Writing in Foreign Policy, Harvard University international affairs professor Stephen M. Walt listed his "Top Ten Media Failures in the 2012 Iran War Scare" and provides examples of media outlets that he believes are responsible for those failures. One other media outlet that quickly comes to mind as an example of extremely poor Iran coverage is Fox News.
For some time now, Fox's coverage of the Iran debate has left much to be desired, and indeed, Fox has committed many of the "top ten media failures" that Walt identified.
"#1 Mainstreaming the war." Walt wrote that media outlets repeatedly push the idea that "war is imminent, likely, inevitable, etc.," which could potentially "convince the public that it is going to happen sooner or later and it discourages people from looking for better alternatives." Fox has done this repeatedly. For example, Fox military analyst Jack Keane said on Happening Now: "I think it's inevitable" that the United States will have "some kind of conflict" with Iran. Regular Fox guest and former CIA official Michael Scheuer has likewise said that the U.S. is "going to war against the Iranians," and Fox News host Sean Hannity has even said that he thinks war with Iran "has already started."
"#2: Loose talk about Iran's 'nuclear [weapons] program.' " Walt stated that a "recurring feature of Iran war coverage has been tendency to refer to Iran's 'nuclear weapons program' as if its existence were an established fact." Fox has done this too. During an appearance on America's Newsroom, Fox News national security analyst KT McFarland distorted comments by Secretary of Defense and former CIA director Leon Panetta to claim that "Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a year or sooner," co-host Martha MacCallum failed to point out that there are significant questions about whether Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons at all.
Indeed, 2007 and 2011 National Intelligence Estimates found no conclusive evidence that Iran is even trying to build a bomb. And in January 31 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reiterated the fact that the U.S. intelligence committee does not have evidence to say that Iran is trying to build a bomb.
Last week, GM announced that it is temporarily halting production of the Chevrolet Volt, its plug-in hybrid vehicle. Fox News is reveling in the news, repeatedly airing a parody commercial that mocks the Volt and distorts its safety record, including on The O'Reilly Factor. But only a few years ago, Bill O'Reilly was singing a different tune about advanced vehicles that reduce our vulnerability to gas price spikes, and the government's role in incentivizing them. In 2008, O'Reilly suggested the government "mandate by law" that auto companies increase production of electric and flex fuel cars (which can run on 85% ethanol), and provide tax exemptions for flex fuel vehicles. Take a look at the contrast between O'Reilly's attitude towards alternative fuel cars before and after President Obama's inauguration:
O'Reilly wasn't the only Fox figure with a more favorable opinion of alternative fuel cars in 2008, when the Bush administration was the one giving tax credits for alternative fuel and electric cars. In November 2008, Sean Hannity lectured a guest: "I don't see why you don't praise G.M. for what they are doing with their electric cars and hybrids." And in December 2008, Greta Van Susteren asked a GM executive "when are you going to change your cars? Because I mean, like, since the early '70s, we know that fuel has been a problem" (via Nexis transcripts).
From the December 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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On last night's edition of Fox News' On the Record, host Greta van Susteren lauded the FBI credentials of Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), then allowed him to baselessly claim that the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious was approved "all the way at the top of the food chain," by Attorney General Eric Holder.
The Justice Department has consistently said that the operation, in which ATF agents allowed suspected traffickers to transmit guns to Mexico as part of an attempt to build a case against a drug cartel, was a local operation and that Holder and other senior Justice officials were unaware of the controversial tactics involved. But according to Grimm, for such an operation "you have to have approvals at the highest level of DOJ."
VAN SUSTEREN: And I suppose we should say and just sort of put in perspective, not only are you a member of Congress, you're a former FBI agent.
GRIMM: Yes. That's correct.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So -- and so the attorney general would be your boss, if you were still -- in theory.
GRIMM: Yes. Absolutely true.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. You want him out. Why?
GRIMM: I don't think we have the confidence. I think the attorney general has been misleading not only the Congress but the American people. Listen, you don't let guns and drugs walk. That's the general rule of thumb. So if you're going to do something like that, which is very rare, you have to have approvals at the highest level of DOJ.
Now, why is this more complicated? Because you're not just letting them walk within an area here in the United States. You're talking about an international border. So you're having guns walk across into another country.
There's no question in my mind that you needed approval all the way to top of the food chain, which leads directly to the attorney general.
But Fox News viewers have previously received the opposite information from a source with far more experience in the area. In a September interview, Michael Sullivan, acting director of the ATF under President Bush, said the operation was "well within the rights of the director [of ATF] to approve or reject," and "didn't require authorities outside of ATF... for the purpose of initiating it."
Not surprisingly, van Susteren never mentioned Sullivan's expressly contradictory analysis, nor the DOJ's denials.
Over the weekend, Matt Drudge tried to inflame passions with a headline blaring "FEDS PLAN UNMANNED BORDER CROSSING WITH MEX. . ." The actual story Drudge hyped, however, should not induce panic in anyone. According to the Associated Press article to which Drudge linked, the crossing will allow access between a national park in Texas and a small Mexican town. Campers in the park used to regularly cross over to the town for supplies, but such crossings were discouraged after the 9-11 attacks.
Furthermore, the article reported: "If the crossing is approved, Border Patrol would have eight agents living in the park in addition to the park's 23 law enforcement rangers. 'I think it's actually going to end up making security better,' CBP spokesman William Brooks said. 'Once you've crossed you're still not anywhere. You've got a long ways to go and we've got agents who are in the area. We have agents who patrol. We have checkpoints on the paved roads leading away from the park.' "
But with a headline and graphic like this from Drudge, it was only a matter of time before someone from Fox took the bait:
The winner was Greta Van Susteren. Luckily for viewers, rather than turn to Fox's usual stable of anti-immigrant commentators, Van Susteren hosted Nathan Thornburgh, a contributing writer for Time, who shot down every attempt by Van Susteren to inflame her viewers with suggestions that the checkpoint could allow people to "just walk through" into America, "inflame a lot of people," cause a "drug smuggler in Juarez to move" to the checkpoint, and "enrage" local residents.
From the December 4 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Over the last six months, Fox News has repeatedly hyped Arizona's efforts to raise private funds to build a fence along the state's border with Mexico. However, such a fence would cost millions of dollars per mile and its effectiveness at increasing border security is unproven.
For the press, it was too good to be true -- and it was. The news media was eating up anything it could find about Solyndra when Bloomberg ran a September 28 report headlined "Solyndra Plant Had Whistling Robots, Spa Showers" focused on the amenities of Solyndra's facility including "robots that whistled Disney tunes." Fifteen paragraphs in, Bloomberg eventually explained:
Robots that resembled "a big freezer with wheels" maneuvered around the factory transporting panels from one machine to another, said George Garma, 49, a former Solyndra equipment maintenance technician from Fremont. The Disney tunes alerted workers to the robots' presence.
Or, as Politifact recently reported, the "robots" were "automated guided vehicles" designed to transport materials -- a common technology used since the 1950's -- and the "whistling" was preloaded music played to alert workers that the vehicles were nearby for safety reasons. The automated vehicles were not lavish expenses, but standard technology that reduced labor costs. Music is used instead of beeping, which "can drive workers nuts -- and sometimes they tune it out, presenting a safety hazard," according to Politifact.
But Greenwire and CNN's American Morning didn't see fit to explain any of that. Neither, of course, did Fox News in its coverage of the "singing robots" on Your World, On The Record, and Special Report. Andrew Napolitano declared on his Fox Business show that Solyndra executives "entertain themselves with robots whistling Disney tunes in the hallways." I could be entertained by this for hours:
Fox has renewed their enthusiastic promotion of GOP presidential candidate and former Fox News contributor New Gingrich following his recent surge in the polls. Fox has a long history of praising both Newt Gingrich and other Republican presidential candidates.
From the November 15 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News turned its campaign to protect Herman Cain on CNBC Wednesday, lashing out at CNBC debate moderators for asking Cain about sexual harassment allegations during a GOP primary debate.
Co-hosting the first GOP presidential debate since news broke that the National Restaurant Association paid two women tens of thousands of dollars after they accused Herman Cain of sexually inappropriate behavior, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo asked Cain to address the accusations and whether voters should be concerned about "character issues."
Before the debate even took place, Eric Bolling primed the pump, bemoaning that moderators would "probably say, hey Herman Cain how come there are four people accusing you of having, of sexual assault?"
Later, Sean Hannity and Fox Business's Charles Payne reacted live to Cain's only question addressing the allegations made against him. Hannity claimed he had never "seen anything like this," and railed against NBC for asking it. Payne echoed his outrage: "I couldn't even believe the tone of the whole thing, the panel. It was so -- so vicious, so vitriolic; it was dumb, and it was mean-spirited."
From the outset of the sexual harassment scandal, Fox News has led a right-wing media campaign to discredit Cain's accusers. Now there is evidence that the channel will go silent on the issue going forward. During a seven minute interview after the debate, Fox's Greta Van Susteren did not ask Cain a single question about the allegations:
From the November 9 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Arizona, a prominent anti-immigration advocate who recently formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for Congress, is a frequent guest on Fox News, and has used his platform to promote and fundraise for his potential congressional bid. Babeu is just the latest in a long line of Republican candidates that Fox News has enthusiastically promoted.
In the past, Fox News' Greta Van Susteren repeatedly pushed ethical boundaries by hyping Sarah Palin without disclosing that her husband, John Coale, advised Palin following the 2008 presidential campaign and started both her political action committee, SarahPAC, and her legal defense fund.
Now it seems there is a possibility that Van Susteren has once again breached journalistic ethics.
In a taped interview that aired on today's edition of On the Record, Van Susteren hosted Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to allow Cain to respond to sexual harassment allegations against him. At no point during the interview or the live show did Van Susteren mention that her husband has identified himself as a "friend" of Cain or that he indicated before Palin dropped out that he would most likely back Cain's campaign if Palin did indeed drop out.
According to an October 6 Politico article, Coale told the paper's Alexander Burns, "I think [Cain] would be my guy if Sarah doesn't get in," and added, "[t]he less establishment, the better."
Politico has also reported that Coale appeared at a Cain event today as a "friend" of the candidate. From Politico:
Herman Cain gave his a TV interview Monday to Fox News host Greta van Susteren, in the process seriously muddling his story on the financial settlements with former female employees of the National Restaurant Association.
That's why it struck me as interesting to see Van Susteren's husband, attorney John Coale, upstairs at the National Press Club -- in the members-only area where Cain was camped out -- after the Republican presidential candidate's remarks there this afternoon.
I emailed Coale to ask if he was giving Cain legal advice or whether he was simply there as a friend and/or supporter. He replied that he was there as a "friend" of Cain.
It should be noted that, when the husband of NPR's Michele Norris took a position with President Obama's re-election campaign, Norris took a leave of absence from her position as co-host of All Things Considered.
So, shouldn't Van Susteren at least have disclosed her husband's relationship with Cain?
From the October 21 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta van Susteren:
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