Oct 1 2005

He’s Being as Hateful as He Can

Why can’t John Gibson make the big time at Fox?

While talking heads chattered about the Joe Wilson/Karl Rove “Plamegate” scandal (Extra!, 9—10/05), one cable news host staked out a firm position (7/12/05): “I say give Karl Rove a medal. . . . Valerie Plame should have been outed by somebody. And nobody else has the cojones to do it.” The host claimed—inaccurately—that Wilson’s “little wifey” sent him on the fact-finding trip to Niger, only to add days later (7/15/05) that Valerie Plame Wilson “acts like a political hack.”

Meet John Gibson, host of Fox News Channel’s afternoon program The Big Story. While some of Fox News Channel’s less strident defenders agree that the cable channel’s primetime lineup skews to the right, they sometimes argue that Fox’s daytime programming is as down-the-middle as its cable competitors (Washington Post, 2/5/01). It’s a theory that doesn’t stand up to a viewing of Gibson, especially the “My Word” rants that close his show.

Gibson is, in many ways, a perfect Fox company man: rabidly pro-Bush, ferociously conservative and willing to launch feverish attacks on his political opponents with a passion that rivals that of his more famous Fox colleagues. Like Bill O’Reilly, Gibson cultivates an “outsider” persona that would have you believe that his presence in the elite Eastern media is some freak accident. But Gibson goes further than O’Reilly, commuting weekly to Fox’s New York headquarters from his Texas home, where homespun wisdom is available in spades. Gibson recently explained (Dallas Morning News, 6/5/05) that the network news anchors are “pontificating left, right and center about what America thinks. I know they’re off base because it’s not what I hear at the tractor supply store, the Wal-Mart or the Sack ’n Save in Gainesville.”

But for all his effort, Gibson has not reached the media celebrity status of O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. Gibson’s early afternoon time slot probably doesn’t help matters—few TV personalities could expect to become household names by hosting a cable program that airs at 5 p.m. But if he hopes to move into a more visible slot, so far his numerous on-air outrages have failed to achieve that goal.

Burning ballots

Gibson acknowledges (Sunday Oklahoman, 7/24/05) that his blistering commentaries are not exactly the product of careful deliberation: “I bang these things out pretty quick. . . . Somebody somewhere looks at it, I can’t even tell you who, to make sure I’m not creating giant problems with it. Sometimes I’ve been told I’m dancing too close to the line. But I’ve never looked at the copy later and seen it changed.”

This suggests Gibson’s bosses like what they see—which includes a hard-to-miss partisanship. He once (5/4/05) prefaced a mildly critical question to Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman by saying: “You’re forcing me into the position of being a Democrat here—which is an uncomfortable shoe for me to wear.”

After the contested Florida election of 2000, Gibson (12/15/00) offered some novel proposals as to what to do with the disputed ballots: “I mean, should we burn those ballots, preserve them in amber, or shred them?” Suggesting that this was “a case where knowing the facts actually would be worse than not knowing,” Gibson explained: “George Bush is going to be president. And who needs to know that he’s not a legitimate president? Al Gore? Jesse Jackson? His political opponents? How does it do any good for the country to find out that, by somebody’s count, the wrong guy is president?”

Four years later, Gibson was still serving Bush’s election efforts. Right before the protests at the Republican National Convention in New York, Gibson suggested to a guest (7/12/04) that anti-Bush activists were in league with terrorists: “Do you believe that their intention is to provide a smoke screen, a cover, while real terrorists slip around in the background and blow up something big?” After Election Day, Gibson declared (11/11/04) that anyone raising questions about the integrity of the 2004 election represented “the dead-enders and former Baathists of U.S. politics.”

No holds barred

Gibson’s outbursts are harsh—even by Fox’s standards—as when he shared his thoughts on gay adoption and marriage in a Fox web column (3/16/05): “Gays can’t have kids—other than going to the abandoned kids store and getting one or two, or borrowing sperm from someone with more sperm than brains—so by definition they’re out of the marriage game.”

Or consider his solution to the stand-off over life-support patient Terri Schiavo (3/24/05):

I think Jeb Bush should give serious thought to storming the Bastille. By that I mean he should think about telling his cops to go over to Terri Schiavo’s hospice, go inside, put her on a gurney and load her into an ambulance. They could take her to a hospital, revive her and reattach her feeding tube.

Most disturbing may have been Gibson’s July 22 comments after the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian immigrant shot several times in the head by British police who suspected he was a suicide bomber. Gibson cheered the police action: “The tackle-and-kill team is incredible. . . . Can you imagine the job of those cops? Tackle the guy wearing a vest bomb and hope your colleague is right behind with the gun to put five bullets in the noggin before he sets off the bomb.”

Viewers could have excused Gibson’s glee since many of the “facts” about the shooting weren’t yet available—like, for example, the fact that the suspect was unarmed and not even wearing unusual clothing. But some of those facts were known—Gibson just didn’t seem to care: “Turns out he didn’t have a bomb, and turns out he wasn’t one of the four bombers Thursday.” Nonetheless, Gibson smirked:

Got to admire the cojones of those Brit cops to go after him like that. All of this trumps any of my other complaints that the Brits weren’t making the right noises about fighting terror. They like to go about things a bit more quietly than us. Not my style, but okay, fine—as long as they get the five in the noggin of the right bomber boy.

The fact that the dead man was no kind of “bomber boy” didn’t seem to bother Gibson at all.

“I’m a complete nut job”

Gibson’s specialty—if it can be called that—is monitoring anti-Americanism in other countries, a topic he parlayed into a book deal (Hating America: The New World Sport). Gibson hosted a one-hour special on Fox News to make the essential point of the book (11/27/04): “It’s open season on the United States of America. From Toronto to Tehran, a torrent of anti-U.S. hate speech floods the airwaves.”

Most often Gibson’s targets are obvious, such as the French. When France’s former U.N. ambassador Dominique de Villepin became his country’s prime minister, Gibson (5/31/05) performed a mocking imitation: “I am dashing. I’m a heartthrob. I write books of really, really terrible poetry. I talk about diplomacy as being alchemy of politics and poetry. Frankly, I’m a complete nut job, but you want to be with me, not that crazy Bush.”

Gibson argued that Villepin’s role at the U.N.

explains a lot to me about why John Bolton needs to be the U.S. ambassador at the U.N. . . . Wouldn’t you like to see Bolton walk in the room, snapping his brass knuckles into place? Dominique de Villepin is why we have people like John Bolton. This is his mission in life. Somebody has got to slap around people like Villepin.

But Gibson’s scorn for foreigners knows no boundaries. In a commentary on the Fox website, Gibson wrote (6/21/05) that he is

still resentful of the thousands of Canadians hiking around Europe this summer with those maple leaf patches sewed to their backpacks. “I’m not an American,” they seem to scream. Yes, we know that. You’re not an American. You just want to come here to work because your socialist country can’t give you the opportunities you want.

Gibson (1/28/04) even accused the BBC of a “frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest,” charging that the British network “felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives.” Fox News Channel was censured by the British equivalent of the FCC for this tirade, saying that it failed to show “respect for truth” (London Guardian, 6/15/04).

“Not about war-mongering”

Gibson was an early and enthusiastic booster of the war in Iraq—no surprise, since he has steadfastly argued that there was a significant Iraq/Al-Qaeda connection (e.g., 10/5/04), and has seemed to support the discredited notion that Iraq was also involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (“The whole thing stinks of Iraq,” 4/19/05; see Extra!, 7-8/02).

Gibson’s initial war support was firmly rooted in the WMD argument (8/25/02):

Sooner or later Saddam is going to drive a nuclear bomb into Times Square or the Air and Space Museum or the ball park at Arlington, somewhere loaded with Americans, and we’re all going to stand around wondering why we couldn’t see it coming. If it weren’t for that, would I want to invade Iraq? No, of course not. This isn’t about war-mongering just for the heck of it.

As war began to seem more likely, Gibson (2/6/03) even seemed resigned to the fact that Hussein would use biological weapons:

He’s going to use that stuff on U.S. troops, on his neighbors who’ve been quietly helping the U.S. on Israel. The weapons inspectors are never going to find the chem- and bioweapons because Saddam needs them. . . . We’re going to eventually see that stuff and it’s going to be incoming. And it would be incoming in any case.

But when it began to look like no weapons were to be found in Iraq, Gibson was unmoved, telling his audience (1/27/04): “Do I feel bad because I supported the war and the WMD weren’t there? Hell no! I would feel bad if I opposed the war and Saddam was still there.”

Months later, Gibson was arguing that not having WMDs was actually the reason to invade (11/26/04): “You could make an argument that the exact reason there was an Iraq invasion was that Saddam Hussein didn’t have a nuke bomb yet. A couple of more years and he might have gotten one. And then? Game over.”

Gibson concluded that even if someone’s to blame, it sure isn’t George W. Bush (3/31/05): “If the intelligence that seemed to show a threat from a guy we knew was malevolent, and who, in fact, was an overall threat, if that intelligence later turned out to be wrong because he ran a government of murder and thuggery and fear and we couldn’t get spies in there, how is that George W. Bush’s fault?”

Who else can we bomb?

While Gibson claimed his support for the Iraq invasion was not “war-mongering just for the heck of it,” he does seem to take a certain pleasure in urging attacks on various countries—sometimes whimsically, sometimes less so. When France opposed the invasion of Iraq, Gibson was incensed (2/17/03): “That kind of gall has some people in this country ready to bomb the Eiffel tower instead of Baghdad.”

“Now that the Iraq deal is over, let’s invade Belgium,” Gibson prematurely declared about a month into the Iraq invasion (4/28/03). “It may be a small country, but, man, is it annoying. . . . Isn’t it time to invade Belgium, just knock some sense into them and give the Frenchies next door a scare?”

In an online column (3/10/05) warning that elections in Lebanon “could get people elected who hate us more than the last guys hated us,” Gibson suggested that one could destroy a nation with an elected government with no guilt: “If we have to bomb a democracy back to the Stone Age because it was sticking with its roots and sending terrorists to attack us, we could bomb it back to the Stone Age with a clean conscience.”

Gibson also called for attacking North Korea, despite—or perhaps because of—that country’s capacity for nuclear retaliation (12/27/02): “What good would all our nukes be if one punk can stand us down with his one little pukey nuke?” he asked.

When not calling for new rounds of violence against enemy nations, Gibson suggested that making civilians suffer would send a valuable message. After the destruction of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, Gibson offered this analysis (11/15/04):

At first glance, you might think the Americans would rush in and clean it up and rebuild it so when the good people of Fallujah return, it will all be nice again. . . . But I propose we actually don’t rush in with armies of Home Depot reconstruction advisers. I propose we let Fallujah sit for a while. I propose we let the rest of Iraq take a good, hard look at Fallujah, a long look, a thoughtful look. I propose we let Fallujah stand for something, and the something is: This is what happens if you let terrorists take over your town and bring the wrath of the U.S. military down upon your town. . . . Fallujah stands as a shot-to-pieces memorial to both the power of the U.S. but also the willingness of the U.S. to do what it takes.

A real “treat”

When the 2012 Summer Olympics were awarded to London, Gibson (7/6/05) said that he would have preferred Paris get that privilege. That might sound odd, given Gibson’s stated antipathy for “Frenchies,” but he had a definite reason:

It would have been a three-week period where we wouldn’t have had to worry about terrorism. . . . The French are already up to their eyeballs in terrorists. The French hide them in miserable slums, out of sight of the rich people in Paris. It would have been a treat, actually, to watch the French dealing with the problem of their own homegrown Islamist terrorists living in France already.

“I like the Brits. I like London,” Gibson professed. “I hate to see them going through all this garbage when it would have been just fine in Paris.” The next day, “homegrown” U.K. suicide bombers killed dozens in four attacks in London. Far from being regretful about his previous glib remarks about terrorist attacks, Gibson simply reiterated his position that afternoon. And why not? If Gibson had to apologize for every offensive statement he made, he’d have little time to do anything else.