On Fox News Sunday, Sarah Palin claimed to have evidence that reporters at Alaska television station KTVA were on tape "conspir[ing] to make up stories" about Alaska GOP senatorial candidate Joe Miller -- a claim that is entirely unsupported. Nevertheless, Fox has run with the story, using it to accuse KTVA of plotting to smear Miller.
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Palin claims voicemail shows KTVA reporters are "corrupt bastards" plotting against Miller
Palin claims voicemail shows KTVA reporters are "corrupt bastards" for "conspir[ing] to make up stories about Joe Miller." On the October 31 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Palin claimed: "Just last night, it was revealed that the rally that I had for Joe Miller on Thursday, it was revealed --and we have the tape that proves it -- that the CBS reporters, the affiliate in Alaska, conspired to make up stories about Joe Miller." Palin further claimed that the tape is "kind of what I put up with for two years now with the media. ... They will stop at nothing to allow Lisa Murkowski to get back -- elected." After host Chris Wallace asked her, "You're saying that local reporters in Alaska conspired with the Murkowski campaign to put out false information about Joe Miller?" Palin replied:
PALIN: I am saying -- and we have it on tape -- that CBS reporters of -- in the affiliate up there in Alaska, on tape, are saying, let's find a child molester in the crowd as a supporter for Joe Miller, let's blast that. Let's concoct a Ron Paul moment there. Let's find any kind of chaos so that we can tweet an alert saying, "Ooh, there is chaos. Joe miller got punched."
That's sick. Those are corrupt bastards, Chris. That's what is wrong with the media today, when they have their chosen one, and nine times out of 10 - heck, 10 times out of 10 in the liberal media, it's going to be the liberal as the chosen one.
Palin: "[T]here was an orchestration there -- an attempt, anyway -- to concoct something, to tarnish a campaign based on finding a child molester in the crowd." On a special October 31 broadcast of Fox News' America's Election HQ, Palin said: "As Joe Miller says, you can read the transcript, you can listen to the tape, and it speaks for itself. And it is appalling, and there was an orchestration there -- an attempt, anyway -- to concoct something, to tarnish a campaign based on finding a child molester in the crowd. I thought it was appalling."
Palin: "[T]hese reporters were, I believe, conspiring to make some things up or concoct something" against Miller. On a special October 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record, Palin said that Miller "has now evidence that these reporters were, I believe, conspiring to make some things up or concoct something that had to do with a negative bent in Joe Miller's campaign. Specifically, these reporters were talking about finding someone in the crowd who would show up to support Joe Miller who would be a child molester." Palin claimed the station's president "should fire the reporters; he should teach them a lesson.
KTVA's public statement calls Palin's allegations "absurd"
KTVA GM Bever: "[T]o allege that our staff was discussing or planning to create or fabricate stories regarding candidate Miller is absurd." Following the release of the voicemails by the Miller campaign, KTVA issued a statement. According to KTVA:
A press release issued Saturday October 30, 2010, by the Joe Miller campaign claims that KTVA personnel, "openly discuss creating, if not fabricating, two stories about Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Joe Miller." KTVA General Manager Jerry Bever says, "It's unfortunate that this recording has happened. It's unfortunate because it does not accurately reflect the journalistic standards of our newsroom and the garbled context will no doubt leave more questions than answers. The Miller campaign's analysis of the recording is incorrect in many material ways ranging from personnel involved in the conversation, the interpretation of conversation snippets and the reported transcript of the perceived garbled conversation."
"While the recording is real, the allegations are untrue," said Bever. "The recording was the result of a cell phone not being hung up after a call was placed to Randy DeSoto, Joe Miller campaign spokesperson, Thursday afternoon to discuss Joe Miller's appearance on that evening's newscast. That phone call was placed near the end of a coverage planning meeting in our newsroom regarding that evening's Miller rally in downtown Anchorage. The group of KTVA news personnel was reviewing potential "what-if" scenarios, discussing the likelihood of events at the rally and how KTVA might logistically disseminate any breaking news."
Bever continues, "The perception that this garbled, out of context recording may leave is unfortunate, but to allege that our staff was discussing or planning to create or fabricate stories regarding candidate Miller is absurd. The complete conversation was about what others might be able to do to cause disruption within the Miller campaign, not what KTVA could do."
Politico's Ben Smith writes, "The transcript does not, in fact, make it terribly clear what they're talking about." In contrast to Palin and Breitbart's claims that the tapes proved a conspiracy on the part of local reporters to fabricate smears about Miller, Politico's Ben Smith reported on KTVA's statement and wrote, "The transcript does not, in fact, make it terribly clear what they're talking about."
Washington Post's Sargent: "[I]t's unclear from the recording precisely what, if anything, was being plotted." In an October 31 blog post, Greg Sargent wrote that "it's unclear from the recording precisely what, if anything, was being plotted."
Even Fox News figures have expressed doubts about the voicemails
Hume: KTVA voicemail tape "not utterly conclusive." On the October 31 edition of Special Report, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume claimed that Miller had handled the situation properly by "soft pedal[ing] it the way he did and say, let people make up their own minds, let them listen to it." Hume claimed that Miller's response "takes us out of the category of his thumping the tub over it and making a big deal out of something that while, it doesn't sound very good, it's not utterly conclusive."
Springer: "We couldn't find ... any obvious bias or hit pieces done by KTVA against Joe Miller." On the October 31 broadcast of America Live, Fox News correspondent Dan Springer reported from Anchorage, AK, on the voicemail. Springer noted KTVA's reponse and further reported:
SPRINGER: We actually had some of our staffers look at some of the more recent articles and stories that KTVA has done to see if there was any obvious bias or hit pieces against Joe Miller, and we couldn't find that. We could not see any obvious signs of bias or hit pieces done by KTVA against Joe Miller.
Fox guests suggest Miller using voicemails as campaign tool. On the November 1 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Kiki McLean, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, said, "I've got to say, I think this one is Joe Miller really grasping at straws," because he is "falling further and further out of the race, so I think this is sort of a conspiracy theory that is their last attempt." McLean noted that "Sarah Palin has stepped in because obviously a Scott McAdams win or a Lisa Murkowski win is a huge blow to Sarah Palin, and so that's why I think she's trying to inflame the story a little bit." Co-host Martha MacCallum asked former Mitt Romney adviser Kevin Madden if the story was "inflamed." Madded replied:
MADDEN: Well, I think without judging either candidates' motives as being the right ones or the wrong ones, I do think that Kiki's right, that this is emblematic of the very close nature of the campaign.
When you get into that 72-hour cabin fever when you're working on these campaigns, you look at every single little thing you can do to sort of change the momentum, so that it works in your favor -- that works in your candidate's favor. So, whereas at the beginning of these campaigns, you know, they're fighting over miles of territory amongst the electorate, right now they are fighting over inches.
And they're trying -- I think the Miller campaign is trying to use something like this to say, hey, look, in an anti-establishment year, not only are we fighting the establishment, but we're fighting the media. And the folks there are even stacking the deck against us, so, get out and vote and, you know, help our guy fight the status quo. Whether it works, we're going to probably find out within the next, maybe not even for another two weeks.
Fox runs with Palin's unsubstantiated allegations despite doubts, lack of evidence
Kelly, Kristol push Palin's claim that AK reporters conspired against Miller. On the October 31 edition of America Live, host Megyn Kelly claimed that the KTVA reporters were "conspiring to fabricate a story about Alaska Senate hopeful Joe Miller, that's the accusation" and were "believed to have been caught on tape discussing bogus stories that could sink the Miller campaign just hours before the election." After noting KTVA's response, Fox News contributor Bill Kristol called the statement "ridiculous" and later said the reporters on the tape "are laughing, but it looks to me like they are -- they're discussing an event they're going to cover in two or three hours, and it looks to me like they're seriously saying let's find something that will put this event in the worst light. ... They're basically saying, how can we make this rally, a Sarah Palin rally on behalf of Joe Miller, look as bad as possible? That's what they're saying."
Cavuto hosts Joe Miller to push "explosive allegations." On a special October 31 broadcast of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto hosted Miller to respond to the "explosive allegations ... that an Alaska TV station was plotting to smear Joe Miller's Republican senatorial campaign." Miller claimed that "the conspiracy to fabricate stories is, really, completely appalling." After Cavuto read KTVA's statement, Miller claimed, "These folks are out there trying to create a story. Obviously, it's something that they aren't doing with the other campaigns."
Cameron plays Palin's FNS statement, claims reporters "sounded almost eager for violence." On the October 31 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron played a portion of Palin's Fox News Sunday appearance. After playing an excerpt of the voicemail, Cameron said, "In addition, as KTVA staffers discussed covering the rally later that day, they sounded almost eager for violence."
Carlson says it is "incredibly unreal" that the KTVA reporters "could still be employed." On the November 1 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that in "an election this close, if a network, a local network station comes out with a series of negative reports, as subtle or blatant or whatever it is, if that was indeed the strategy, when you're within a few points, that could change everything." The hosts pushed Palin's claims that the tapes showed that KTVA was trying to "concoct" stories about Miller. Carlson noted that Fox did "research" on whether or not KTVA had done "negative reporting" on Miller and that was "not found," but nonetheless went on to say that "the idea that those people, I hate to say it, could still be employed at that news operation is incredibly unreal." Co-host Steve Doocy dismissed the network's explanation of the call, and Carlson added that "apparently it wasn't top of mind" to CBS executives and that "usually this kind of stuff probably just goes right under the carpet until Fox News was invented."
Perino: "If this is true ... I probably wouldn't be that surprised." Later on the November 1 Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Dana Perino said, "If this is true, I would be distressed as well. Unfortunately, I probably also wouldn't be that surprised. So what he [Miller] should do is focus on Tuesday."
Carlson: "Doesn't this speak volumes about how many other times this could be happening around the country?" While interviewing Perino, Carlson suggested that there was a widespread problem of reporters manufacturing stories about political candidates, asking Perino, "Dana, doesn't this speak volumes about how many other times this might be happening in other parts of the country?" Perino replied, in part, by saying, "The media wonders why nobody wants to talk to them? It's for reasons like this."
Fox guest Maslansky decares the voicemails prove that KTVA was "trying to push forward a point of view and an agenda." Still later on Fox & Friends, Doocy interviewed Michael Maslansky, CEO of Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research, and said: "This does not look good, because when you look at the way it is splayed out there, it looks like these reporters are sitting around trying to figure out a way to discredit or connect child molesters or whatnot to Mr. Miller." Maslansky replied that "it's a sad statement about the media" because "it reinforces everything that we believe about the media, which is, we trust the media less than we trust politicians today." He claimed that the "voicemail really speaks for itself" and that "you get one unequivocal conclusion that you can draw from it." Maslansky concluded that the voicemail shows that the reporters were "trying to push forward a point of view and an agenda."