Today’s show is brought to you by Audible. Please visit Audible podcast dot com slash point to get a free audio book download. This is point of inquiry from Monday, March 12th, 2012.
Welcome the point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots. At the outset of our show, I want to let you know that this episode of Point of Inquiry is sponsored by Audible Audible’s, the Web’s leading provider of spoken audio, entertainment information and educational programing. The site offers over one hundred thousand books for download to your computer, iPod or c.D. And today it’s willing to give you one for free when you sign up for a free trial to participate. All you have to do is go to the following website, audible podcasts, dot com slash point. Again, that’s audible podcast, dot com slash point. And since we just had Sean Faircloth on the show, let me recommend his latest book, which is available on audible attack of the Theocrats. It’s right there. You can download it now. If there’s one thing this show is concerned about, it’s ensuring a rational, sensible conversation in politics, in public life. And you simply can’t have such a conversation if the culture is awash in political and politicized mis information. What am I talking about? The denial of global warming, claims about death panels, assertions that the president of the United States wasn’t actually born here. One thing all of these falsehoods have in common is that if you watch Fox News, you’re more likely to believe them. Fox increases your risk, so to speak, of believing factually wrong things to support a political agenda with other networks that affect, isn’t there. So how did it get this way? How did one leading network become a fount of misinformation? For that, we turn to the most dedicated Fox monitors of them all, Media Matters for America. They’ve got a new book out on Fox, and I’ve invited their executive vice president, Ari Raybon Hoft, to talk about it. Ari Raybon Hoff is executive V.P. at Media Matters. He’s the coauthor with David Brock of the new book The Fox Effect How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine.
Ari Rubinoff, welcome to Point of Inquiry.
So you’ve been tracking FOX News for a long time and you relate this in your new book with David Brock’s The Fox Effect. But you say your efforts have increased in the last four years. Why is that?
It increased as the network’s behavior decreased would be the best way to put it. They you know, Fox launched as conservative talk radio on TV, which is problematic in its own right. There’s always been a kind of fact free zone at Fox. But where Fox really changed was it transformed itself from a from that kind of talk radio format to an actual political party posing as a journal as a journalistic organization. What I mean by that is political campaigns and parties have three elements. My message, money and mobilization. And Fox News does all three and did all three in 2010, which made it different than any other network out there.
And so in terms of mobilization, you mean Fox was actually involved in promoting Tea Party events? Or at least we seem to dominate a lot of the voting, but not just giving them coverage.
But in the week leading up to the first Tea Parties, they ran one hundred commercial spots promoting the events. And that is unheard of in in kind of American journalistic history, given literally giving away ad time to political elements.
Couldn’t it be the case, though, that they just think of themselves as politically conservative and they when they had a president, they agreed with and probably really loved George W. Bush, they weren’t as activated.
But once they have once they’re in the role of opposition, then just everything gets amped up. I mean, isn’t that part of it as well?
I mean, I think there’s other elements. I think you didn’t see the network fundraising for conservatives during the George W. Bush administration. You didn’t see to the degree it did during Obama. You didn’t see the network actually mobilizing people. And frankly, you didn’t see the network kind of leading the communications up. That role was kind of reserved for political and they were certainly a part of that hub, but they weren’t the key element. I think that’s what changed. And I think part of that change is there was no there was a vacuum of leadership in the conservative movement. And Roger Ailes, the network’s chief, was an obvious person to step into that vacuum.
Who most interested in I think our listeners are as well about all the sort of the misinformation and falsehoods sown, some by Fox. So I want to get into that. But first, let me ask.
They have not ignored you. They’ve had lots and lots of responses to you, including trying to psychoanalyze your coauthor, David Brock. So what is your response to them responding to you?
I mean, I think, look, last year in July, Glenn, the week Glenn Beck leaves the air and kind of as the phone hacking scandal starts to permeate in the U.S., Fox runs 35 segments in two weeks, claiming Media Matters should lose its tax status with the IRS, something that any time any expert looked at. They said this is this is totally ridiculous. A week before this book comes out, they run 40 segments attacking us. You know, this is what Fox does. They not as you know, they don’t attack the content of the book. They don’t attack the. The quotes from their from their people. They don’t attack the internal memos the book contains. They don’t even attack the narrative, the book. They just go for the personal. I think that that shows what kind of network they are. At one point in the book, I talk about how Fox responds to external criticism. And, you know, there was a poll that came out from the University of Maryland that showed the network in a negative light. And instead of responding to the facts in the poll, they attacked the University of Maryland. They respond like a political campaign where I remember that one.
That one’s funny, if I remember right. University of Maryland comes out with a poll showing that Fox News viewers believe.
Right. More wrong things than other news viewers.
Right. And, you know, believe more climate is wrong. Yes. Doesn’t don’t believe the climate. The line in that poll was don’t believe it. Scientists think that climate change is occurring. I mean, you know, Rocky Mount was very careful with their phrasing to kind of they didn’t even say don’t believe that climate change is occurring. Don’t believe that there’s scientific consensus around climate change. They were being ultra careful. My favorite line in that poll, though, was FOX viewers believe that their taxes have increased under Barack Obama. Now, that’s a fact. They could check by looking at their own tax returns, but they would rather watch Fox News.
I know the Maryland poll because I’ve Glanbia coming out and I kind of talk about that poll. But with Fox as a response to it was, if I remember, was, well, the University of Maryland is just a party school. Yes.
I think it the reason they didn’t attack Michael Clemente didn’t attack, but didn’t say this poll’s wrong. Didn’t point to other evidence to show the network. Didn’t say, you know what? We’ll do a better job. We’ll try to do a better job in the future. No, they went they went on the offensive like a political campaign. And this is what’s interesting. You know, other networks have run into problems with different elements of their broadcast at times, and they tend to respond by trying to deal with them like news organizations. So when MSNBC, for example, which isn’t perfect, but when MSNBC caught several of their employees making political contributions, they were suspended. At Fox, Sean Hannity is free to donate to Michele Bachmann’s PAC. And that’s the difference. There’s no there’s no even attempt. We all make mistakes. We all make errors. You know, we’re human, so we’re imperfect. Fox makes no attempt to acknowledge imperfection and corrected owner.
Remind our listeners that. Ari Rubinoff is coauthor with David Brock of the new book The Fox Effect. Roger Ailes turned a network into a proper Yanda machine. On the other hand, you’ve got to admit that in some ways what they’re doing is kind of brilliant. I mean, they’ve found a new audience. They’ve found a new brand that that audience really wanted. And they surpassed CNN and MSNBC.
And they’re just I mean, and we in the book we talk about Roger Ailes is a uniquely talented television producer. And that’s a fact. And to deny that would be denying reality. The question is, he is a very close friend. We quote in the book Joe McGinniss, who is the author of The Selling of the President and most recently The Rogue about Sarah Palin, who’s been Roger Ailes, his friend for 40 years. And he says everything that Roger’s done with his incredible talent isn’t any scripts. You know, every. And that’s his quote, everything. Roger Ailes has taken an incredible talent and devoted it to harming the world. And I think that’s the that’s actually one of the stories of foxes. Look, their production value is better than any other network. That is a simple fact. That’s because Roger Ailes is obsessed with good production.
There is a line, though, that I guess they don’t cross, right? I mean, what I mean when when Glenn Beck was I forget exactly what happened. Let go or he’s he left. I mean, in some sense that was sort of saying even that we’re not going to do that.
But it took two years. It took intense pressure. It reached a point where the show was no longer, you know, could no longer achieve profitability because because every major brand advertiser had abandoned it. It could only get kind of growth seller’s survival seeds and. And, you know, kind of third rate advertising dollars like that. So it wasn’t its audience was declining at the time because it kind of the jig was up. And, you know, it’s one of those things where you’re getting credit for something you should have done before. I mean, look, with Glenn Beck, you know, we have in the book a letter that was previously unpublished from Roger Ailes to a group of about 30 rabbis who had written Rupert Murdoch saying, look, we’re not asking you take Glenn Beck off the air. We’re not asking you to change your political bias. We just ask you you use Holocaust analogies a little bit less. Right. Just don’t don’t compare things to the Holocaust, you know? And Roger Ailes right back. And it was in reference sorry. The letter was in reference to the fact that back on his radio show had said that the head of the Jewish funds for justice was doing was was creating environment, like basically saying he was creating environment that led to Nazi Germany, which saying that about a major Jewish leader is offensive on its face. And they basically said, can you. Can you just when you’re talking about the Holocaust, could you show some sensitivity? That was all they were asking an ally. We have his response to them where he says basically no. I agree with what Glenn Beck was saying. You know, social justice has led to the Holocaust. I mean, and that’s in his own words. And then there’s another example. David Axelrod was speaking at an Atlantic conference and he said he was talking to his major conservative figure. And he said, why didn’t you like Obama? The conservative figures said, does he wants to create a national police force to like, you know? And Axelrod said, what are you talking about? And this major national figure sent him a 21 second clip. And what Barack Obama was actually talking about, the 21 second clip was creating a humanitarian force. So when we go into a foreign conflict, the army does the conflict and the humanitarian force does the humanitarian work. Post-Conflict had nothing to do with the domestic police force. That conservative, as we point as we show in the book, was Roger Ailes. And we show how that conspiracy theory made it onto the air on the Glenn Beck program, where he said this is evidence that Barack Obama’s has his own brownshirts. So, I mean, like, yes, they did deal with gun back. But after a long slog and a big campaign by groups like Color of Change and others.
So this is issue of misinformation. I mean, you know, having a non-factual national political discourse is what consumes me. Most of the people on Fox themselves, you you correct them constantly. Factually. You correct them. Yes. Do they. Do they know they’re saying untrue things as they say them, or do they just convince themselves?
The evidence of that in the book is we begin the book on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. And by the way, you know, book of media criticism is good when it begins on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Or at least it’s not your standard boring book of media critics to which a quick pitch. Even The Hollywood Reporter said this book was a fun read, which is totally rare for. Kind of a wonky liberal book, so. So your listeners should pick it up.
So what? So our book begins with Bill Simon, who now is the Washington bureau chief and managing editor of Fox News.
And he’s on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean on a fundraising cruise for Hillsdale College, which is a conservative institution, which is a conservative institution located in Michigan. And he’s fundraising for it on a cruise. And he gets up to speak and he starts talking about how he goes on, how he went on air. He’s a speech. He’s talking about being mischievous. He’s speaking of mischief. I went on air before the election and said Barack Obama was a socialist, even though I found that theory right at the rather far fetched. So you have the head of their their news division in Washington acknowledging he went on air before an election five days before an election and said something about a major party candidate he knew wasn’t true. And if the core of journalism is speaking the truth, then you then you then he’s violated that core. Now he say, OK, it’s one guy at one instance, except we have emails from Bill Simon to the Fox staff that were leaked to us showing that not only did he go on air, but he pushed this issue among the wall in the Washington bureau. And there were almost 30 segments from the time he sent his email about Barack Obama being a socialist and the election on Fox News. So that’s prima facie evidence that Fox is not like he didn’t think. He admits he knew he was telling an untruth. He knew he was lying and he did it anyway.
So let me ask you this.
Are you more against them because they really seem to be on one side or more against them because they really seem to be planning a lot of misinformation or both?
Look, if they were just honest journalists, I think we’d be less interested in them if they even if they were conservative journalists, but they maintain honesty.
We’d be interested them. I think the fundamental problem with Fox News and what they do and I think you you write about this topic a lot, is and I assume, though I have read your new book is going to discuss this. They destroy our national debate and they destroy our national debate, because when you go into court, you need to have some stipulated facts. Right. You can’t just go into an and then they’re stipulated facts and their facts. The court determines. But you need to be talking at least if if you’re going into court to debate whether there was a car accident, whether somebody is injured in a car accident. You need to at least agree that a car accident, some car accident occurred somewhere. But if you take an issue like climate change, Fox completely denies that the car accident is even occurring. So you can’t have a legitimate debate about, you know, there is a legitimate debate to be had. Is is it worth the cost? Is the cost of fixing our climate worth worth it financially in the long run? Now, I would say yes. But there there could be conservatives who want to intellectually debate and say, look, we’re going to take a lot of risk. There’s going to be increasing storms and all this damage is going to happen. But in the end, it’s better for us not to spend all this money upfront to completely transform our economy away from carbon. That’s a legitimate debate.
We’ve lost that ability because Fox says climate change doesn’t exist. And then you. And so the debate, the bit about the core facts disappears. So there’s no. They’ve destroyed the concept of there being a unified American language Enzyte case. They’ve you know, and this is Roger. This is what Roger Ailes has done throughout his political career. In our book, we take you through some of what he did for Nixon, where he’d go into a place and he would say, OK, I wanted to. And I want a white person. I want black person. Oh, that black person is too dark. He works by dividing. That’s what he did on the 88 campaign with Willie Horton, where even though the Bush campaign wasn’t responsible for it, Roger Ailes said, you know, the only question was really Horton is whether I show him with a knife or without one. You know, and that’s what he does at Fox by by dividing us on by creating false narratives on issues and by things like, you know, Barack Obama has a deep seated hatred of white people in white culture, which is ultimately what led to Glenn Beck’s demise.
So how much of what Fox is doing is is a conservative ideology. How much of it is actually really being overtly kind of conservative, Christian and religious ideology?
I to be honest, I think Fox shies away from the Christian ideology somewhat, which is interesting. They all have it on. They’ll do it when it’s useful to them. But on cultural issues, they actually avoid the debate. A lot of the time. So, for example, when gay marriage was passed in New York, they ran only six segments on the entire on the entire thing. They didn’t make a big deal. They don’t make a big year out of those cultural touchstones, which I think is very interesting, though. You do see some things like abortion and Bill O’Reilly gets very puffed up about abortion. But for the most part, they actually they actually don’t serve that marketplace quite well.
Do you have any idea about why that would be a mean surely many of their listeners? I mean, we know that the Tea Party is a conservative Christian group of people overall. I mean, that’s that is the audience.
Well, this is this is what’s interesting. I have a close friend who was studying the Tea Party, and this friend is an evangelical Christian, but it’s fairly liberal. It’s actually extremely liberal and kind of takes that belief in in Christ to say you have to help the poor. Like he goes the opposite direction to help the poor. We need to do all these. You know, we to be we need to join together for the common good. Super Christian, not very political in his current role. He went to a number of tea parties and he has had a test. And at every Tea Party rally and at Glenn Beck events, the test would fail, which was he’d walk around on Saturday and he’d walk up to people and say, Do you know where I’m in town just for this? Do you know where I go? You know, I could go to do Newark, go to service as a church service tomorrow and nobody knew which he says he couldn’t even any gathered where there’s a mass of very hardcore evangelicals. I know exactly where you should go. And he said it was always interesting. Nobody at these Tea Party rallies could tell him we’re good. You know, we’re a good service.
Was that surprises me. Well, I mean, I guess I feel like I’ve seen other surveys that suggest that the Tea Party movement overall has a lot of religion in it.
I think so. But I also think there’s kind of a it’s kind of a screw government. Libertarian ideology very much holds sway, but it’s also a partizan Republican ideology more than anything else, which is interesting. It kind of separated from mainstream. Critism and goes two straight partizan politics.
Let me remind our listeners again that Ari Rebin Hoff is coauthor with David Brock of the new book The Fox Effect How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine.
So what is the biggest falsehood that Fox has created? Because if you take like death panels or if you take global warming to no mean, I guess I would. It sounds like Sarah Palin sort of really gave death panels. It’s it’s life. Global warming denial has been going on. It pretty much predates the existence of FOX.
I think that Fox doesn’t. This is an interesting point. Fox doesn’t create lies so much as it launders lies. So you take death panels, right? That was started by Betsy McCoy on Fred Thompson’s radio show this time around. And Betsy McCoy was somebody who’d written a false article in line with the tobacco industry, which we discuss in the Fox Effect in the early 90s when he was working for the tobacco industry. Oh, Roger Ailes. That kind of took down the Clinton health care bill. And she cried. She kind of evolved this concept of death panels on Fred Thompson’s radio show. It’s picked up by Sarah Palin after it already been fact checked by a number of people after had already been fact checked by a number of people picked up by Sarah Palin and brought the fox. Fox doesn’t create these lies. They’re the machine that launders and amplifies them.
So is there anything they’ve done? Well, I mean, I notice that one person who is kind of giving you a hard time said they ran the Republican debates. Well, would you give them that?
Right. Right. If you’re a Repub, if you’re taking the place of the Republican Party. Right. Doesn’t it. Doesn’t it to your benefit to to say we’re fair and balanced in the Republican debate? Like, let’s see what happens in the general election. And, you know, Roger Ailes has said the network had the network. He said a few months ago we needed a course correction, which if Roger Ailes is claiming the network needed a course correction, that alone is evidence that they were. First off, it means they were on the wrong course, which is evidence for what the book says. But you also have to keep in mind something he said in an FEC deposition that that we had that we dug up for this book that hadn’t really been publicly explored where he says, I never say anything to the press. I’m actually going to do. I think Fox is on a PR offensive. I think they went too far with Glenn Beck and a number of others and are trying to bring themselves back and trying to hold up Bret there and other people. They’re as balanced journalists. But in fact, I think once if you look at there on our content, not much has changed.
What is your view on why? You know, one way to counter this, theoretically, would be to have voices of your own, but nobody seems to be as successful as Fox in the opposition on the left. I mean, I think if you’re talking about people in the secular movement, a lot of people listen, this show, they would similarly feel kind of like where are stars? You know, where’s our network? Why is that? Why is nobody able to compete? And this is true of radio to conservatives, sort of dominate talk radio.
I think some of it is the fact that, look, in terms of Fox News, I think you have to give a lot of credit to Roger Ailes incredible talent. It just if you watch Fox News and you watch the other networks, FOX just looks better. It flows better. It’s more visually and auditorily appealing. It’s a much better entertainment product than any other network.
You say they created the ticker, right?
Yes. I mean, look at that. I mean, that not that’s actually a great example on September 11th. Fox makes two changes, which shows kind of the their amazing abilities, kind of production abilities. One. They add the flag to their logo, which is a symbol like where American with us. They’re taking a stand, too. They’re the first network. Now, those tickers are ubiquitous.
They’re the first one to come out with one on September 11th because they knew the news was just coming in so fast. They just do in terms of product. They do deliver a high quality entertainment product that they’re just that is is due to Roger ELSS great talent.
What is what is ultimately your your action point here? I mean, okay, FOX is good at what it does. It makes lots of money, huge influence, huge power. What can you do other than expose and say that they’ve sewn a lot of misinformation? I mean, you know, there’s not it’s not like it’s going to cease to exist. It’s a wonderful business model.
Right. But here’s where I think there’s been some success. When we started to write this book, what caused us, David Knight, I think we had to write this book was kind of what happened in the fall of 2009, where a number of stories. Van Jones, ACORN ripped off of Fox to other networks and kind of created mass chaos around lies that Fox is laundering. We in writing this book, Our Goal and our goal in Media Matters a lot is to kind of put our finger in the funnel and stop kind of the misinformation at FOX.
And when you do that, you can kind of stop a lot of the consequences from happening. And I recognize it’s always difficult to prove a negative. The story I like to tell is a story of Kevin Jennings and a lot of people say, who is Kevin Jennings? And that’s exactly the point. You know, Van Jones is you don’t know Kevin Jennings as Kevin Jennings was assistant secretary of education. He had to start a group called Gracen.
He was one of the leading voices, one of the leading gay educators in the country, one of the leading voices against bullying, one of the leading voices kind of helping young people come out. Republicans and conservative operatives in Massachusetts and other places have come up with this whole smear of Kevin Jennings that they like to call fisty gate, claiming he was giving kids to children that would engage in some pretty extreme sexual behavior. That was completely untrue. There were Planned Parenthood safe sex kits handed out at an event of his. Their key piece of evidence to why he should be fired is they said he’s he he did not report the statutory rape of a student, which is that that is a serious charge. And there was a moment where it looked like CNN might go to air with this. And our researchers at Media Matters dug up that. Students found out who that student was, contact them, got a copy of his driver’s license and a statement, one proving he was above the age of consent in the timeframe that this interaction took place. And two, the student gave a statement that he had never had a sexual encounter, that he had been on a bus and he had spoken to a man and realized he was gay and went to Kevin Jennings for advice and support.
They were claiming that meant that Kevin Jennings news person had sex with somebody on a bus. That that was The Atlantic wrote a story on this and said, this is how you stop the machine.
Because if that story had broken that Kevin Jennings had supported the statutory rape, it wouldn’t matter whether it was true or not. He would’ve been fired as assistant secretary of education. That’s just a fact. And if you can get in the way of the story and stop the funnel, you can stop the consequences from happening. If you stop the mainstream media from reporting lies that they have, they have impact in a conservative circle, but it doesn’t spread outside of it.
So you actually think that not everything that Fox puts out, it gets gets everywhere?
I mean, death panels got everywhere, but death panels, death panels got everywhere. I think, look, I think they’ve been getting less and less and less. I think they get a lot of steam. But I think those that steam, it’s getting more and more difficult. I think that’s frustrating to them because I think people are aware of what Fox is and they think the media has become aware what Fox is in 2009 at that in that period. Anita Dunn, who was deputy who is White House communications director, made a comment about Fox being a political machine. Right. And it was a kind of it set the rest of the journalistic world up and vapors on on this. Now, those same reporters talk about how FOX, the political machine, you know, there’ve been columns and political by mainstream reporters saying we should treat Fox not like a news network, but like we treat the RNC. And that’s exactly the point. If you if you regard Fox the same credibility, you regard a political party with you under a lot of its damage.
So you predict therefore, you expect there’s going to be a weakening of Fox’s influence.
I think their influence has been weakened. I don’t think it’s 100 percent weakened. They still have a large audience. They still if there’s not a if if people don’t respond to their kind of lies, they have it. They can spread and jump out. So. Progressives need to be ever vigilant about responding and knowing the facts and getting the facts. But look, yes, they run a profitable business model.
They’re within within their company. They Roger Ailes, according to Michael Wolff, was given more freedom than any other kind of chief withinside NewsCorp. You know, he’s the only one who Rupert Murdoch can not tell the broadcast something. And I think that’s an important point.
You know, it’s he’s a he has that freedom. And that’s because of his profitability. But the issue is, if FOX isn’t going to go away and it’s not likely to well, we have to do is stand in the way of their lives and not be scared to continually call them out, no matter how much people claim. Always boring. We know Fox lied. You don’t to call them out. We do every day. Because if we don’t. Those lies tend to spread.
Let me just remind listeners one more time that Ari Raybon HODs book with David Brock, The Fox Effect, how Roger Ailes turn a network into a propaganda machine is available through a website point of inquiry dot org. We’ll look. Thank you. Thank you for your work.
Thank you for trying to make America a little bit more factually accurate.
Thank you, Chris. Hopefully, when your book comes out, you’ll come on our radio show to talk about it. You bet.
I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show. Please visit point of inquiry dot org. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg. And you can find us on Twitter at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations.
One of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac, an amorous New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host Chris Mooney.