"Mike Castle is over. Christine O'Donnell is now": The making of a Fox News candidate

››› ››› TERRY KREPEL & SEAN EASTER

Media Matters for America presents a timeline of how Fox News hosts and contributors -- with a few exceptions -- came to tout Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell and celebrated her primary victory.

December 2009: Rove reportedly urges tea parties to support Castle

9-12 Patriot activist, O'Donnell: Fox's Rove lobbied tea party to endorse Castle in Republican primary. In his book, The Backlash, Media Matters senior fellow Will Bunch writes (pages 291-295) that according to 9-12 Delaware Patriots executive director Russ Murphy, in the early stages of the campaign, Rove met with a group of tea party activists and urged them to support Rep. Mike Castle's (R-DE) Senate campaign. In an MSNBC appearance, Bunch said that meeting occurred in December. O'Donnell herself made the same claim during a September 15 interview on Fox & Friends.

July 2010: Fox-backed Tea Party Express endorses O'Donnell, aids campaign

Tea Party Express provided O'Donnell with money, staffers, phone banks. On July 27, Tea Party Express endorsed O'Donnell. The Atlantic's Chris Good reported that in the wake of that endorsement, Tea Party Express fulfilled a $250,000 fundraising pledge, aired radio and TV ads on behalf of O'Donnell, sent staffers to Delaware, attracted the endorsements of Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), operated phone banks, and worked with "local Tea Party and 9/12 groups to coordinate volunteer activity, which included sign-waving at intersections in addition to phone banking."

Fox News has relentlessly promoted Tea Party Express. Media Matters has detailed Fox's News heavy promotion of the Tea Party Express, from sending reporter Griff Jenkins to travel on the bus for the group's first cross-country tour to touting a later rally held by the group as a "conservative Woodstock." Tea Party Express has praised the "great television coverage" given to it by Fox News.

September 2010: Fox News hosts, contributors endorsed, touted O'Donnell

September 2: Cavuto tells O'Donnell, "the Tea Party saw something in you, galvanized its efforts and away we go." In a September 2 interview on Your World (retrieved from Nexis), host Neil Cavuto said to O'Donnell: "You know, it was sort of like you became like an overnight emerging force. And I don't know whether it had to do with what was going on, you know, in Alaska, but bottom line, the Tea Party saw something in you, galvanized its efforts and away we go."

September 8: Malkin tells Hannity, "I endorsed Christine O'Donnell." On the September 8 edition of Hannity (retrieved from Nexis), Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin said, "I endorsed Christine O'Donnell. I met her over the past couple of weeks in D.C."

September 9: Palin endorses O'Donnell on Hannity's radio show. On the September 9 edition of Sean Hannity's radio show, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin endorsed O'Donnell, after having earlier re-tweeted a positive statement about O'Donnell from radio host Tammy Bruce.

September 13: Van Susteren airs Palin's endorsement of O'Donnell. On the September 13 edition of On the Record (retrieved from Nexis), host Greta Van Susteren said "O'Donnell has Governor Palin in her corner," then aired the endorsement robocall Palin made for O'Donnell's campaign.

The holdouts: Rove, Perino, Krauthammer criticize O'Donnell over electability

September 13: Krauthammer calls O'Donnell supporters "disruptive and capricious." On the September 13 edition of Special Report (retrieved from Nexis), Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer criticized endorsements of O'Donnell by Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) as "disruptive," "capricious," "irresponsible," and "a big mistake." He added, "O'Donnell is very problematic, she probably will lose."

September 14: Perino says "I am for whoever the best candidate is that can win. And I don't know Christine O'Donnell." On the September 14 edition of Hannity (retrieved from Nexis), Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney asked "Why do we buy the line that Mike Castle can win in November and that Christine O'Donnell cannot win?" Fox News contributor Dana Perino answered: "one of the reasons they're called establishment candidates is because they are established. And I am for whoever the best candidate is that can win. And I don't know Christine O'Donnell. I have known Mike Castle for many years. I see him as a stand- up guy."

September 14: Rove says O'Donnell will have to explain "checkered background"; she does not "evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character." On the September 14 edition of Hannity, Rove said: "One thing that Christine O'Donnell is now going to have to answer in the general election that she didn't have to answer in the primary is her own checkered background." He later said: "I've met her. I'm not -- I've got to tell you, I wasn't, frankly, impressed as her, you know, abilities as a candidate. And again, these serious questions about how does she make her living, why did she mislead voters about her college education, how come it took her nearly two decades to pay her college bill so she could get her college degree. How does she make a living? Why did she sue a well-known and well-thought-of conservative think tank?" Rove went on to criticize "candidates who, at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for."

Post-election: O'Donnell credits Fox figures and movements for win as network celebrates her victory

O'Donnell cites Palin, groups with ties to Fox News during victory speech. In her victory speech, O'Donnell thanked Palin and the Tea Party Express for their support. O'Donnell also thanked the Glenn Beck inspired 9-12 movement for "laying the foundation and stirring things up."

Hannity touted his support for O'Donnell. On the September 14 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity highlighted how "talk radio, including myself and Mark Levin and Rush and others ... got involved in the Delaware primary and people's awareness went up." He declared that O'Donnell's success was another sign that "we are seeing the establishment being beaten by the tea party movement and by conservatives that are saying, you know what? We've had it with RINO [Republican In Name Only] Republicans."

Fox's Cameron to O'Donnell: "It must feel good." On the September 14 edition of On the Record, Van Susteren introduced an interview with O'Donnell by saying, "The world of politics is stunned to the core. Christine O'Donnell, backed by the Tea Party Express and Governor Sarah Palin, has won Delaware's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate." Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron said to O'Donnell: "They said it couldn't be done and here you are, the U.S. Senate Republican nominee for Delaware. It must feel good." Cameron also asked McDonnell, "Did the party bosses get the message of your victory?" Cameron concluded: "Mike Castle is over. Christine O'Donnell is now, running against Chris Coons for the Joe Biden former U.S. Senate seat, and one of the 10 that could potentially mean the Republican majority come fall."

Carlson: It's "suicide" for Republicans not to support O'Donnell. On the September 15 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson criticized the idea that Republicans are considering "maybe not to even support O'Donnell. That, I don't think, is a smart move at all. If you want the Democrat to win, then go ahead and let her flounder by herself." Carlson later added, "This is suicide for the party." Later in the show, Gretchen said: "You've got to wonder right now -- and I've been saying this for the last year on this show -- the Republican Party has to get together with the tea party. They have to. And for the RNC to come out now and say they're not going to fund this race? So what are they going to do, fund the Democrat?"

Gingrich throws support to O'Donnell. Following O'Donnell's win, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich issued a series of tweets praising her:

  • "Christine odonnell won in delaware. She got more votes in the primary. The elite media wants to declare her unelectable--nonsense-she won"
  • "There will be an all out effort to discredit christine odonnell in delaware just as there was to discredit sharon angle in nevada"
  • "Angle will beat harry reid and odonnel will win in delaware. 2010 is the year of the grassroots over the establishment"

O'Donnell credits Palin for "mak[ing] the difference." On the September 15 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, when co-host George Stephanopoulos asked her, "Did Sarah Palin make the difference here?" O'Donnell responded, "Yes, she did. ... She helped to bring it back on track."

Fox & Friends told O'Donnell the "good news" of McConnell's support. Co-host Steve Doocy touted O'Donnell's appearance on the September 15 edition of Fox & Friends as being "fresh off the win last night," and Carlson concluded the interview by noting the "good news" that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that "he is not backing away from supporting" McConnell. O'Donnell is the latest in a series of Republican candidates who have turned to Fox & Friends as their favored venue to mark the launch of their general election campaigns following their primary victories.

O'Donnell far from the only candidate to benefit from association with Fox

Fox routinely provides airtime to Republican and conservative candidates. As Media Matters has repeatedly documented, Fox News is a friendly and receptive home for Republican nominees, as well as the most conservative candidate in a Republican primary, where they can benefit from repeated appearances and opportunities to promote fundraising campaigns. Further, Fox News hosts and contributors such as Palin and Gingrich raise money for Republican candidates and causes using political action committees, 527 and 501(c)4 organizations.

Kilmeade says Christine O'Donnell is "starting to win me over." On the September 15 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Kilmeade said, "Christine, I talked to her this morning, O'Donnell, she's starting to win me over. She's starting to address the problems in her background." Kilmeade added, "I think the RNC will be right behind her."

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