This is a new low for Fox. It's one thing to argue that the ongoing operations in Libya came too late, or shouldn't have happened at all, or are backed by a coalition that's too big, or too small, or that U.S. involvement is too much, or too little -- all of which the right-wing media have managed to say in the past few weeks, sometimes in the same breath -- but it's another to engage in baseless fearmongering that even they admit could put our troops in danger. But, hey! When public opinion polls show that Americans support Obama's actions in Libya, they have to do something to turn the tide against Obama, right?
This began last night, when host Bill O'Reilly interviewed retired Colonel David Hunt and Lieutenant Colonel Tony Shaffer, a former Army intelligence officer, about whether or not the U.S. has "boots on the ground" in Libya. From the March 24 edition of The O'Reilly Factor (via Nexis):
O'REILLY: In the impact segment tonight, not much new to report out of Libya other than Gadhafi's ground forces continue to be hammered by NATO war planes. Some Americans fear there will be boots on the ground in Libya.
The Obama administration says that's not going to happen, but what is happening on the ground may surprise you. Joining us now from Washington Lt. Colonel Tony Shaffer, a former Army Intelligence Officer and from Boston Colonel David Hunt, Fox News military analyst.
So we hear special forces are already on the ground in Libya. True, Colonel Hunt?
COLONEL DAVID HUNT, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Yes, absolutely. You've got British service been in there about three weeks ago and captured and released. The French GIGN have been in there and our special forces and our U.S. intelligence operatives and their assets.
We do not conduct operations like this, large scale air operations without people on the ground. They have been very successful, very good, not a lot of contact with the rebels because you don't know who to talk to.
But, yes, we have got Intel gathering, and rescue guys and special operations guys on the ground, have had them for about 12 days.
O'REILLY: Now, do you agree with that, Colonel Shaffer?
LT. COLONEL TONY SHAFFER, FORMER ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Yes, I have heard from my sources -- I got a call from one of my key sources on Monday and that's exactly what's going on. Let's be really clear here.
You have got to have these individuals doing what Dave just said, especially when you are talking about trying to protect and the stated goal here, Bill, is humanitarian support.
So you don't want to have weapons hitting the wrong targets. So, Dave is very good on the fact that we have special operations guys sitting there with laser designators. Bill, you saw -
O'REILLY: Well, tell me what a laser designator is?
SHAFFER: Well, laser designator is a thing you put on a target especially when you are talking about having close quarters between the adversary -
O'REILLY: So they actually from the air can see these laser designators? So we have guys saying here, you get these people?
SHAFFER: Right, right.
Horrifyingly, even as Hunt acknowledged that usually such special operations are not discussed because "[i]t's protecting guys whose assets are on the ground," O'Reilly egged him on, encouraging him to continue to talk publicly about operations that are normally kept secret in order to "[protect] our guys" (via Nexis, emphasis added):
O'REILLY: Now, the Obama administration says flat out we don't have any boots on the ground there. We are not going to have them. Is that a lie, Colonel Hunt?
HUNT: Yes, it's disinformation. It's protecting guys whose assets on the ground. We don't talk about covert activity. Some the stuff I have been involved in both the Southeast Asia and the Balkans, you know, it's really protecting our guys.
O'REILLY: You were one of the guys on grounds in the Balkans, Colonel Hunt was, when we weren't supposed it have any guys on the ground, correct?
HUNT: Yes, and the reason it's not published want to protect the guys I was with. In this case, it was Seals and trying to do some Intel work -- without the bad guys knowing about it. It's the same issue here with Libya.
O'REILLY: All right, but you were there yourself doing this while the Clinton administration was saying we didn't have anybody there. You were there. I just want people to know that that you have hands on experience and you know what's going on.
Now, Colonel Shaffer, when you say that we have guys in there, you are talking Delta Force guys? Green Beret guys? Navy Seals? All of those people?
SHAFFER: I know what group I was told are in there and their primary duty, their primary job is to make -- we would call them Forward Air controllers, Combat Air controllers.
O'REILLY: OK, but they are attached to the military service. We assume CIA guys are in there. You have got to assume that they are in there. They are everywhere, but they are civilians. You are talking about a military guys in there?
SHAFFER: Right, and their job is to basically make sure that on the terminal phase, the terminal ballistic phase of a bomb going into target that it goes into the target we want.
O'REILLY: Doesn't blow up villagers that have nothing to do with it.
SHAFFER: The bottom line is we trust our guys more than anyone else.
O'REILLY: Of course, look, we have the best Intel people in the world. They are all over the place and -- but I want people to know what's going on in Libya. That's my job.
Well, Bill, it might be your job to keep people informed, but doesn't it strike you as irresponsible to publicly speculate about operations that are normally kept secret for the safety of our troops?
Instead of reflecting on whether or not such reporting is responsible, Fox doubled down. This morning, Fox & Friends repeatedly replayed and hyped Hunt's interview, often without clarifying that Hunt -- who himself offered no concrete evidence for his claims -- specifically meant special forces whose missions are normally not discussed.
This text, for example, was repeatedly aired on screen:
Like O'Reilly, Fox & Friends co-hosts also seemed to possess no self-awareness about how their shameless fearmongering could be harmful, if there are indeed secret U.S. military operatives on the ground:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Special ops are involved in 100 different operations at any point. And as -- you were on the show last night. You heard, they use the term painting the targets. They're on there, so when the jets come over, you have special ops on the ground actually saying, "Okay, hit here" -
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): The laser pointers --
KILMEADE: -- and the laser goes right there, and the bomb hits right there.
DOOCY: The other guy in the split screen is Lieutenant Colonel Tony Shaffer, in operations like this, we always have guys on the ground who do recon, and surveillance and stuff like that. But for the administration to say, don't worry, we're not going to have boots on the ground, that's not exactly honest. Is it? Because we already do have boots on the ground.
At this point, co-host Gretchen Carlson's conscience seemed to catch up with her, though that still didn't stop her from talking about possible "secret, covert people" the U.S. military might have in Libya:
CARLSON: Well -- no. I don't think that's an issue. I think that you need to protect those people who are there. I think when it becomes an issue is if we actually have boots on the ground.
DOOCY: We have boots on the ground!
CARLSON: No, no, no, if we actually are there.
DOOCY: If we invade?
CARLSON: Yes. When you say boots on the ground --
DOOCY: We're not going to invade.
CARLSON: Ok, well, that's a totally different thing and most Americans would understand that we have secret, covert people there, and we don't want to blow their cover. But it's totally different when you're talking about what our long-term mission is there, and that remains unknown.
Fox & Friends didn't even bother to conceal their true motive with this irresponsible reporting. Following that segment, Doocy teased the story again later on the show by saying:
DOOCY: Meanwhile, a stunning revelation -- sources say there are troops on the ground in Libya. Will this spell more trouble for President Obama in the court of public opinion?
Carlson spelled this out even more clearly in a later segment with Geraldo Rivera:
CARLSON: Don't you think it changes the entire tone of this discussion with the American public, if, in fact, there's any inkling that we have boots on the ground? I mean, I do. I think it changes the whole -- those polls would change dramatically about whether or not Americans support this or not.
In other words, Fox has noticed that polls show most Americans support the military action in Libya -- a Reuters poll released yesterday shows 60 percent back the action -- and has essentially decided: "There might be covert troops on the ground, and if so, it would be irresponsible to report on them. But let's do it anyway, because it could make Obama look like a liar!"
Is Fox willing to put the safety of our troops ahead of their shameless desire to smear Obama? It sure looks that way.