In campaign season, Fox News has repeatedly aired GOP smear ads with practically no Democratic or progressive responses
Research ››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER
Fox News programs in recent weeks have aired false and misleading Republican campaign advertisements attacking Democrats or Democratic congressional candidates and have hosted guests to defend the attacks, smears, and falsehoods put forth in the ads. But in all but one of the segments about the ads, Fox News failed to air a counter-ad by a Democratic candidate or host any progressive or Democrat to respond to the smears in the advertisements; the other aired only part of a Democratic ad and did so without sound.
In recent weeks, several Fox News programs, including Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story with John Gibson, Hannity & Colmes, and Fox News Live have aired false and misleading Republican campaign advertisements attacking Democrats or Democratic congressional candidates. Although the ads shown on The Big Story and Hannity & Colmes have not aired -- reportedly because they were deemed inappropriate for use by any GOP campaign -- these Fox News shows either hosted a guest to defend the attacks, smears, and falsehoods put forth in the ads or uncritically aired them. While Fox News Live also aired only part of a Democratic ad in response and did so without sound, at no time did the other programs air a counter-ad by a Democratic candidate or host any progressive or Democrat to respond to the smears in the advertisements.
For example, most recently, on the October 17 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto aired a conservative attack ad produced by America's PAC that purported to blame Democrats for the higher rate of abortions among African-Americans than among whites:
NARRATOR: Today, one-third of African-American pregnancies end in abortion. Black babies are terminated at triple the rate of white babies. The Democrat [sic] Party supports these liberal abortion laws that are decimating our people. Democrats say they want our votes. Why don't they want our lives?
To discuss the ad, Cavuto hosted Herman Cain, President and CEO of T.H.E. New Voice, the conservative group responsible for providing funding for the "abortion" ad, and others like it. While Cavuto did ask if the ad was "intended to say that Democrats actually want to see the -- the black population whittled down" and if it was "sort of a Hail Mary, desperation pass on [Cain's] part and this organization's part," the ad and Cain's support of the ad went largely unchallenged. For example, Cavuto did not challenge the ad's suggestion and Cain's assertion that Democrats "support policies that do nothing to stop the abortion of black babies," or Cain's claims that the ad "give[s] people facts" and that Democratic opposition to the ad shows that "the truth hurts."
Similarly, on the October 12 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson aired "[a] political spoof which was reportedly too risky to be a GOP campaign ad." The "spoof" attacks the Clinton administration's North Korea policy and depicts former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as a friend of Osama bin Laden and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Gibson hosted the ad's producer, David Zucker, who says he had previously identified himself as a Democrat but changed his mind after 9-11, to discuss the ad. While Gibson claimed that "in the spirit of being fair and balanced, The Big Story tried to get a comment from YouTube [which posted the ad], but we were unable to reach them," he did not host any guest denouncing the ad. Zucker then claimed to have a written response from Albright, but he read from a general statement in which she defended the Clinton administration's North Korea policy.
Zucker later added that "our ad really wasn't directed against Madeleine Albright so much as the policy of appeasement." Later, when Gibson asked Zucker if he "still feel[s] that the Democrats in their current stance are not tough enough on security," Zucker replied: "No, they haven't changed," adding that Albright, former President Jimmy Carter, former President Bill Clinton, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) don't "get the concept [that] being nice to our enemies won't make them nice to us, nor will it make us safer."
The September 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes aired an attack ad from the campaign of Vernon Robinson, a Republican congressional candidate from North Carolina, that has not been released, according to Robinson. The ad states that Robinson's opponent, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), consistently voted against funding for body armor for U.S. troops and sickle-cell and cancer research, voting instead to fund sex studies:
NARRATOR: What kind of congressman would try to deny our soldiers the body armor needed to save their lives? The answer is your congressman, Brad Miller. That's right. Brad Miller did not vote for the appropriation that paid for improved body armor for our troops. But Brad Miller has no trouble spending your money. He'd just rather spend it on sex.
That's right. Instead of spending money on sickle-cell research, Brad Miller voted to spend your money on studying the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes in San Francisco.
Instead of spending money on cancer research, Brad Miller has spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men. Brad Miller spent your tax dollars to study something called the bisexual, transgendered, and two-spirited Aleutian Eskimos, whoever they are.
Brad Miller even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia. Brad Miller pays for sex but not for body armor for our troops. If Miller had better priorities, you wouldn't be having to hear this.
Hosting Robinson -- but not Miller -- to discuss the ad, co-host Sean Hannity claimed that "as long as an ad, in my mind, is factual, I think -- I think every candidate has a right to be hard-hitting." Robinson then claimed that Miller has not disputed the ad's accuracy because "it's never been aired." While the program did not host Miller or any other Democrat or progressive to rebut the ad's assertions, co-host Alan Colmes did challenge the ad and Robinson. Colmes said that Miller didn't vote on the defense appropriations bill that would have provided extra body armor for troops because "he was on a trip to Iraq at the time" of the vote. Robinson deflected Colmes's assertion, saying that Congress is "out on recess six months, where they can go on trips and junkets," adding, "He [Miller] was on that trip -- and why was he on that trip?" Colmes then confronted Robinson's claim that the ad wasn't aired because its language was inappropriate for children, noted that Robinson appears on the ad approving the message, and then asked: "So if you were so concerned about the language of that ad, why would you have said that at the end of that ad?" Robinson replied: "Again, we're getting off topic here."
As Media Matters for America recently noted, on the September 28 edition of The Big Story, Gibson aired a campaign advertisement by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) attacking his Democratic opponent, Robert Casey Jr., without airing an ad or a response from the Casey campaign. Instead, Gibson simply stated: "[I]t's safe to say that Casey hit Santorum just as hard."
Finally, Fox News also uncritically aired another misleading Santorum campaign ad. Media Matters noted that on the September 26 edition of Fox News Live, host Jane Skinner aired in its entirety a television advertisement produced by Santorum's campaign suggesting that the "campaign team" employed by Casey is made up of cigar-smoking crooks. Since the ad first ran, it has come to light that none of the four supposed Casey contributors depicted by actors in the spot has actually given any money to his Senate campaign and that two of them have, in fact, contributed to Santorum's re-election bid. But in her subsequent discussion of the Pennsylvania race with Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, Skinner failed entirely to inform viewers of the ad's false premise. Further, Skinner later referred to "some crazy" ad that she described as featuring "some sort of gorilla going after the Santorum workers." The ad in question, produced by Americans United for Change, criticizes Santorum's stance on the privatization of Social Security. But while Skinner played in its entirety the misleading ad targeting Casey, she aired only part of the ad criticizing Santorum -- without sound -- during her discussion with Cameron.
From the October 17 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: Well, over the air and, many say, over the top, way over the top. A conservative group called America's PAC is taking on Democrats with a host of controversial radio ads intended to sway the vote of African-Americans and Latinos. Listen.
NARRATOR [audio clip]: Today, one-third of African-American pregnancies end in abortion. Black babies are terminated at triple the rate of white babies. The Democrat [sic] Party supports these liberal abortion laws that are decimating our people. Democrats say they want our votes. Why don't they want our lives?
CAVUTO: Powerful stuff. That's just a sample. There are many, many others, some voiced by my next guest, businessman and multimillionaire Herman Cain, who acknowledges these ads are meant to get your attention.
CAIN: They are controversial, Neil. And when you are spending money on media, and you might be sandwiched in between two hip-hop songs, you've got to do something to cut through the clutter. It's no different than any other product. You have to target the audience and do it in a way that will get people's attention. So they are controversial.
CAVUTO: All right. There was one Democratic activist quoted who said, they are not only controversial, "They're awful, and they're repulsive. When they say Democrats don't like black babies, that's damn fools." What you think of that?
CAIN: Well, that particular person, along with many other Democrats, that's the typical response whenever you give black people the truth or you give them facts. Now, that -- that's a typical response. They always cry foul when you let them know. It is no different than Juan Williams's new book, Enough. He raised a lot of controversy. Bill Cosby raised a lot of controversy with a speech he gave a couple of years ago.
Why? It is designed to be a wake-up call for people to not just look at the party, but look at the candidates and the values they stand for. And that's what this is intended to do.
CAVUTO: All right. But is it also intended to say that Democrats actually want to see the -- the black population whittled down?
CAIN: No. It is not intended to say that they want the black population wilted down, but it is intended to say that they support policies that do nothing to stop the abortion of black babies.
And even though we have a much bigger percentage of black babies being aborted than white babies or others, this is the point that they're trying to drive home: Make people think for themselves, and look at the candidate, and look at their core values. That is what VoteOurValues.com is all about. That's what it's trying to do.
CAVUTO: Do you, as a very prominent, successful African-American businessman in your own right, Herman, take offense to the one ad that features a dialogue between two men, one saying, "If you make a little mistake with one of your hos, you'll want to dispose of that problem tout de suite, no questions asked." Do you as, again, a very successful African-American, find that language, that dialogue offensive?
CAIN: To be perfectly honest, Neil, yes, I do. But keep in mind, that ad might be wedged in between two hip-hop ads that have language that is much more offensive to me than that particular language. And that's what we are up against, because all we are trying to do is to get -- give people a wake-up call, and get them to think for themselves. So, when you look at trying to get the message cut -- to cut through the clutter, sometimes, you got to be just a little bit on the edge.
CAVUTO: So, this is even a little too edgy for you, sometimes?
CAIN: But the general concept of having ads that give people the facts, that tell people the truth -- and, sometimes, the truth hurts.
And, sometimes, when the truth hurts, you're going to get the reaction like you illustrated earlier about people saying that it was insensitive. It's not insensitive. It is intended to be a wake-up call for black Americans who are going to vote, so they can look at the candidates and what their values are.
CAVUTO: All right. But, unless there's a big change -- and polls don't necessarily mean anything, as you often remind me, Herman -- but, right now, it shows that 95 percent of blacks are going to be voting Democratic this midterm election, that they've been turned off by Republicans. They've been turned off by the war. They're not even impressed with an economy that is otherwise pretty sound. So, is it just sort of a Hail Mary, desperation pass on your part and this organization's part?
CAIN: No, it's a long-term process. You see, we started this process several years ago. In 2000, President Bush, as an example, to use Ohio, he got about 9 percent of the black vote in Ohio. But, in 2004, he got 16 percent, because this was one of the markets, one of the states, where we ran similar ads back then.
So, this is a long-term process. You don't turn the Titanic with one radio advertising campaign. And, so, over a period of time, we expect to get people to take a closer look at Republican candidates.
CAVUTO: All right, Herman Cain on that controversial ad campaign.
From the October 12 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: Now for "The Big Story." Making waves on the Web. A political spoof which was reportedly too risky to be a GOP campaign ad, but it's made its way onto the Internet.
NARRATOR [video clip]: The year 2000, in an effort to stop the North Koreans from building nuclear weapons, President Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, gave North Korean leader Kim Jong Il a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. The Democrats' thoughtful gift had two major results. The first was this. And the second was this.
GIBSON: Reportedly, the YouTube website made viewers confirm they were 18 years old to see this. That certainly didn't happen with Death of a President, a film in which President Bush is assassinated. Why slap a warning label on this one? Here now, the Hollywood filmmaker responsible for this ad, David Zucker. He was the executive producer of both comedies Scary Movie, and way back, Airplane. Mr. Zucker, thanks very much.
ZUCKER: Hi, John.
GIBSON: Just to go to YouTube first, they appeared to think that this was too hot for even them. Did that surprise you?
ZUCKER: Well, no. What surprised me was that the Republicans even came to me in the first place to ask me to do this, knowing what I do. But -- and we did submit two ads to them, and they seemed to like one pretty much, but that was the tamer of the two.
And this one they were strangely silent on. I don't think they knew exactly what to do with it. And they may have been planning to release it later or maybe two weeks before the election, but I think the events kind of overtook it.
GIBSON: By the way, in the spirit of being fair and balanced, The Big Story tried to get a comment from YouTube but we were unable to reach them. Now, Mr. Zucker --
ZUCKER: How about a comment from Madeleine Albright if you're really fair and balanced, John? I mean, why isn't she on?
GIBSON: Well, Madeleine Albright -- that's a good point, Mr. Zucker. I'd better get to her right away.
ZUCKER: Do I have to read her statement myself?
GIBSON: Do you have it there?
ZUCKER: I do have it. She said: "During the two terms of the Clinton administration, there were no nuclear weapons tests by North Korea. Through our policy of effective, constructive engagement, the world was safer."
GIBSON: Sandy Berger said that on this program a couple days ago. I take it you don't agree.
ZUCKER: Well, I think that that -- it's just shows that they haven't really learned from it. Now, [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ] has been on the airwaves pretty much in the past couple of days really kind of admitting his culpability in it, because he said, you know, he was in the Senate at the time. But you know, our ad really wasn't directed against Madeleine Albright so much as the policy of appeasement.
And it just doesn't work. These guys are all evil, whether it's the guy in Iran who's got nukes now or [late Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat, which they tried to engage him for eight years. It just never seems to work. So that's really where we're -- what we're trying to poke fun at.
GIBSON: Mr. Zucker, what happened? You are a Hollywood movie producer. And I can't remember another one saying the things you are saying. What happened?
ZUCKER: Well, you know, I was a Democrat for my whole life and -- as was my family for, you know, generation after generation. And I think 9-11 kind of changed my mind. I said, wait, this is real. And I think I thought that the most important issue facing us is security.
I mean, it had to be more important than my environmental interests or my pro-choice attitude or just any other opinions I had. It just was security above all. And I just wasn't comfortable with the Democrats' response, and so while I voted for [then-Vice President Al] Gore and [Sen. Joseph] Lieberman in 2000, in 2004 was the first time I'd ever voted for a Republican president.
GIBSON: Now, I take it you still feel that way, you still feel that the Democrats in their current stance are not tough enough on security?
ZUCKER: No, they haven't changed at all. I mean, they're defending -- I mean, McCain isn't really proud of his culpability, I mean, to the extent that in the Senate he was, but they're all -- you know, Carter hasn't learned anything.
And I don't think Madeleine Albright has learned anything, nor Clinton nor the people who would be the heads of all the committees, like [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi [CA] and [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid [NV] and [Rep. John] Conyers [D-MI]. I mean, they're all -- I don't think they get the concept of being nice to our enemies won't make them nice to us, nor will it make us safer.
From the September 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
NARRATOR [video clip]: What kind of congressman would try to deny our soldiers the body armor needed to save their lives? The answer is your congressman, Brad Miller.
That's right. Brad Miller did not vote for the appropriation that paid for improved body armor for our troops. But Brad Miller has no trouble spending your money. He would just rather spend it on sex.
That's right. Instead of spending money on sickle-cell research, Brad Miller voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes in San Francisco.
Instead of spending money on cancer research, Brad Miller spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men. Brad Miller spent your tax dollars to study something called the bisexual, transgendered, and two-spirited Aleutian Eskimos, whoever they are.
Brad Miller even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia.
Brad Miller pays for sex but not for body armor for our troops. If Miller had better priorities, you wouldn't be having to hear this.
HANNITY: Joining us now is the candidate behind that ad, that's Republican congressional candidate for the 13th District, North Carolina, Vernon Robinson. Vern, welcome to the program. What do you say to those people who say, "Whoa, that's hard-hitting, even crosses the line"? What do you say to that?
ROBINSON: Well, Sean, actually, we never put that out as an ad. We sent it around for comment. Somebody put it on YouTube. I was concerned that we shouldn't have some of those words where they might be heard by children or mixed company, actually. And I would -- and the feedback I got confirmed that.
But we stand wholeheartedly by the content. Congress shouldn't be funding those studies, and -- and Brad Miller shouldn't be gallivanting around instead of doing what he's supposed to be doing when Congress is in session, which is voting for body armor.
HANNITY: You know, as long as an ad, in my mind, is factual, I think -- I think every candidate has a right to be hard-hitting. And frankly, I think it's -- it's particularly refreshing when it does happen.
But there -- you know, you can back up every one of those claims, and the fact that he voted for the appropriations on such things. Does he dispute the ad? Does he dispute the accuracy at all?
ROBINSON: Well, since it's never been aired --
HANNITY: Well, it's out there now. It's been out there --
ROBINSON: On YouTube. He just says it's outrageous. He never -- you know, whether he's talking about illegal immigration or all the other issues like sponsoring legislation foreign homosexuals --
COLMES: Mr. Robinson, your ad --
ROBINSON: He never deals with -- he never deals with the substance of the --
COLMES: Let's deal with the substance of the ad. It's Alan Colmes in New York, sir. The idea -- you said that he tried to deny the troops body armor. Tell me exactly, how did he try to deny the troops body armor?
ROBINSON: Well, he didn't vote for the appropriation.
COLMES: He didn't vote on the bill because he was on a trip to Iraq at the time. He's not trying to deny the troops body armor. That's a factual inaccuracy, sir.
ROBINSON: Well, no, that's not a factual inaccuracy. And Alan, you know that Congress is in session six months to vote for appropriations. And they're out on recess six months, where they can go on trips and junkets. And the reality is, is that Brad Miller doesn't sit on any of the relevant committees: appropriations, foreign affairs, any of those.
COLMES: That's not trying to deny troops body armor. That's a misrepresentation. And by the way, when he said --
ROBINSON: No, that's not a misrepresentation. He votes against the troops repeatedly.
COLMES: No, he was on a trip to Iraq at the time and missed one vote. And you're trying to hold -- go after him for that.
ROBINSON: He was on a trip to Iraq -- and why was he on that trip? He wasn't on a committee. He was -- are you going to let me answer the question?
COLMES: You also said -- you also said that you were upset about children hearing language in that ad. You say at the end of that ad that "I'm Vernon Robinson. I approve of this message." So if you were so concerned about the language of that ad, why would you have said that at the end of the ad?
ROBINSON: Again, we're getting off topic here.
COLMES: No, that is the topic. You said you didn't like the language but you approved of the ad.
ROBINSON: He doesn't sit on any relevant committee. The reality is he was over in Iraq doing --
COLMES: We talked about that, sir. Now I'm asking you the next question, why you say you approve of an ad after you just said you didn't like the language in it because it might offend kids. So which is it?
ROBINSON: He was over in Iraq doing --
COLMES: Why are you ignoring my question? Why is that?
ROBINSON: Doing photo opportunities.
COLMES: Sir, I'm asking you a question about why you say you approve an ad that you just a moment ago said could be offensive to kids.
ROBINSON: Well, I stand by the content of the ad. I would have voted for the two amendments to get rid of all of those ridiculous spending. We had teenage college girls being paid to watch pornographic movies and measure their arousal. That's ridiculous.
HANNITY: We've got to run. Appreciate you being with us. Thank you for being on board.