Warning: This tea may cause severe damage to journalistic integrity
by Karl Frisch, Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 10:18:10 PM EDT
Talk to any political organizer and they'll tell you the hardest part about pulling off a successful protest rally is building a big enough crowd for the press to show up and cover the festivities. As tax day approaches, conservatives planning anti-Obama "tea party" demonstrations across the country have found a way around this once-daunting organizer's dilemma: Fox News.
That's right. Despite repeatedly claiming its coverage is "fair and balanced," despite its attacks on anyone who dares claim or imply the cable outlet tilts to the right, despite encouraging viewers to "say 'no' to biased media," Fox News has frequently aired segments imploring its audience to get involved with tea-party protests across the country -- protests the "news" network has described as mainly a response to President Obama's economic policies.
Organizers of these tea-party protests have no bigger cheerleader (or crowd-builder, for that matter) than Fox News, which has provided attendance and organizing information for the events on air and online dozens of times. You name it, they've likely done it. Fox has offered viewers and readers such vital organizing information as protest dates and locations and addresses of websites where people can learn more. It has even posted information and publicity material for the events on its own website. Tea-party planners are now using the planned attendance of Fox News hosts to promote their protests and listing Fox News contributors as "Tea Party Sponsor[s]" on their website.
You see, Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren are all scheduled to broadcast live from tea parties in different cities across the country, and they've wasted little time in diligently working to boost attendance levels for the April 15 events.
On his Fox program, Hannity has told his viewers, "And don't forget, you can log on to our website to get all the details one week from tomorrow, our special, 'Tax Day Tea Party' show. You can attend. It's live. It's in Atlanta." Cavuto struck the same note, telling his audience, "By the way, this tea party movement that's going against largesse, it is growing. And folks are fed up with out-of-control spending. To that end, we are going to be broadcasting live from one of the biggest of these rallies on April 15, Tax Day. We are at California's state capitol in Sacramento. This is the epicenter of this tax revolt beast, if you will." Buried under the fault line of this "epicenter"? Cavuto's integrity.
For his part, Beck, Fox's conspiracy-theorist-in-chief, managed to escape his "doom room" -- Beck's words -- where he regularly hosts survivalist fringe characters prophesying our impending demise as a nation, long enough to encourage his viewers to come "[c]elebrate with Fox News" at any of four "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties."
It's sounding more and more like a nerdy third-grader begging classmates to show up for his birthday party: "Come on, guys! There's gonna be pizza and a clown -- you've gotta come!"
In all seriousness, it's one thing for a news outlet to cover a political protest -- that's pretty logical. It's quite another for a news outlet to repeatedly encourage its viewers to attend a political protest. Far from practicing legitimate journalism, it's blatantly and unabashedly political.
Beck isn't just helping with turnout. Discussing his participation in the upcoming protest at the Alamo in San Antonio on his syndicated radio program, Beck announced, "I'm going to do a fundraiser for them" to help defray costs. "So you can come and you can have lunch with me. ... I don't know any of the details, but I've heard it's like $500 a plate or something like that." I'm guessing they won't be serving pizza with a price tag clocking in at 500 bones per ticket. The clown, on the other hand? I'm told Beck makes amazing balloon animals.
At this point, Fox News might as well retire its worn-out "we report, you decide" slogan in favor of something more accurate and timely. Perhaps "we incite, then report; rinse and repeat" would do the trick.
Taking all of this into consideration, it's logical for people to be upset over the horrible state of affairs at Fox these days. Some might even be inclined to blame Beck, Hannity, and the rest of their right-wing broadcasting colleagues, but they should resist such temptation. You see, it really isn't their fault at all.
They are simply fulfilling the charge of their boss, Fox News senior vice president Bill Shine, who, in an interview last month with National Public Radio, described the conservative cable network as "the voice of opposition on some issues." Indeed.
At least someone's finally being honest at Fox. Now, if that's not a reason to party, I don't know what is.
Karl Frisch is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, research, and information center based in Washington, D.C. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his columns by email.