Fox News suspicious of Chamber defections, but network cheered AARP membership losses

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

Following reports that the White House has sidestepped the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to meet directly with CEOs about health care reform and that the Chamber believes the White House has encouraged defections of its members because of its positions on health care reform and other issues, Fox News figures and guests have asserted as fact that the Obama administration has urged these defections and have denounced the alleged White House strategy as, in the words of Charles Krauthammer, "Chicago-level politics." However, when reporting in August that 60,000 members had left AARP since July 1 because of AARP's support for health care reform, Fox News cheered the defections as being the result of, in Sean Hannity's words, AARP's "love affair" with President Obama and repeatedly hosted AARP defectors, who often fearmongered about the effects of health care reform on seniors.

Wash. Post reported Chamber officials "think the White House has been encouraging the defections"

From the October 20 Washington Post article:

The White House is moving aggressively to remove the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from its traditional Washington role as the chief representative for big business, the latest sign of a public feud ignited by disagreement over the administration's effort to overhaul the health-care system.

Instead of working through the Chamber, President Obama has reached out to business executives, meeting repeatedly with small groups of CEOs in his private White House dining room. He also has dispatched top aides Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to corporate boardrooms. Since the summer, the three have met with some of the biggest names in the business community, including the heads of IBM, Wal-Mart Stores, Time Warner, Eastman Kodak, Starbucks, Amazon.com and Coca-Cola.

In the process, Obama is attempting to rewrite the rules of the game in Washington, where the Chamber and other business lobbying groups have long held a highly visible, and powerful, place at the intersection of policy and politics.

"The question we have is: Does the Chamber really represent the business community the way they used to?" said Jarrett, the president's chief business liaison. "It seems as though their members are disengaging."

[...]

The quarrel obscures that the White House and the Chamber had a relatively warm relationship when Obama took office. Disagreements about a broad swath of the president's economic agenda soured relations, though.

The Chamber of Commerce was already embroiled in controversy over its opposition to climate change legislation. In recent weeks, high-profile businesses have quit the Chamber in protest of that position, most notably Apple Inc.

Chamber officials hint that they think the White House has been encouraging the defections. Jarrett denied that vehemently, saying, "They have to be responsible for their own membership, not us."

Fox News figures suggest Chamber defections are part of unseemly White House plot

Baier: Obama may have "brought to Washington some political lessons learned in his adopted hometown of Chicago." Following a report in which Fox News correspondent James Rosen stated that members of the Obama administration have "lunched and met privately with scores of CEOs since June" to "neutralize the Chamber" and "to ask for their support but not, the White House insists, to encourage defections from the Chamber," host Bret Baier asserted, "Well, it seems the president may have brought to Washington some political lessons learned in his adopted hometown of Chicago."

Hume stated as fact that Obama is "persuading member companies to break with the organization." Fox News political analyst Brit Hume stated, "The White House's campaign to blunt the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's opposition to health care reform by persuading member companies to break with the organization is hardball politics, but as the saying goes, politics ain't beanbag."

Krauthammer: "[T]o try to induce defections as a way to destroy it is a new level. It's Chicago-level politics" and "outside the democratic norms of our society." Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer stated, "It's one thing for a government, the administration to attack opponents, institutions, media. It's another to go out to try to delegitimize them and destroy them." He later added, "[T]o go after the Chamber of Commerce -- you can argue against it, defend yourself on the arguments -- but to try to induce defections as a way to destroy it is a new level. It's Chicago-level politics. And look, there is nothing illegal about it. It's not unconstitutional. But it is outside the democratic norms of our society, which are Madisonian."

Kondracke: Obama administration "indulging" in "demonization ... and it's stupid." Roll Call executive editor and columnist Morton M. Kondracke stated during the program, "Obama came to office promising that he was gonna unify the country. And first it was the insurance companies, now it's Fox News, now it's the Chamber of Commerce. And what they are indulging in is demonization. It's complete violation of what he said he was going to do, and it's stupid." He further stated, "This administration insists on making enemies when it ought to be figuring out how to co-opt people."

Previously Fox News hyped AARP defections over health care reform

Baier: "Dissatisfaction with the president's health care reform proposals" has led to a "rebellion within the AARP." From the Nexis transcript of the August 10 edition of Special Report:

BAIER: Dissatisfaction with the president's health care reform proposals has created something of a public relations nightmare for the nation's largest group of people over 50. Correspondent Shannon Bream reports on the rebellion within the AARP.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BREAM (voice-over): Elected officials are not the only ones facing frustrated angry crowds at health care town hall meetings. This was the scene in Dallas last week at a forum put together by the AARP.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what, you are not really running the meeting, sir, so I'm going to go ahead and continue.

BREAM: Some AARP members say they're outraged at what they perceive as the organization's support of the president's plan for health care reform, so much so that they've taking to tearing up their membership cards and firing off heated letters to the organization's CEO.

Recent polling by FOX News shows seniors many of whom are on Medicare don't want a major overhaul. Ninety-three percent rate their current coverage as good or excellent, and 56 percent say they oppose the creation of a government-run option for all Americans. Other groups representing seniors say they aren't surprised about the recent backlash.

STUART BARTON, AMERICAN SENIORS ASSOCIATION: We get letters every single day from people that are very upset about this bill and about the AARP supporting it. And so I don't blame them for coming back and saying that, you know, they're going to tear up their AARP cards.

Hannity claimed loss of 60,000 members due to AARP's "love affair" with Obama. On August 18, Fox News' Sean Hannity stated: "[W]hat are we to make of the AARP? According to reports now -- CBS News had a report -- 60,000 members of the AARP have left. I think that's very indicative that they're losing seniors. There is a conservative alternative, American Seniors for Choice, which is against Obama's plan. They gained as many as 5,000 members." He also stated that AARP's "love affair" with Obama "has cost the AARP tens of thousands of members."

Fox & Friends hosted AARP defector who claimed health care reform could kill his wife. Co-host Gretchen Carlson reported that the AARP's support of health care reform was "sparking some controversy among the group's members" and hosted an Ohio couple who said they were canceling their AARP membership due to this support. Guest Patrick Liste said of he and his wife's decision: "Well, the AARP is backing something that is not going to be in the range of our ages. The AARP is backing a national health care plan. To me, if this national health care plan goes through, me and my age of over 70 -- going to be 73, my wife going to be 70 -- we may be rationed out of the care. And if we are, we're both going to have to give up. I'm going to have to give up my wife, because she costs insurance a lot of money, and it's taking care of the things she's had as far as cancer for 17 years." Carlson responded, "Patrick, when you said that my heart sunk. You said you'd have to give up your wife?" Patrick Liste reiterated his belief that health care reform could lead to rationing of care to senior citizens, which would force him to "[l]et" his wife "suffer until she passes on," and his wife, Mary Liste, added: "I'm very worried about me and the future of my children and children's. I'm very concerned about this, because what will happen to us people that are elderly?" Carlson replied: "Well, and we all have parents -- at least I do -- in your age bracket as well, so many of us are asking some of the same questions. Patrick and Mary Liste, thank you so much for sharing your story with me today." [Fox & Friends, 8/17/09]

Fox News' Van Susteren hosted AARP defector who suggested health care reform would lead to rationed care. On the August 18 edition of her Fox News show, Greta Van Susteren stated: "They're out -- 60,000 of them. Sixty thousand senior citizens have bolted AARP since July 1." She then interviewed an AARP member who stated that she is planning to quit the group because of her views on the AARP's position on health care reform. The member stated she was canceling her membership because "health is something that deteriorates with the advancement of age, and that's a known fact, and those of us at the upper end of the spectrum are going to need more health care than those at the bottom end of that spectrum."

Doocy hosted AARP defectors and plugged "conservative alternative" to AARP. On August 19, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy stated: "Sixty thousand people: that is the number of people who have left or canceled AARP -- the American Association of Retired Persons -- since July 1. Some members are outraged and continue to criticize the over-50 group because of their support for health care reform." Doocy hosted a couple from Florida, Charles and Gayla Tanner, who claimed that they canceled their AARP membership because of its support for health care reform. Charles Tanner said, "I don't see why my dues should go to pay for something that I don't agree with," to which Doocy replied, "I understand." Doocy then plugged a "conservative alternative to AARP," saying to the couple, "Now you have canceled your membership. Are you going to join another outfit? I was reading this morning about the American Senior's Association that calls itself the conservative alternative to AARP."

AARP spokesman reportedly stated organization gained 400,000 members since July 1. An August 18 Associated Press article on the loss of 60,000 AARP members between July 1 and mid-August reported that AARP spokesman Drew Nannis "said that on average AARP loses some 300,000 members a month" and that "AARP had gained some 400,000 new members during the same period and that 1.5 million members renewed their membership."

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