Fox News hosts go off-message in hyping N. Korea missile tests

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

Though White House press secretary Tony Snow criticized "attempts to try to describe" North Korea's recent missile tests "in breathless World War III terms," Fox News hosts, analysts, and guests repeatedly suggested using force to prevent North Korea from conducting further missile tests and acquiring more nuclear weapons-grade material, with one military analyst even advocating the "nuclear" option.

During a July 5 White House press briefing, press secretary Tony Snow criticized "attempts to try to describe" North Korea's recent missile tests "in breathless World War III terms," cautioning that "[t]his is a situation in which people are working with a regime in North Korea, trying to reason with a dictator, to step back from provocative activities." Yet Snow's call for calm was not heeded for much of the rest of the day on Fox News, where Snow worked before joining the White House and which frequently offers a reliable echo chamber for GOP talking points. During July 5 discussions on Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story with John Gibson, and The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News hosts, analysts, and guests repeatedly suggested using force to prevent North Korea from conducting further missile tests and acquiring more nuclear weapons-grade material, with Fox News military analyst retired Lt. Col Tim Eads even advocating the "nuclear" option. Conversely, Hannity & Colmes co-host Sean Hannity echoed Snow's comments and the Bush administration's official stance toward North Korea, asserting that "the world is overreacting" to the situation.

As Media Matters for America noted, Gordon Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World (Random House, January 2006), remarked on the July 4 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 that the administration has muted its response to North Korea "because they don't want to highlight the failure of American policy for the last five years."

During the July 5 edition of Your World, guest host David Asman, noting current diplomatic overtures to resolve the crisis with North Korea, asked: "[W]hat are America's military options? Should we hit missiles on the launch pad before the next test? ... Should we hit the missiles before they launch?" Asman's guest, former deputy assistant secretary of the Army Van D. Hipp, replied: "[A]bsolutely. We need a pre-emptive strike to take out those fixed facilities."

Also during the program, Heritage Foundation senior fellow James Carafano falsely asserted that the United States currently has "a missile defense system which can interdict these things [missiles] in flight," adding that "we do have a capability to intercept either short-range or long-range ballistic missiles for Japan and the United States." But as Media Matters has recently noted (here, here and here), no successful test of the U.S. missile defense system has occurred in roughly three years, and no test of the currently deployed system as a whole has occurred. During the segment, an on-screen graphic illustrated a successful missile defense capability:

Similarly, during the July 5 edition of The Big Story, guest host Julie Banderas pondered a U.S. military response to North Korea, asserting that a U.N. Security Council resolution could "open the way for a possible military response." Banderas asked Eads, "[I]f North Korea keeps shooting off missiles ... what else can we do about it?" Eads responded that, because the U.S. military is "stretched pretty thin right now ... we'd have to look at some other option, you know, nuclear, that kind of thing." Then, wanting to "talk about possible air strikes," Banderas asked Eads: "If we were to go ahead with military action, what should be our plan?" Eads said that "air strikes is a definite possibility," but noted that it is "[n]ot a good situation at all." Also, during the segment, Fox News ran a graphic that depicted the trajectory of successful missile launches from North Korea directed at Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, and Chicago.

Guest-hosting for Bill O'Reilly on the July 5 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, former Rep. John Kasich (R-OH) asked Fox News Military analyst retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark to explain "what military options are on the table" with North Korea. While Clark advocated direct negotiations with the North Koreans, Kasich asked: "How long are we going to talk while this guy [North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il] keeps advancing his program?" Later in the segment, Clark noted that if the North Korean government imploded, then "we'd be left with 23 million, mostly starving, angry, and armed North Koreans." Kasich replied: "Better that than a guy with a missile, an intercontinental missile and a nuclear warhead." During the segment, an onscreen graphic illustrated the range of three types of North Korean missiles, focusing on one medium-range and one long-range North Korean missile and their potential to reach the United States:

But while these Fox News hosts and guests on July 5 hyped a U.S. military response to North Korea's missile testing, Hannity, on the July 5 edition of Hannity & Colmes, echoed Snow, who said that North Korea's missile tests should not be viewed "in breathless World War III terms." Discussing the situation with Fox News military analyst retired Col. Oliver North, Hannity asserted that the "world is overreacting" to the missile tests. Hannity later advocated following "the Reagan model," claiming: "[A]s I watch the panic, as I watch the anxiety, the world angst, it seems like we've forgotten the lesson of Ronald Reagan," who "said peace through strength, we'll trust and verify."

From the July 5 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:

ASMAN: Well, as diplomats try to head off a full-scale crisis with North Korea, what are America's military options? Should we hit the missiles on the launch pad before the next test? With us now, Van Hipp, former deputy assistant secretary of the Army, and James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Hipp, we apparently knew there was going to be a launch. Should we, could we have hit them on the launchpad?

[...]

ASMAN: So, Mr. Hipp, Mr. Hipp, I just got to ask you straight out -- forgive me for pressing the point.

HIPP: Yeah. Yeah.

ASMAN: Should we hit the missiles before they launch?

HIPP: If we believe the Taepodong missile has the ability to reach the continental United States, absolutely. We need a pre-emptive strike to take out those fixed facilities.

[...]

ASMAN: But, Mr. Carafano, they're tests now. Some day, they may launch them for real. How do we know the difference?

CARAFANO: Well, well, you -- actually, you can know the difference. And we actually do have a missile defense system which can interdict these things in flight. And we have the enormous ability to retaliate and destroy all of North Korea, if they try.

ASMAN: Well, in fact, Mr. -- Mr. -- Mr. Hipp, we do have --

[crosstalk]

ASMAN: Excuse me, Mr. Carafano, just a second.

CARAFANO: I don't -- I don't think the lack of defending the United States is going to be an issue.

ASMAN: Mr. Hipp, we do, in fact, have interceptors. They were put on alert. Could they have taken down the missiles after they launched, if we had -- if we had attacked it?

HIPP: That's the -- that's the $64,000 question. We have missile interceptors at Fort Greely [Alaska]. And I know that we are now deploying missile interceptors to Japan.

[...]

ASMAN: Do we have the capability, the interceptor capability, to take them down after they are launched? Mr. Carafano?

CARAFANO: Yes, we do have a capability to intercept either short-range or long-range ballistic missiles for Japan and the United States.

HIPP: But the $64,000 question is, will that technology work all the time?

What I'm saying -- do we need a pre-emptive strike today? No. But I am saying it depends on our intelligence capability. If our intelligence is right -- and they got to get this one right -- if it's right, that this threat is imminent or about to be imminent, such that a Taepodong, even if it goes off course, if they extend the range, like they want to, and it can reach the continental United States --

ASMAN: OK.

HIPP: -- and they are in cahoots with the Iranians, we have got to launch a pre-emptive strike.

From the July 5 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

BANDERAS: You just heard [Fox News senior correspondent] Eric Shawn's report, sources tell him a Chapter Seven resolution is expected to be circulated to the U.N. Security Council. That would open the way for a possible military response. What's your prediction?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER (secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush): My prediction? Oh, boy. I know what I think they should do, whether we'll do it or not is another question. I guess my prediction is that this will go on long enough, until at some point we finally wake up to the fact that the North Koreans have a weapon that they can plop into the middle of Chicago, potentially with a nuclear weapon on its end, and we will then decide we have to do something military.

[...]

BANDERAS: And resetting our big story, the North Korean missile crisis. Today the world condemned the country's missile launches over the Sea of Japan. There's an effort right now to keep focusing on diplomacy, but what if that doesn't work? What if North Korea keeps shooting off missiles and what else can we do about it? Fox News military analyst, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Tim Eads joins us now to talk about this. All right, all these what-ifs, what what-if scares you most?

EADS: Well, I guess what-if scares us most is if, in fact, we do have to go into North Korea to stop what they're doing. It would have to be either a massive troop deployment, which frankly, we're stretched pretty thin right now, or we'd have to look at some other option, you know, nuclear, that kind of thing, something to level the playing field quickly, because they have us in a, if you just do a head count on who has the most people. So, it would be a dangerous and dicey situation. It will totally destabilize the region. It will put South Korea and its economy in great jeopardy, and the price will be very, very steep.

[...]

BANDERAS: All right, so talk about possible airstrikes. If we were to go ahead with military action. What should be our plan, how do we go about it?

EADS: Well, airstrikes is a definite possibility, probably the first thing we'd go for. It is something we could go for from the standpoint of taking out these missiles while they're on the pad, as former Secretary of Defense [William] Perry recommended a couple of weeks ago. The problem with that is, you don't know how the North Korean leadership is going to react. If we did that and they started shooting artillery into South Korea -- into Seoul, in a matter of hours, Seoul would be decimated, and there goes the South Korean economy, and you have casualties in the hundreds of thousands. Not a good situation at all.

[...]

BANDERAS: Militarily speaking, is North Korea prepared if we were to take military action?

HOLMES: Well, they clearly have a very large military. Your previous guest was talking about that, that's always been an issue. Clearly we have to be mindful of that. But I think that the -- we should not give up in the short term on trying to mobilize the international community against North Korea.

From the July 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

KASICH: In the "Impact" segment tonight, as the North Koreans thumb their nose at the world, what military options are on the table? Joining us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, Fox News analyst General Wesley Clark. General, you know, yesterday when I heard about, I just shook my head. I worry about my kids. Ballistic missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles combined with perhaps a nuclear program. I mean, I can't think of a scarier scenario, particularly when those items are in the hands of somebody like this man that's running North Korea. Your take on it?

[...]

KASICH: But General, this, this -- what bothers me about this, and I'd love to think that this is the way out of this mess, and maybe we're going to find it is. I'm always believing in talking before we don't. But in '94, that's precisely what was agreed to. We give them these non-nuclear-capable reactors, and we make a deal with them. We bring them into the community, and then they go out and cheat. And now William Perry, your old boss, the former secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, said we ought to blow this rocket off the launching pad. I mean, he's advocating a military effort here. I mean, how long are we going to talk before this guy keeps advancing his program?

CLARK: Well, we've got to both talk and act and constrain. There's no single solution that we're going to ever like with North Korea. Look, if this government imploded, we'd be left with 23 million mostly starving, angry, and armed North Koreans. Nobody --

KASICH: Better than a guy with a missile --

CLARK: -- wants that. Well --

KASICH: Better that than a guy with a missile, an intercontinental missile and a nuclear warhead. Why don't we put the heat on the Chinese and get serious with the Chinese? They're the enforcers, aren't they?

From the July 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Colonel, one of the points I'm making here is that I think the world is overreacting in this sense. I think it's a crisis. But we have got to send a loud message. There will be a major use of force if, in fact, these missiles are to get anywhere near another country. Isn't that the message we ought to be united in sending?

[...]

HANNITY: Colonel, as I watch the panic, as I watch the anxiety, the world angst, it seems like we've forgotten the lesson of Ronald Reagan. Let's not forget, when Reagan became president -- and he was calling the former Soviet Union the "Evil Empire" -- there were literally thousands of ballistic missiles pointed at American cities. But he stood up to them. He rebuilt our military, he modernized our weaponry in Europe, he said peace through strength, we'll trust and verify, and he stood tall. Isn't this a moment where the United States needs to tell the world, "We don't really care what the United Nations says. We will be the masters of our own destiny," and in that sense, follow the Reagan model?

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