Fox News hosts and guests have criticized a scheduled ABC exclusive broadcast from the White House, but they failed to mention the extraordinary access Fox News had to President Bush and other officials, using those opportunities to lob softball questions and provide a platform for Bush administration talking points.
Fox News hosts and guests have been critical of ABC News over reports of a June 24 prime-time special, "Questions for the President: Prescription for America," to be broadcast exclusively by ABC News from the White House. One host, for example, agreed with a Republican National Committee complaint that ABC's special "will become a glorified infomercial" for the Obama administration. But in expressing concerns about the ABC News broadcast, those on Fox News did not make any attempt to distinguish -- nor even mention -- the extraordinary access Fox News had to President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other high-ranking administration members, using those opportunities to lob softball questions and provide an uncritical platform for administration talking points.
For instance, on the June 17 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson read from a letter by RNC chief of staff Ken McKay stating that the RNC is "concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat [sic] agenda." Co-host Steve Doocy then stated, "The guy's got a good point." He later added, "Look, if you go inside the Blue Room [of the White House], and then you take a whole bunch of people and you put them in the East Room as well, it's gonna be a valentine to the president's health care agenda. ABC, right now, should stand for All Barack Channel." Doocy also said that "[u]nfortunately, you're probably going to have to tune from ABC to Fox to get both sides of the story." Later, on that day's edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer stated that "ABC News now facing a bit of criticism for an upcoming prime-time special on the president's health care plan." His guest, Media Research Center communications director Seton Motley, then said that the special "is an all-day home field advantage play for Obama and his position on health care."
Similarly, on the June 16 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity repeatedly called the ABC special an "infomercial," stating of the network, "They're going to literally go to the White House, they're going to do all their shows from there." During the show, Jeri Thompson, wife of former Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson, also commented to Hannity: "ABC is going to be broadcasting from within the White House. Sort of like in Russia, you know, back in the days of the Politburo and the czars where the press, you know, lives in-house." Earlier that night on his Fox News show, in arguing that "we need to exercise a few of our rights, like speaking out and assembling," Glenn Beck remarked: "And the media, the watchdog of the government? ABC is going to broadcast from the White House on health care."
But such criticism ignores the fact that the Bush administration repeatedly gave exclusive access to Fox News, which often used such opportunities to ask softball questions and run specials about the administration. For instance:
- During an exclusive interview with then-President Bush on the June 8, 2005, edition of Your World, host Neil Cavuto asked Bush questions such as: "Let me ask you about the economy, sir. Almost any objective read tells you that we're still doing very, very well. ... Do you think you get a bum rap in the media on the economy?" and "Do you ever get mad at your fellow Republicans?" As Media Matters for America noted at the time, Media Research Center president L. Brent Bozell III defended Cavuto from criticism that he had lobbed "softball" questions to Bush, asserting that Bush was asked "some challenging questions" and that the interview "was no puff job."
- Similarly, Cavuto's July 31, 2006, exclusive interview with Bush also featured softballs, false assertions, and a failure on Cavuto's part to ask any substantive questions regarding the Iraq war, as Media Matters documented. In addition, Cavuto rarely challenged Bush's answers, including Bush's claim that "I think about Al Qaeda every day" -- even though he previously asserted that he was "not that concerned" about Osama bin Laden. After the interview, Cavuto repeatedly praised the president and his ability to withstand the Miami humidity, telling Fox News' Brian Wilson that Bush "was dry as toast" and "looked great."
- On February 16, 2006, Cheney granted his first interview after accidentally shooting a hunting companion in the face to Fox News' Brit Hume. As Media Matters noted, in airing the interview, Fox News omitted Cheney's comments about drinking a beer the day he shot his hunting companion, Harry Whittington, and even excluded the comments from what it said was the "full interview" posted on its website. Yet, on the February 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Hume gave himself high marks for the manner in which he conducted his interview with Cheney, saying "[t]he last thing in the world that Dick Cheney needed on that day was a soft interview," and "my job was to simply sit there and walk through this episode with him and ask all the relevant questions." Moreover, Hume neglected to ask a number of "relevant" questions, as Media Matters noted. For example, Cheney appeared to accept responsibility for shooting Whittington ("Well, ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger"), but Hume failed to ask Cheney why he allowed surrogates -- without challenging or correcting them -- to publicly blame Whittington for the accident.
- On September 30, 2006, Fox aired a special on then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, titled "Why He Fights," which promised to "examine why President Bush stands behind him and what drives the 73-year-old Rumsfeld to soldier on." In a "Reporter's Notebook" entry on the documentary, Bret Baier, who interviewed Rumsfeld, wrote: "[F]or me, Rumsfeld continues to be one of the most fascinating figures in President Bush's war cabinet." He continued, "At 74 years old, he is a self-made millionaire many times over. He once served as the nation's youngest defense secretary -- now he's the oldest. So what keeps him going? What makes him continue to fight?" Baier further described the special as a "series of one-on-one interviews with Rumsfeld that took place over the course of several months," adding: "I traveled with Rumsfeld to Iraq numerous times, spoke with him at the Pentagon, and even rode along with him as he traveled to and from the White House."
On the October 16, 17, and 18, 2006, editions of The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly aired portions of his October 16 interview with Bush, which consisted of such "tough questions" as whether Hillary Clinton is "soft on terrorism," whether "the anti-Bush press" is responsible for popular opposition to the war, and whether Bush was aware that critics "are trying to destroy you." O'Reilly also asked Bush, "[Y]ou work hard, right?" In his introduction to the October 16 interview segment, O'Reilly stated that "[b]ecause every presidential interview is finite," he would concentrate on "what is happening now." Absent from the interview, O'Reilly stated, would be any questions that "look back," because, "What good does it do to rehash WMDs?" According to the on-screen text, "Looking back doesn't do anybody any good."
On October 13, 2007, Fox News aired "Dick Cheney: No Retreat," which was described as "an exclusive interview" with Cheney and teased as "a rare glimpse into the life of the vice president."
- On February 2 and February 3, 2008, Fox News aired a documentary titled "George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish," after, as Fox itself described, "FOX News' Bret Baier was granted unprecedented access by George W. Bush as the president begins the final year of his extraordinarily consequential tenure."
Media Matters has also noted that Fox News hosted events from Bush and Cheney's post-2008 election "legacy tour" where Fox News interviewers utterly failed to push back against statements that were highly disputable, or echoed those statements themselves:
- In a December 17, 2008, interview with Bush that aired on Special Report, host Bret Baier asked Bush, "Do you believe that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?" The question tracked a talking point reportedly contained in a "two-page memo" that the Los Angeles Times reported "presents the Bush record as an unalloyed success" and "mentions none of the episodes that detractors say have marred his presidency."
- In an interview that aired on the December 22, 2008, edition of Fox News Sunday, Cheney told host Chris Wallace that "the actions that we took, based on the president's decisions and based on some outstanding work by the intelligence community and by the military, has produced a safe seven and a half years. I think the record speaks for itself." Wallace did not note that a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on April 17, 2008 -- titled "The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas" -- found that "[t]he United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]." Nor did Wallace note that investigative journalist Ron Suskind has reported that many CIA analysts believe Al Qaeda leaders have declined to attack the United States again for strategic reasons, not due to the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies. Further, the degree to which several terrorist attacks the Bush administration supposedly thwarted were credible threats has been disputed. In the interview, Cheney also claimed that the tax cuts were "how we recovered from the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks," and Wallace did not point out that lost revenue through tax cuts has been the greatest single contributor to the deficit during the Bush administration, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
- During an interview that aired on the January 11 edition of Special Report, Brit Hume asked Bush, "[H]ow badly would it hurt, in your view, if these enhanced interrogation techniques -- that some call torture -- were abandoned and were not used?" Bush replied in part: "Everything this administration did was -- had a -- you know -- a legal basis to it, otherwise we would not have done it." Hume did not note that the interrogation opinions issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from August 2002 and March 2003 were subsequently withdrawn by Jack Goldsmith, who served as the head of OLC from 2003 to 2004. Indeed, Goldsmith wrote in his book, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (W.W. Norton & Co., June 2007) that "OLC's analysis of the law of torture in the August 1, 2002, opinion and the March 2003 opinion was legally flawed, tendentious in substance and tone, and overbroad and thus largely unnecessary" [Page 151].
- During a January 12 radio interview with Cheney, Hannity said of Bush: "And I'm frustrated as somebody who is a big supporter of his that he does not get the credit that I think he deserves in keeping this country safe -- and you're a big part of this as well -- after 9-11 and the worst attack on America soil." Hannity then asked Cheney: "Does that frustrate you like it does me at all?" Cheney replied, "Oh, to some extent. But if you've been around as long as I have in this line of work, you recognize that you rarely get credit for things that don't happen." Later in the interview, Hannity said to Cheney: "Mr. Vice President, you kept this country safe, along with the president, for all the years and the days after 9-11. For that we owe you a great debt of gratitude. I know you woke up every morning and that was your number one priority."
- During his January 12 interview with Fox News White House correspondent Mike Emanuel, Cheney said: "I think probably the most important thing we did was to keep the country safe for the last seven and a half years; to disrupt, interrupt, break up all the prospective attacks and plots that were developed to come launch another mass casualty attack inside the United States. That's been a remarkable achievement. It wasn't an accident, it didn't just happen."
From the June 17 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
HEMMER: ABC News now facing a bit of criticism for an upcoming prime-time special on the president's health care plan. What's raising eyebrows isn't what they plan to cover but where they're doing it and how that could affect their coverage. The special, set inside the White House, will include an interview with the president and the first lady and a question-and-answer session in prime time with citizens that will be handpicked by ABC News. What it will not include is any input from Republicans or health care critics. Seton Motley with the Media Research Center is on this this morning. Good morning to you. You say this is basically a home game for the White House. Explain that.
MOTLEY: Well -- and it's not just the prime time; they're broadcasting from the White House all day. Good Morning America, the prime-time special, and Nightline after the prime-time special. So this is an all-day home field advantage play for Obama and his position on health care.
From the June 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
HANNITY: Here we've got Brian Williams bowing before the president, you know, and I guess he was sort of doing his imitation of when he met the Saudi king, and now we've got -- now we've got an infomercial by ABC. They're going to literally go to the White House, they're going to do all their shows from there. And they're not going to let the Republicans --
NICOLLE WALLACE (former White House communications director): Well, here -- you know, the night that the Brian Williams special aired, a Democrat emailed me and said tonight is the night that journalism died.
HANNITY: Now, wait a minute. I got -- I'm taking that line back. I said throughout the campaign journalism in America is dead, and I really stand by that today. I don't think the American people -- we have this big health care reform debate going on. The American people aren't getting informed about the cost, about the intricacies of the policy, right?
HANNITY: Could you imagine any conservative -- pick any conservative that you want, even you or your husband, or me or Rush or [Mark] Levin, anybody, and that we made a similar comment, "slutty flight attendant look," and let's say we're talking about Hillary or Michelle Obama, or pick any female Democratic politician. What would the reaction to be?
THOMPSON: Would never happen, could never happen, would never happen. But this is a world where ABC is going to be broadcasting from within the White House. Sort of like in Russia, you know, back in the days of the Politburo and the czars where the press, you know, lives in-house.
They have their own in-house press now so -- the double standard is to apparent that it's almost not worth talking about anymore. But we are winning in this, and this is why it's so exciting. The lesson we can take from this, Sean, is that if we fight, if we protest, we can actually do something here, and you have been such a proponent of it, you know, and a defender of Sarah's and a defender of mine.
HANNITY: But in all seriousness, we have a problem with the media. We've got an anchor -- we got an entire NBC establishment in the tank for him, The New York Times in the tank for him. Now, Charlie Gibson, Good Morning America, Nightline, they're all going to do the show from the White House, they're going to do a town hall. Republicans have asked for time to be a part of this show. The president says he likes, you know, vigorous debate. Why are Republicans going to be shut out of this?