FOX News' flagship political news program, Special Report with Brit Hume, regularly uses its daily one-on-one interview as a platform for conservatives and Republicans to express their views in a format that does not admit opposing views. Though Special Report is ostensibly a "hard news" program bound by FOX's commitment to "fair and balanced" reporting, the liberal media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has conducted three separate surveys of the guests in Special Report's solo interview slot, which show that guests are overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. FAIR's most recent study concluded that "[a]mong ideological guests, conservatives accounted for 72 percent, while centrists made up 15 percent and progressives 14 percent."
But even on the rare occasions when Special Report's solo interview slot does feature a liberal-leaning guest, the guest is usually invited to discuss a topic on which his or her specific views are known to be more conservative and/or more supportive of Republicans than the guest's ideological orientation would otherwise suggest. For example, while the last two months of Special Report have included one-on-one interviews with numerous conservatives, including President Bush; Laura Bush; Vice President Dick Cheney; Lynne Cheney; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN); former Reagan administration economist Martin Feldstein; Ohio's Republican secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell; National Review Online columnist Victor Davis Hanson; conservative blogger John Hinderaker; conservative blogger Stefan Sharkansky; and conservative pastor Reverend Lon Solomon, the only Democrat to appear during this period (aside from former President Bill Clinton, who appeared with fellow former President George H.W. Bush to promote tsunami aid efforts) was former Minnesota Representative Timothy J. Penny, who appeared on the December 17, 2004, edition of the show to explain why, unlike most Democrats, he favors Bush's plan to create private investment accounts within Social Security.
FOX News managing editor and chief Washington correspondent Brit Hume's January 26 interview with National Public Radio (NPR) senior correspondent and FOX News contributor Juan Williams epitomizes this practice.
Though Williams is a senior correspondent for NPR, not a pundit, he frequently sits on Special Report's "All-Star Panel" to "balance" self-identified conservatives like Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Williams is often the only panel member to criticize Bush, though he also frequently praises him. On FOX Broadcasting's FOX News Sunday, Williams regularly clashes with Hume, who on Sundays switches from Special Report anchor to opinionated weekend warrior, promoting the Bush administration, attacking its opponents, and defending the president from criticism.
Williams's January 26 Special Report interview focused on some Democrats' recent opposition to the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state (the Senate confirmed Rice on January 26), and Alberto R. Gonzales, the president's attorney general nominee. Williams also discussed Bush's recent efforts to reach out to blacks, who have historically voted Democratic. Williams's past remarks on these topics left little doubt that despite his role as a "liberal" on FOX, his appearance in the one-on-one slot would include an overwhelmingly positive appraisal of Bush and implicit criticism of Democrats.
During the interview, Williams reported that the black community is angry at Democrats for delaying Rice's confirmation:
WILLIAMS: Oh, let me just tell you something. The phone has been ringing off the hook with people saying, "Wait a second. Why are they [Democrats] beating up on Condoleezza Rice in terms of the president's policy in Iraq? What's going on? Why don't they take on the big boy and go after the president? That is who they want to go after. But why go after someone who is eminently qualified?"
There is no debate about Condoleezza Rice's qualifications. There is no debate about the fact that she is truly representative of the president's perspective, point of view, and the president wants her in the job. And there is no question; it seems to me, that Condoleezza Rice has been forthcoming in explaining her position to this -- to the senators who have been grilling her.
Williams also lauded Bush's efforts to win over black voters by courting socially conservative blacks and suggested that Democratic senators who opposed Rice and Gonzales were naïvely taking black and Hispanic voters for granted:
WILLIAMS: Battleground states where the president's campaign targeted African American voters, realizing it was going to be a very tight race, the president's campaign did markedly better than they did in 2000. And the issues they did better on tended to be issues of social concern, issues ranging from gay marriage to abortion rights. ...
When you talk about the Democrats in the Senate assuming that they have the black vote in their pocket and [assuming that] blacks are not going to take umbrage at their treatment either of Rice or Gonzales, as another American minority, I think that's a little bit old-school politics.
And what we have seen in the last few days, with the president having meetings with the black religious leaders and business leaders, and today with the Congressional Black Caucus, is, I think, the president lending his credibility to a generational shift developing new leadership. The people were not the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. They were not the Urban League. They are not the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Dr. [Martin Luther] King.
These are people who develop churches, who hire people through churches. These are people who buy land in their community to build housing. This is part of the president's emphasis on race relations, as an extension of his drive for an ownership society.
Hume had ample reason to expect that Williams would speak positively about Bush's appointment of African Americans to powerful positions and black churches as a potential source of support for Republicans. On the July 18, 2004, broadcast of FOX News Sunday, Williams praised Bush's appointment of blacks to high-ranking posts. Moreover, host Chris Wallace made clear on that broadcast that despite Williams's general willingness to criticize Bush, his belief that the president "has a strong case to make to black voters" is well-known among his colleagues:
WALLACE: Juan, I know that you, in fact, think that Mr. Bush has a strong case to make to black voters. Explain.
WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think there's any question when you look at the appointments. At any point in history, if you said to me, "the secretary of state is a black person and the national security adviser, people in charge of our foreign policy apparatus are African American," you'd be stunned. And it's the truth of this moment.
WALLACE: And to more Cabinet.
WILLIAMS: And you also have [Secretary of Housing and Urban Development] Alphonso Jackson at Housing and [then-Secretary of Education] Rod Paige at Education, and you had Larry Thompson as deputy in terms of Justice. I mean, these are amazing people and they have been elevated in this administration to prominent, powerful positions. These are not tokens. If you ask people who the most popular are in the administration, I believe Powell's number one and Rice is number two.
During the same appearance in July, Williams also explained that Bush's policies had great potential appeal to black voters and dismissed the NAACP as unrepresentative of the broader black community, just as he did on his recent Special Report appearance:
WALLACE: But what about his policies?
WILLIAMS: But his policies are interesting, too, because if you look in terms of his vouchers, his emphasis on vouchers, on improving the quality of education in public schools, in large part they're servicing minority communities. So this is all part of the appeal that George W. Bush would have for the minority community.
But unfortunately, so much of it has been defused by the fact that the NAACP has become so highly politicized under [president and CEO] Kweisi Mfume, and especially [chairman] Julian Bond. I mean, they pretty much had made Bush -- who got 30 percent of the black vote when he ran for governor in Texas and then spoke to the NAACP he was running for president -- but they've subsequently made him into a real dragon in terms of a man who they portray as having supported the people who killed James Byrd in Jasper, Texas.
It's just a terrible thing that the NAACP has politicized, especially to the extent that the president can say legitimately that "I'm in a political fight with the leadership of the NAACP." It has nothing to do with the history of the NAACP. And that's why he will speak to the Urban League this week and try to repair the damage done to the people who may not pay attention to how political the NAACP has become, and simply say, "I'm not avoiding black audiences; I'm avoiding the leadership of the NAACP."
And on the October 31, 2004, broadcast of FOX News Sunday, on a panel that also included Hume, Williams heralded Bush's success in reaching out to black religious leaders:
WILLIAMS: I noticed in the last few weeks now, President Bush has had the black ministers behind him at every occasion. I think he sees an opportunity there. And I think that the polls that show that black voters are more likely now to vote for Bush, I think it might have doubled as much as 18 or 20 percent.