This afternoon, CNN reported on Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon's admission -- revealed today by Media Matters -- that he attempted to link Barack Obama to socialism during the 2008 campaign despite privately believing that the socialism allegation was "far-fetched."
From the CNN report:
Is Fox News' Sammon a 'mischief' maker?
By: CNN's Rebecca Stewart
(CNN) - Washington Fox News executive Bill Sammon admitted in a newly released audio tape that in 2008 he repeatedly speculated about President Obama's support for socialism despite privately believing the idea was "far-fetched."
He made the comments before a group on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College. A recording of the audio from the event was obtained by MediaMatters.org, a well-funded, liberal media watchdog organization that says it is committed to exposing conservative bias in the media, especially from Fox News.
Discussing the 2008 campaign for the presidency, Sammon said, "I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched."
From the March 29 edition of NPR's All Things Considered:
This morning, Media Matters revealed that Fox News editor chief Bill Sammon admitted to lying on-air about Barack Obama embracing "socialism" before the 2008 election. The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz contacted Sammon for his response:
In an interview, Sammon says his reference to "mischevious speculation" was "my probably inartful way of saying, 'Can you believe how far this thing has come?'" The socialism question indeed "struck me as a far-fetched idea" in 2008. "I considered it kind of a remarkable notion that we would even be having the conversation." He doesn't regret repeatedly raising it on the air because, Sammon says, "it was a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media" -- and by 2009 he was "astonished by how the needle had moved."
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post picked apart Sammon's response, calling it "remarkable":
Now, Sammon is also claiming here that Obama's behavior in office ultimately persuaded him that the original diagnosis of Obama as a socialist turned out to be correct after all. That in itself, of course, is also a ridiculous falsehood. But that aside, the bottom line here is that he doesn't regret having spread an idea he personally found far-fetched, because so doing helped ensure that the far-fetched idea ultimately gained widespread acceptance. That's a peculiar attitude for a "news" executive, isn't it?
Adam Serwer of the American Prospect takes the next step, writing: "I'd say Sammon is retroactively justifying having lied on the basis that enough people now believe Obama is a socialist that he can convince himself of the charge's original veracity."
They're right. Sammon is essentially saying that he didn't believe it when he said it, but now people just like him say it all the time, so it was accurate before it was true. It's a pre-truth!
We've seen a similar phenomenon with Sarah Palin and the infamous "death panels." In 2009, Palin claimed that the Advanced Care Planning Consultation provision of the House health care bill constituted a "death panel." After that was debunked, right-wingers switched gears and claimed that the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board provision in the Senate health care bill amounted to a "death panel," which meant Palin was right all along, even though it was a different provision of a different bill (and still false).
In short, there's no claim too ridiculous that right-wingers can't retcon into some semblance of near-truth.
Earlier this month, Bret Baier, who hosts Fox News' Special Report, sat for an interview with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart. During the interview, Baier argued that his program, which is Fox's flagship straight "news" show, is objective and under no political pressure to slant coverage.
"I have a morning meeting," said Baier. "We talk about the news of the day. We have correspondents all over the world. We say, 'What's happening?' The thing develops throughout the day. Today in Syria, there were 25 people killed. In Yemen, the president's going to step down in a couple of days. We've got the situation in Libya. I just got back from Afghanistan. That's not faking it. That's real stuff."
Baier went on to reject the idea that "the entire network is driven by this top-down" process in which he gets "a call" dictating slanted news coverage.
But the meetings Baier referenced, which take place at 10:30 every morning at the network's D.C. bureau office, do not consist solely of legitimate news reporters. As Baier explained in a November 18, 2010, blog post, those present at the daily meeting include Bill Sammon, Fox News' controversial Washington managing editor and vice president of news.
During the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election, Bill Sammon used his position as a top Fox News editor to engage in a campaign to link Barack Obama to "Marxists" and "socialism." Today, Media Matters revealed that Sammon subsequently acknowledged that he had "privately" believed that the socialism allegation was "rather far-fetched."
Sammon's effort to push the bogus socialism charge included an October 27, 2008, email he sent to Fox journalists highlighting what he described as "Obama's references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists" in his 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father.
Any claim Fox News has to being a legitimate news organization is premised on the supposed wall that separates their "news" and "opinion" programming.
When Fox execs or network personalities are challenged on the conservative tilt of the network, they often trot out this defense. Writing in October 2009 about the then-blossoming feud between the White House and Fox News, the New York Times' Brian Stelter reported that, "Fox argues that its news hours -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays -- are objective."
In the article, Fox News senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, is quoted as saying: "The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page."
Special Report anchor Bret Baier spent much of his interview with Jon Stewart last week championing the supposed division between Fox's news and editorial content. Similar to Clemente, Baier said that Fox "respect[s] the viewers' ability to discern the difference" between their news and opinion programming.
The problem, of course, is that the division between the news and opinion programming at Fox is a farce. In addition to regularly promoting dubious stories and supposed scandals that damage liberals or benefit conservatives, Fox's Washington news bureau is run by a political hack.
It's not realistic to think that all journalists are automatons that have no political leanings -- they are human. A problem arises when their politics infect their news coverage, and that's what has clearly happened in Fox News' Washington bureau under the heavy hand of Bill Sammon.
So, for the sake of argument, let's set aside the fact that Sammon has fundraised for conservative groups and organizations. Ignore that he wrote numerous fawning books about the Bush campaigns and administration, which were published by a company that exists to prop up the conservative movement. And pay no attention to his Fox News colleagues saying he is "conservative" and "coming from that point of view."
What matters is whether Sammon lets his political leanings infect his supposed "journalism," and over the course of the past few months, that has become undeniably clear.
Last year, a source with knowledge of the situation at Fox's Washington bureau told Media Matters that Sammon shapes the network's news coverage in an "often brutish way." A separate Fox source told Media Matters that they "keep hearing things from staffers about Sammon," and that "when news is being tampered with, you have to worry."
As evidenced by the series of internal Fox emails Media Matters has released over the past several months, Fox's news is certainly being "tampered with."
Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon boasted that he repeatedly lied during the final days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism." Sammon has repeatedly used his position at Fox to slant the network's news coverage to the right.
In newly uncovered audio, a Fox News executive boasts that he lied repeatedly during the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism."
Speaking in 2009 onboard a pricey Mediterranean cruise sponsored by a right-wing college, Fox Washington managing editor Bill Sammon described his attempts the previous year to link Obama to "socialism" as "mischievous speculation." Sammon, who is also a Fox News vice president, acknowledged that "privately" he had believed that the socialism allegation was "rather far-fetched."
"Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to quote, 'spread the wealth around,' " said Sammon. "At that time, I have to admit, that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched."
Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the 2008 election, Sammon used his Fox position to engage in a campaign to tie Obama to "Marxists" and "socialism." A Media Matters review found that Sammon - then the network's Washington deputy managing editor - repeatedly linked Obama's "spread the wealth around" remark to socialism during his October 2008 Fox appearances.
Sammon's "mischief" wasn't limited to his on-air appearances. As Media Matters reported, Sammon also pushed Fox News colleagues to play the socialism card. On October 27, 2008, Sammon sent an email to staffers highlighting what he described as "Obama's references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists" in his 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father. Shortly after sending the email, Sammon appeared on two Fox News programs to discuss his research and also wrote a FoxNews.com piece about Obama's "affinity to Marxists."
During a 2008 radio appearance, Bill Sammon, then a Fox News contributor, said: "I've always felt that it's not going to be Jeremiah Wright's views on race that are necessarily going to doom Barack Obama's presidential bid. It's Barack Obama's own views on the white race which are, I think, fairly controversial."
On March 28, 2008, Sammon, who would later become Fox News' Washington managing editor, appeared on Hugh Hewitt's radio show along with Morton Kondracke. After Hewitt asked Sammon about a passage of Barack Obama's book that quotes Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sammon responded:
SAMMON: Well, if you read, and I know you have, the rest of his book, and I've written about this and talked about this a number of times, Barack Obama himself expresses a grave distrust of white people in general.
SAMMON: He anguished for the first quarter century at least of his life over his mixed race heritage and there are many, many passages in that book where he talks about how he often spoke disparaging about quote, "white folks" this, and "white folks" that. And then he would remember, you know, that his mother was white and he would feel guilty and conflicted about it. But there is a lot - I've always felt that it's not going to be Jeremiah Wright's views on race that are necessarily going to doom Barack Obama's presidential bid. It's Barack Obama's own views on the white race which are, I think, fairly controversial.
Later, after Kondracke defended Obama's writings about race, Hewitt said, "Look, there's nothing offensive in it at all except the language but there is a lot that will impact the election, I believe, Bill Sammon, in that, as Morton just said, most Americans don't - don't travel this path, and don't obsess on this the way that Barack Obama has."
Sammon then said, "Yeah, that's right. And, you know, the other thing is this. And I agree with what Mort said, this is very eloquent and he's obviously very anguished. And he's being, and he gives him credit for being blunt and candid and everything."
"But let's, let's pull back here for a minute," Sammon added. "This guy is applying for a job to run a country that is predominately white, OK? And if you are on record as expressing resentment and suspicions and antipathy towards the white race in general, that's a political problem."
Sammon then said, "Now I know a lot of people inside the Beltway, and a lot of the elites are very, you know, taken by, by this eloquent writer, and eloquent speaker, and look, 'he's raised this racial debate, we now can talk about the nuances of it,' but let me tell you something, you know, the Appalachian region is not going to go for this. There's, you know, when you have a guy who's running for president talking about how he spoke disparagingly about whites, that's a political problem."
Fox News has repeatedly attacked Obama for not using the word "terrorism" to describe a recent attack on U.S. soldiers in Germany. In fact, U.S. officials have repeatedly said that the attack -- which is being investigated -- appeared to be motivated by Islamic extremism and could be an incident of terrorism.
Today, Rupert Murdoch issued a company-wide memo declaring News Corporation "has reached its first major sustainability milestone" -- becoming "carbon neutral across all ... global operations."
"We have provided leadership in our industry," Murdoch wrote in a memo posted on the News Corp. website this morning, adding: "Most important, throughout this endeavor we have continued to do what we do best: engage our audiences around the world with the most compelling content."
After highlighting "scientifically rigorous programs" the company offers and the "passionate environmental message" of News Corp. blockbuster Avatar, Murdoch laid out what News Corp.'s Global Energy Initiative describes as "a long-term vision to guide the Company's environmental sustainability efforts going forward."
That four-point plan includes "continu[ing] to engage our audiences on sustainability issues through partnerships and content of the highest caliber."
Murdoch's stated commitment to "high caliber" content on environmental issues and his apparent pride in "scientifically rigorous" programming stands in stark contrast to a top-down internal directive -- issued at Fox News by Washington managing editor Bill Sammon -- to news staff ordering them to call into question indisputable scientific fact in climate change reporting.
The director of News Corp.'s Global Energy Initiative reportedly attempted to explain away Fox News conflict:
The director of News Corp's Global Energy Initiative Liba Rubenstein said, "This has never been an editorial mandate, and there is a very strong division between our internal operations and our editorial and creative outlets."
"It's never been about trying to speak with one voice across our company," she added, emphasizing that while Fox is the most well-known News Corp entity in the U.S., it is just one of the company's many businesses across the globe.
But Sammon's email wasn't a matter of editorial opinion -- it was a matter of scientific fact.
If Murdoch is to be taken seriously on his company-wide commitment to "content of the highest caliber" on environmental issues, he cannot simply look the other way when his news staff is ordered to cast doubt on climate science.
On June 4, 2009, a couple of hours after President Obama delivered his much-anticipated speech in Cairo regarding America's relationship with the Muslim world, Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon sent an email to Fox staff pointing out that Obama did not use "the words 'terror,' 'terrorist' or 'terrorism.' "
The email, which did not include any text beyond the subject line, read as follows:
From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 9:23 AM
To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 036 -FOX.WHU; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers
Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay
Subject: FYI: My cursory check of Obama's 6,000-word speech to the Muslim world did not turn up the words "terror," "terrorist" or "terrorism"
Sammon's "cursory check" quickly became the editorial focus for Fox News journalists covering Obama's speech, and was repeated (in some instances almost verbatim) by the network's hosts. Sammon himself appeared on Fox shortly after sending the email and claimed that Obama, in not using "terrorism" or any of its variants, showed that "he has taken us off a war footing as a nation."
Sammon's criticism, however, was misleading. Obama devoted a significant section of his remarks to denouncing and confronting Al Qaeda and other "violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security." Sammon's criticism also disregarded the analyses of Middle East and terrorism experts who viewed Obama's word choice as an effort to remove as a source of tension terms that, through overuse and misuse, have become incendiary in the Muslim world.
The New York Times noted the rationale behind Obama's word choice in a June 4, 2009, article:
But while he spoke uncompromisingly of the American fight against Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama never mentioned the words "terrorism" or "terrorist." That was a departure from the language used by the Bush administration, but one that some Middle East experts suggested reflected a belief by the new administration that overuse had made the words inflammatory.
Similarly, then-CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour explained: "I don't know what goes on in his head. But I certainly know what the people in the Islamic world say. In all those countries which I visited, where there are wars or not, they are fed up with being completely and monolithically associated with terror. Perhaps that was what was going through the president's mind when he chose not to use that word."
In February 2006, "journalist" Bill Sammon attended a high-priced fundraising retreat for conservative activist David Horowitz's organization. At the event, Sammon blasted his colleagues in the media for purportedly having an anti-military bias, and praised the emergence of conservative media like Fox News, Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart.
In 2003, Sammon was also the keynote speaker for the Monroe County Conservative Party's (NY) annual fundraising dinner, according to its website.
Sammon joined the Washington Times in 1997, and was announced as the senior White House correspondent for the Washington Examiner on February 13, 2006. He now serves as Fox News' vice president of News and Washington managing editor. Sources familiar with the situation in Fox's Washington bureau have expressed concern about Sammon using his position to "slant" Fox's supposedly neutral news coverage to the right.
In an interview with Howard Kurtz in December, Sammon expressed surprise that people would accuse him of taking a conservative viewpoint, stating: "Have I said things where I take a conservative view? Give me specifics."
The Media Matter revelation last week that Fox News' managing editor Bill Sammon was pushing his news team to talk up a possible connection between "socialism" and "Marxists" with then-candidate Barack Obama in late 2008, is instructive for all kinds of reasons.
Not only do the leaked memos continue to help paint a damning portrait of Fox News from the inside, but they also confirm that it's not simply the nighttime opinion shows that wallow in smears and misinformation. It's also Fox's so-called news programming that play the partisan, political game. (Somebody please notify James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal, who continues to cling to a fantasy about Fox's daytime "news" programming.)
As Mediaite noted in the wake of Media Matters' reporting, Sammon's memo read like a fact sheet, straight from the McCain/Palin headquarters:
Fox News has consistently rested its credibility on the premise that there is a dividing line between their "straight news" and "opinion" programming. But Sammon's status as a "straight news" editor, and his use of this "research" on Fox's Live Desk raise legitimate questions about that separation, or at least blurs a line that should be clear cut.
But what the Fox News memos also bring into focus is that Rupert Murdoch's team did not unleash its relentless campaign against the Obama presidency on the day he was inaugurated in 2009. Instead, the seeds of that media-led revolt were planted during the waning days of the 2008 campaign.
In early 2009 I was struck at the right-wing media's almost volcanic reaction to the Obama presidency. The new Democratic president hadn't even been in office 30 days and already hardcore Obama-hating activists were orchestrating protests in the streets while far-right media players were condemning Obama as some kind of enemy of the state. We'd never seen anything like that in modern American history. I mean, George Bush had to rely on a friendly Supreme Court ruling in order to become president. Yet one month into his first term there wasn't some kind of collective, left-wing freak-out in the streets over his presidency.
And yes, the vivid 2009 freak-out seemed to be in stark contrast to much of the fall 2008 campaign, where those radical voice of dissents seemed to be somewhat muted. Sure, Sean Hannity railed away on Fox News and called Obama every conceivable name in the book during the closing months of the campaign. But with all the polls showing Obama was a sure-fire winner, that level of vitriol never seemed to reach a boiling point.
But it sure did in January and February of 2009. Of course, that's also when Glenn Beck joined Fox News and was allowed to unleash the crazy in a way we've never seen before in cable "news" before. (Beck, circa winter of 2009: Obama has "Marxist tendencies" and is "addicting this country to heroin -- the heroin that is government slavery.") And ever since that point, the Obama-hating far-right media have been competing amongst themselves to prove who can hate the President of the United States more, who can impugn his intentions most often and who, via incoherent conspiracies, can blame him for every conceivable problem that arises.
That's the norm now. Obama Derangement Syndrome has been codified.
What the Sammon memo's show us is that this turn toward the absurd was being plotted in late 2008. Also, Fox News never had any intention of accepting the outcome of the election, and it was never going to portray Obama as a legitimate American president.
During a July 3, 2008, appearance on National Pro-Life Radio's Face The Truth Coast To Coast, Bill Sammon -- who later became Fox News' Washington managing editor -- thanked host Steve Peroutka after he introduced him as "a great pro-lifer."
STEVE PEROUTKA: Bill is our guest today, author, Bush biographer, if you will.
And I'll just go ahead and say it, a great Christian and a great pro-lifer, and that's why I love talking to you on pro-life radio, Bill.
SAMMON: That's very kind of you, Steve, thank you.
In an interview with Howard Kurtz in December, Sammon expressed surprise that people would accuse him of taking a conservative viewpoint, stating: "Have I said things where I take a conservative view? Give me specifics."
In addition to regularly taking conservative viewpoints in his reporting, Sammon's Fox News colleagues have described him as a conservative.