September 22, America Live's Megyn Kelly repeatedly teased a segment on Hart by asking, verbatim, the exact same question:
But the right-wing media's instinct for attacking Obama has, in this case -- as in so many others -- ignored Hart's actual words and feelings. Richard Socarides, former special adviser to President Clinton,noted on America Live that the comparison is faulty "because I think this exchange had a lot of dignity to it."
But the best argument against the comparison is Hart herself, who says she still supports the president and who appeared on the September 23 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom to reinforce that point. Co-host Bill Hemmer tried his best to get Hart to attack the president, telling her that "the comment that got my attention was when you said you were exhausted of defending him," and asking what she meant by that. Later in the interview, Hemmer said, "The impression I get is that you weren't satisfied with what came back at you."
Each time, Hart reiterated her support for the president, and said she was "satisfied with the answer that he gave me." But the most awkward moment of the interview was when Hemmer tried out Fox's "Joe the Plumber" talking point on her directly, and Hart flatly rejected the comparison:
Hemmer ended the interview with another awkward Joe the Plumber reference, but most notably by saying, "A lot of people heard you loud and clear." As The Washington Post noted, Hart "said her comments and question, which were meant to elicit comforting words from Obama, have become political fodder and have been misconstrued as proof that Obama's die-hard supporters were prepared to abandon him."
Hart's words may have been heard "loud and clear" by many of us, but it is clear that they were not by Fox News.