TV and Sympathy

The Wall Street Journal’s weird Fox News correction.

How do you correct a newspaper correction? The “Corrections & Amplifications” column of the Oct. 26 Wall Street Journal contains the following entry:

NEWS CORP.’S Fox News was incorrectly described in a page-one article Monday as being sympathetic to the Bush cause.

Oh, please. I don’t even know any conservatives who dispute that Fox News is sympathetic to Bush (excepting conservatives who work for Fox News, who are obliged to spout the company line that Fox News is “fair and balanced”). The Center for Media and Public Affairs, a right-leaning media watchdog headed by S. Robert Lichter, recently found that during the period from Sept. 7 to Oct. 1, 50 percent of panelists’ comments on Fox News were favorable toward Bush, while only 13 percent were favorable toward Kerry. Although the report found that Fox’s evening news broadcast conveyed positive judgments of Bush about as often as NBC News did and a little less often than CBS News did on their evening news broadcasts, Fox conveyed positive evening-news judgments of Kerry significantly less often than did ABC, CBS, and NBC. Relative to the network news shows, then, Fox tilts toward Bush. Now, maybe that’s because ABC, CBS, and NBC are run by Bolsheviks while Fox News is “fair and balanced.” But even if you believe that, I don’t see how you can dispute that, within the real-world spectrum of TV news, Fox is “sympathetic to the Bush cause.” Did I mention that Fox News is run by Roger Ailes, former media svengali to President George H.W. Bush, father to the Bush whose “cause” is under discussion? Or that Bob Woodward caught Ailes giving Karl Rove political advice after the 9/11 attacks? (In response, Ailes huffed, “I did not give up my American citizenship to take this job.”)

“But, wait,” you say. “I need context. Allow me to render judgment on the offending statement as it appeared in the Journal.”

The article in question, by Shailagh Murray and Greg Hitt, made the point that Kerry would use his final week of campaigning to woo swing voters while Bush would use it to shore up his conservative base. The offending sentence, italicized below, appeared in the following paragraph:

Mr. Bush believes the key to victory lies in his party’s conservative core. He gave a rare interview over the weekend to Fox News, a network sympathetic to the Bush cause and popular with Republicans. Among other things, Mr. Bush voiced doubts about whether the country can be fully protected from future terror attacks. “Whether or not we can be ever fully safe is up—you know, up in the air,” he said.

The interviewer, whom Murray and Hitt didn’t identify, was Sean Hannity, whose job on the Fox News shout-show Hannity & Colmes is to do right-wing battle with Alan Colmes, a liberal whose low wattage was expressed by Al Franken in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them  through the comic device of printing Colmes’ name in itty-bitty type.

As it happens, I was leaked an early transcript of Hannity’s Bush interview last weekend. “Sympathetic” is an accurate, though understated, description of its tenor. I briefly considered mocking Hannity for giving Bush so shameless a tongue bath, but quickly decided that would be about as incisive as pointing out that the sky was blue. This was, after all, Hannity. And it was, after all, on Fox.

But the Journal’s craven “correction” compels me to share with you some of the outrageous softballs Hannity tossed Bush’s way:

Do you think that when he says these things, John Kerry, your opponent, you were in these three debates with him, do you think he knows he’s not telling the truth? (…)A lot has been discussed about the tone and we know for example and your family is actively involved in this campaign and Theresa Heinz Kerry kind of took a shot at your wife and said she never had a real job and—I didn’t know that being a mother was never a real job, but that’s a side issue. You heard the comment during the debate of John Kerry bringing up Dick Cheney’s daughter and her sexuality was brought up and then the next day it was told it was fair game, the daughter of a candidate. Does that bother you, upset you or does that concern you?(…)I guess what it comes down to is that national security is the number one pressing issue in our time and you are talking extensively about staying on the offense to secure American cities here. When you look at your vision—the Bush doctrine, if you will … and you compare it to the Kerry doctrine, what would be the difference?(…)You saw John Kerry in Ohio, all-important swing state, he put on brand new camouflage. Said he’s a hunter. I understand the gun he had—I’m not sure if it was one of the ones he proposed to ban and he said he—of course—he wants to tax guns. When you see something like that is …

The mark of a truly obsequious interview is that it renders the interview subject’s answers entirely superfluous. I know that Bush said something in response to Hannity’s billing and cooing, but damned if I can remember what it was.