Howard Kurtz Absolves Fox in Sherrod Smear

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz (7/22/10) defends Fox News against charges it promoted Andrew Breitbart’s fraudulent Shirley Sherrod story–because, he says, Fox‘s news division didn’t even address the story until after Sherrod resigned. In an extensive defense of Fox, Kurtz also cites an e-mail circulated by a Fox executive to the channel’s news division, cautioning news staff to be careful with the story. Here’s Kurtz:

But for all the chatter–some of it from Sherrod herself–that she was done in by Fox News, the network didn’t touch the story until her forced resignation was made public Monday evening, with the exception of brief comments by O’Reilly. After a news meeting Monday afternoon, an e-mail directive was sent to the news staff in which Fox senior vice president Michael Clemente said: “Let’s take our time and get the facts straight on this story. Can we get confirmation and comments from Sherrod before going on-air. Let’s make sure we do this right.”

In fact, as a Media Matters time line of Sherrod coverage clearly reveals, Fox did “touch the story” before Sherrod’s resignation. Before the resignation, FoxNews.com published a report stating, “Days after the NAACP clashed with Tea Party members over allegations of racism, a video has surfaced showing an Agriculture Department official regaling an NAACP audience with a story about how she withheld help to a white farmer facing bankruptcy.”

Though not part of the news division, Fox Nation, an activist arm of the cable channel owned and operated by Fox News, hosted discussions smearing Sherrod–and by association, the Obama administration–as racist prior to Sherrod’s resignation. So O’Reilly was not the only facet of Fox News advancing the smears before Sherrod was forced to step down.

By limiting himself to Fox stories and segments appearing before the resignation, Kurtz sets up an artificial time frame that discounts Fox programming that continued to smear Sherrod well afterwards: O’Reilly was joined by a virtual chorus of Fox News hosts (e.g., Sean Hannity, 7/19/10), substitute hosts (e.g., Dana Perino, On the Record With Greta Van Susteren, 7/19/10) and contributors (Monica Crowley and Alan Colmes on O’Reilly–see MediaMatters, 7/20/10) advancing the Breitbart smears. Why such stories aren’t worthy of Kurtz’s scrutiny is not explained.

If the question is whether Sherrod was “done in” by Fox, you have to ask a question that doesn’t seem to concern Kurtz: How did the doctored videotape come to the attention of the Obama administration? As the Media Matters timeline discloses, many blogs and conservative websites, including Foxnews.com and Fox Nation, were discussing Sherrod’s “racism” hours before her resignation. Isn’t it likely that the Fox News website was among the most prominent of these; and, in turn, isn’t it possible that that’s where the White House learned about the story? The fact that Sherrod claims somebody from the administration told her she was going to be on Glenn Beck’s show on Monday night suggest that the White House believed, correctly, that Fox News was on the story.

In another passage, Kurtz mentions Andrew Breitbart’s promotion of the notorious undercover ACORN video tapes:

Breitbart has worked closely with Fox opinion hosts in the past, most notably when he posted videos of two young activists ostensibly posing as a pimp and prostitute and seeking help from ACORN offices. Breitbart promoted those tapes on Sean Hannity’s Fox program and the network gave them heavy play.

A reader who was learning about this story from Kurtz’s reporting would be unaware that the ACORN tapes, like the Sherrod video, were also a hoax, misleadingly edited to suggest things that never happened. For instance, the man Kurtz refers to as “ostensibly posing as a pimp…and seeking help from ACORN offices,” never wore the pimp outfit into ACORN offices, and generally presented himself as trying to protect his “girlfriend” from a pimp (Extra!, 4/10).

Kurtz has a history of defending Fox News against self-evident claims that the cable channel harbors pro-conservative and pro-GOP biases. To be fair, Kurtz has distinguished Fox’s news shows from its opinion programs, which he once said (Washington Post, 2/5/01) “may cast an unwarranted cloud on the news reporting which tends to be straightforward.”

However, the evidence of Fox‘s right-wing bias, even on its news shows–which earn relatively low ratings next to the opinion shows the network is actually famous for–is extensive. (See here and here.)

In fact, earlier this month, Kurtz (Washington Post, 7/12/10) backed off from his defense of Fox news programs, reporting that the daytime news show Fox’s America’s Newsroom had a lopsidedly conservative guest list.

But Kurtz’s brush with reality has apparently passed, as he reverts to his previous position in defense of Fox News.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.