For his sake, I hope Fox News anchor Dave Briggs still has a job in 2011.
The reason I'm not sure Briggs is long for the Fox News world is because during his report this weekend about the fate of the 9-11 first responders bill, which Republicans recently blocked in a naked bout of obstructionism, Briggs committed an unspeakable sin: He told the truth.
Specifically, Briggs actually pointed out that filibustering Republicans purposefully stood in the way of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, designed to aid and compensate first responders who have suffered from respiratory disease following their heroic efforts on the morning of the Sept. 11. (The bill passed the House by more than 100 votes in September.)
Here was Briggs on Sunday morning, interviewing an actual first responder [emphasis added]:
How maddening has it been watching this -- watching the, in particular, the Senate Republicans recently holding up a vote that would give health coverage to thousands of your peers?
Paging Fox News' Bill Sammon: We have an internal messaging problem!
It's simply not acceptable for Fox News anchors or reporters to spell out in such clear detail the callous work of partisan Republicans in terms of denying 9-11 first responders access to the health care they desperately need. It's simply not acceptable during the Christmas season to report accurately that Republicans helped kill the bill. And good Lord, no! You're not supposed to lash out at them. (Perhaps Briggs' only saving grace was that his truth-telling comment aired at 6:45 a.m.)
See, Republican senators made a Faustian bargain when they signed a pledge in November vowing not to vote on any piece of legislation if it wasn't the one and only bill they wanted -- to extend tax cuts for the very wealthy. Republicans took an unprecedented obstructionist stand and were generally rewarded for it by the Beltway press corps. But Republicans also ran the risk of looking like heels for playing politics with 9-11 and denying benefits to the first responders who need them.
Coming to the GOP's aid, Fox News has fashioned together a way out of that bind by simply playing dumb, on an epic scale, and forgetting to tell viewers Republicans filibustered the Zadroga bill.
How exactly are Fox News staffers supposed to report on the bill, which may again be called up for a vote, if they're not supposed to mention that, you know, Republicans uniformly -- unanimously -- opposed it?
Answer: Very carefully. (Or, very deceitfully or disingenuously.)
In other words, when reporting the story, Fox Newsers are supposed to make vague references to how "the Senate" or "politicians" killed the 9-11 relief effort. And yes, Fox Newsers can do that while openly lamenting the bill's demise; while laying it on thick about how the government has abandoned our 9-11 heroes.
That approach is fine; in fact, that seems to be encouraged. But you're not supposed to make the next step of logic and specify who killed the bill. That part must (must!) go unstated, because Fox News, as a political institution, is not allowed to question -- let alone embarrass -- the Republican Party on national television.
Dear Dave Briggs, please take notes from a true Fox News pro, Eric Bolling:
The bill helping Ground Zero first responders, still stalled on Capitol Hill. What is the hold up?And shouldn't we be helping, fighting harder for these American heroes?
And Alisyn Camerota:
The bill helping ground zero first responders is still stalled on Capitol Hill. What is the hold up, and shouldn't we be fighting for our heroes? We'll explore that.
And Steve Centanni:
A $7 billion bill to provide health care to those 9-11 workers who suffered from the dust and smoke of the World Trade Center will also come back up for consideration this week.
And Shannon Bream:
Supporters of a stalled 9-11 health bill in Congress say they now have the votes to pass the $7.4 billion legislation that would provide medical care and compensation to first responders who got sick as a result of their work at ground zero.
See how it's done, Dave? In none of these recent reports or on-air teases (and there have been scores of them) do Fox News viewers ever learn that it's Republicans who are to blame for abandoning -- and not fighting hard enough for - 9-11 "heroes." It's almost never spelled out that just a few days ago every single Republican U.S. senator voted against the bill (except for one, who didn't vote), which is why the legislation is even still around to consider.
Suddenly, in recent days, Fox News loves discussing the 9-11 first responder bill. But putting anything about the bill in context? Not so much.
Even Fox News anchor Shepard Smith last week forgot to tell viewers that it was Republicans who kiboshed the bill:
Watching that clip, it sure seems like Smith and Chris Wallace undressed the GOP for its wrong-headed obstructionism and for playing politics with people's lives -- to the point where a Forbes writer credited the Fox News duo for "condemn[ing] the Senate Republicans for voting down health care for the 9/11 heroes."
But that's not true, because the anchor in this case never spells it out. Instead, it's "these people" and "they" who are to blame for the injustice. And neither does his guest, Wallace. Both men feel strongly that denying 9-11 first responders the aid they need is a "national shame" and a "disgrace." And yet neither mentions the word "Republican." If the two Fox News men were fired up about a Democratic transgression, do you the think a similarly lengthy back-and-forth would for some reason omit the word "Democratic"?
It's possible that in the past, Smith, who boasts a bit of a maverick streak within Fox News, has in fact singled out Republicans for their opposition to the Zadroga bill. But in this buzz-worthy clip that bounced around the Internet last week, both Smith and Wallace forgot to mention which party voted down the bill. They forgot to mention which party was responsible for this "national shame."
But for the pinnacle of Fox News dishonesty on this topic, you have to watch this odd, jazzy commentary from the channel's legal analyst, Peter Johnson Jr., who, for more than three minutes, laments the "injustice" of the 9-11 first responders bill being voted down. ("There's a sad, baleful September song playing in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.")
And who's to blame for the legislation's shameful defeat? Simple. According to a mournful Johnson, it was "senators" and "politicians" and "Congress" who doomed the good bill and who star as the villains of this sad tale.
Republicans? Johnson and the rest of Fox News are giving them a pass.