One of Fox News' more bizarre ethical violations has drawn to a close. After devoting a week of segments to promoting a Republican Senate candidate's fundraising ploy, Fox & Friends plagiarized the idea and spent another week passing it off as their own.
As Media Matters previously reported, last month Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse released a March Madness-themed competition featuring a bracket of 64 alleged Constitutional violations by the Obama administration.
Fox & Friends eagerly latched onto the "Constitutional Madness" bracket, devoting significant time to it on their March 21, 22, 24, 25, and 26 broadcasts. While promoting the Sasse campaign's bracket, both the hosts and on-screen text repeatedly credited Sasse with coming up with the idea. Fox hosts also adopted the Sasse campaign-approved branding that the Nebraska Republican is known as "the anti-Obamacare candidate."
After originally telling viewers to weigh in on Facebook and Twitter, Fox & Friends started directing viewers to vote in the competition at the Sasse-operated constitutionalmadness.com. (Sasse himself also directed viewers to visit the website during his appearance on the March 24 edition of Fox & Friends.)
The Sasse campaign was likely thrilled by the publicity boost, because the entire competition was a thinly-veiled effort to farm email addresses and solicit donations. Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com are greeted with a large "CONTRIBUTE!" button. Filling out a bracket automatically redirects people to the Sasse campaign's fundraising page, and in order to complete the bracket in the first place, you have to give the Sasse campaign your email address.
Inevitably, since filling out a bracket on March 26, Media Matters has been emailed fundraising solicitations from the Sasse campaign, including one on March 29 urging people to contribute before the end of the fundraising quarter.
But a strange thing happened in the middle of Fox & Friends' promotion of Sasse's "Constitutional Madness": the show kept running segments charting the progress of the competition, but stopped crediting Sasse for the idea. Instead, Fox & Friends started directing people to vote at their show's own website, where they had plagiarized much of the original bracket.
For example, Fox's Final Four featured "Using the IRS to suppress Tea Party free speech"; "Forcing taxpayers to violate religious conscience by funding abortion through Obamacare"; "Asserting executive privilege over Fast and Furious investigative documents"; and "White House 'kill List' includes Americans without due process." All four of those descriptions are taken word-for-word from Sasse's website.
Rather than cite the Sasse campaign for the idea, the Fox & Friends website instead takes credit for it, claiming in the introductory text, "we put together a 'Constitutional Madness' bracket, pitting all of President Obama's constitutional violations against each other."
Fox has also been suggesting on-air that "Constitutional Madness" was their own idea. On its March 27 broadcast, Fox & Friends cohost Steve Doocy called Constitutional Madness "our own little competition." Similarly, the next day, Doocy introduced a bracket update by calling the bracket, "our own version of March Madness."
Fox has repeatedly celebrated the popularity of its borrowed idea, with Peter Johnson Jr. claiming on April 1 that "thousands of our viewers are saying it's unconstitutional as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore."
On April 4, the final day of the bracket, Fox & Friends announced that "IRS targeting" had won the competition, with "81 percent of America" voting for it. While Fox is now done with its competition, the Sasse campaign's original bracket appears to have stalled and is currently still in the Elite Eight.
The Sasse campaign has not responded to Media Matters' request for comment.