How Fox News Creates a Biased Interview, in 12 Easy Steps
Little things count. That's the philosophy that underlies the way Fox News sets up, manages, and conducts interviews to convey a message that invariably supports George Bush's agenda. The way the "Fox and Friends" Tuesday (Sept. 13, 2006) handled the issue of Bush's 9/11 anniversary speech contains several typical Fox News strategies.
By now, you may be familiar with the issue. George Bush asks the networks for free air time on Monday to give a speech on the 5th anniversary of 9/11. But instead of delivering a speech that tries to heal the wounds of that terrible day, he instead defends his unpopular war in Iraq, leading to Democratic complaints that he has politicized a day that should be sacred in American memory.
Step 1: To set up the piece, instead of laying out the facts, use an inflammatory quotation critical of Democrats to first put them on the defensive and underline the Republican talking point that Democrats are weak on fighting terrorism. Here's the quote: "I wonder if the Democrats are more interested in protecting terrorists than Americans. They certainly don’t want to take them on and defeat them." House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Step 2: Quote a Democrat in response, but pick a quote that is partisan in nature. "I wonder if John Boehner is more interested in protecting his majority than in protecting the American people." Rep. Ron Emanuel, D-Illinois.
Step 3: Give your employer a plug. Steve Doocy, referring to Bush's Monday night speech, "You watched in big numbers right here on the Fox News Channel."
Step 4: Allow one of your partisan anchors to voice her personal opinion of the issue, which conveniently ignores the facts of what actually happened.. E.D. Hill: "I look at it, and I think regardless of who was president, whatever party was in office right now, I would expect the president on 9/11, the 5th anniversary, to say something. I expect that on the 10th anniversary, Democrat, Republican, whoever is in office, that they’re going to give a speech as well, because it’s just, I think it’s a time that the nation needs to hear from their leader, get an update on what’s going on, how they’re handling things, and perhaps give you some comfort."
Step 5: Allow another anchor to criticize the Democratic position and to speculate that they would have been critical anyway had Bush's speech been different. Brian Kilmeade: "Harry Reid also said that the president is consumed with staying the course in Iraq and election year politics. However, I just thought that the same people might be criticizing the president if he only talked about 9/11 and the attacks and the war in Afghanistan and they thought, wait a second why didn’t he bring up the war in Iraq because that has been front and center for the past three and a half years."
Step 6: Promote an interview coming up with your old friend, White House press secretary Tony Snow.
Step 7: Dream up the easiest question you can possible ask Snow. Brian Kilmeade: "Does Tony Show agree (with Harry Reid). I'm not sure. From the White House, right in front of the White House, our old buddy, Press Secretary Tony Snow."
Step 8: Allow Snow to speech uninterrupted and then do not challenge any of the specifics he mentions. Snow: "I suppose I wasn't completely surprised, Brian, maybe amused a little bit. It’s interesting, I just happened to bring a copy of the speech with me, and I’m looking through the entire speech. He's celebrating the heroism of people who went into the towers. He’s talking about the menace of an ideology that aims at hating Americans and also imposing despotic terrorist war around the globe. Nobody disagrees with that stuff. Nobody disagrees with the importance of being united. As far as I can tell maybe a couple of sentences may have raised hackles, but they were factual, and I don’t see any reason why this should surprise people that the president of the United States in the middle of the war on terror should talk about the issue that has gripped public attention for the last three years and furthermore, at least according to al Qaeda, the people responsible for 9/11, is now the centerpiece of the war on terror. Of course, he had to talk about it. There were no thinly disguised barbs. As a matter of fact, we took great care not to be partisan in this address. Look if the president wanted toss barbs, he would have said, you know I’m a little troubled by the fact that the chief Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says that the world would be better off with Saddam in power. He didn’t do that. He didn’t go back and recite Democratic statements. He didn’t try to pit Democrats against Republicans. What he did do is he said, look, we’ve got to be in this together. We’ve got to remember after Sept. 11 that the people that are killing us aren’t distinguishing between Democrats and Republicans. They’re not distinguishing between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. They want us all dead, and we need to remember that."
Step 9: Do not invite any Democrat to respond to Snow. This is critical.
Step 10: Allow your partisan co-host to misstate the Democratic position. E.D. Hill: "The heart of the argument is whether it was appropriate for the president to make any statement really at all on 9/11."
Step 11: Ask a question that allows your Republican guest to respond in the affirmative, to agree with you, that doesn't put him on the defensive, and that allows him to look agreeable, positive, and pleasant. Hill: "But was 9/11 the appropriate time for the president to make this speech?" Snow response: "Yes, absolutely."
Step 12: Wrap it up with a bit of banter that allows the guest to leave smiling and come across as a pleasant person. Kilmeade: "This political thing is really full contact. You should have thought twice before you jumped into it."
As a bonus step, if you have time, replay part of Snow's response and Bush's speech later in the show.
All these are little things, but they add up. Little things really do count.
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