They play the left on Rupert Murdoch’s TV
Fox News co-host and contributor Bob Beckel has called for the assassination of WikiLeaks spokesperson Julian Assange (“A dead man can’t leak stuff”—Follow the Money, 12/6/10), for furnishing guns to school children (“If you give your kid a gun, no bullying”—Five, 1/5/12) and for militant opposition to the “War on Christmas,” which is “completely out of hand” (Five, 12/9/11).
These views are anything but out of place on Fox News, where hosts and commentators are known for fantasizing about murdering progressives (FAIR Blog, 11/10/10), deifying gun ownership (Beck, 6/29/11) and courageously confronting those who would wish them happy holidays (O’Reilly Factor, 11/17/11).
But Beckel is presented as a left-leaning voice on Fox, a counterweight to the network’s army of right-leaning talkers. And he’s far from an atypical specimen there.
As one of five co-hosts on Fox’s new program the Five, Beckel is supposed to serve as foil to four conservative co-hosts. That’s the theory. In reality, Beckel more than occasionally joins his conservative counterparts. (Typically, Five panelists include former George W. Bush aide Dana Perino, Fox News Red Eye anchor Greg Gutfield, Fox legal commentator Kimberly Guilfoyle and Fox Business Network host Eric Bolling.)
For instance, when Beckel’s colleague Bolling (Five, 12/14/11) recounted how he’d kicked a representative from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) off his Fox Business show (Follow the Money,12/12/11) for opposing the display of a nativity scene at a Texas courthouse, Beckel bluntly approved: “Good.” When Five co-host Greg Gutfield (12/9/11) compared FFRF to a woman who’d once demanded that he put out his cigarette, Beckel’s only response was, “Did you deck her?”
Discussing charges that GOP Rep. Mark Foley (Fla.) had exchanged inappropriate messages with male congressional pages (Hannity & Colmes, 10/2/06), Beckel suggested that Foley, because he’s gay, should have been kept away from pages to begin with, likening him to a notorious bank robber: “If Willie Sutton is around some place where a bank is robbed, then you’re probably going to say, ‘Willie, stay away from the robbery.’”
In the USA Today column in which Beckel likewise plays the left, regularly exchanging views with former Moral Majority executive and fellow Fox commentator Cal Thomas, Beckel (3/24/11) agreed with his right-wing counterpart that nuclear power is “a necessary component of our quest for energy independence, and it should not be abandoned no matter how horrific the scenes are coming out of Japan.”
Fox knew what it was getting with Beckel, whose reputation for faking left and going right goes back years. In July 1998, Extra! described Beckel as
a corporate lobbyist whose firm represents phone companies, the insurance industry and other corporate clients. Beckel frequently urges the Democratic Party to move to the right; he supported Clinton’s push for government downsizing, noting that “the unions will grumble, the left will scream” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/14/93). During the Gulf War, he denounced protesters as “punks” (Fox’s Off the Record, 1/26/91).
Beckel took part in a meeting organized by the American Petroleum Institute that was convened to craft a better strategy for weakening environmental laws. “The Republicans should say they are not cutting the EPA budget to harm the environment,” one unidentified participant says in the minutes of the meeting (Washington Post, 2/12/96). “They are cutting because EPA is wasting money.”
Beckel continues to espouse distinctly nonliberal positions, like support for a flat tax (Hannity, 10/6/11), and acknowledges (Five, 8/3/11) that he’s likely to take it easy on conservatives like Sarah Palin, because she was a fellow Fox News colleague: “I’ll be honest, I’ve pulled my punches.”
Fox News liberals are key in advancing the network’s ludicrous “fair and balanced” PR, even if they sometimes seem to mock the notion, as Sean Hannity appeared to do when he introduced Beckel on his show (Hannity, 10/31/11): “Joining me now for a fair-and-balanced family political debate, he is a liberal to his core. He’s broken, we have to fix him. The co-host of the Five right here on the Fox News Channel, the one and only Bob Beckel.”
Of course, Beckel isn’t the “one and only,” but just one of the latest representatives of the species of pundit known as the Fox News liberal. Hannity & Colmes co-host Alan Colmes was famous for conceding points to conservatives and Republicans —unsurprisingly, as he was hand-picked for the spot by Hannity, the real star of the show (Extra!, 11-12/03). Colmes never seemed to tire of assuring right-leaning guests that he voted for New York City’s Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Appearing on the O’Reilly Factor early in the Iraq War (4/11/03), Colmes won O’Reilly’s praise by saying he would not criticize the Bush administration during the war: “Well, look, I’ve kept quiet. My choice has been—I have not criticized the administration or this war effort while there are men and women in harm’s way, and I will not, and that is my—that’s a choice I make.”
For years, Susan Estrich, former campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, was one of Fox’s leading tepid liberals. (Sean Hannity—Hannity & Colmes, 5/23/04—has called her “my favorite liberal.”) Her politics were epitomized by a 1995 USA Today column (6/22/95) headlined “Let Clinton Be the Centrist Clinton.” During the 2003 California gubernatorial campaign, Estrich defended candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger against charges he had physically assaulted numerous women (Extra!, 1-2/04); after he won, Estrich accepted a job working on his transition team (AP, 10/10/03).
Former United States Sen. Zell Miller (D.-Ga.) had been a regular guest on Fox when he delivered a keynote address endorsing George W. Bush at the 2004 GOP convention. The speech was so bitterly disparaging to Bush opponent John Kerry and other Democrats that the Bush White House attempted to distance itself from it (MSNBC.com, 9/3/04). When questioned by NBC’s Chris Matthews about his misrepresentations of Kerry’s record, Miller angrily responded, “I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel” (FAIR Media Advisory, 9/3/04).
A Fox News natural, Miller was hired as a contributor even before his 2005 retirement from the U.S. Senate, the same year the Washington Post (8/15/05) quoted him at a religious conference co-sponsored by the far-right Family Research Council, saying the Supreme Court had “removed prayer from our public schools…legalized the barbaric killing of unborn babies, and…is ready to discard like an outdated hula hoop the universal institution of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Juan Williams found his value as a Fox News liberal rose dramatically when he was fired from his other job, as an NPR news analyst, following anti-Muslim remarks he’d made on the O’Reilly Factor (“When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous”—10/18/10). But long before that, Williams was an established stand-in for the left on Fox, on shows ranging from the O’Reilly Factor to Special Report to Fox News Sunday.
As Williams told Bill O’Reilly (10/21/10) just after his NPR dismissal, “I’m not a predictable black liberal,” a claim that resonated with conservatives like Newsmax’s Ronald Kessler (10/25/10). Kessler, who says he’s known Williams since the 1970s, declared, “The fact is, Williams is no liberal.” Kessler pointed to Williams’s 2007 book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do About It. As Kessler explained, the book “attacks Democrats and black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for promoting a ‘culture of failure’ among blacks.” Tellingly, Kessler added:
I once asked [Williams] why he comes across as a liberal in discussions on Fox News when I know him as leaning more to the conservative side. He said, in effect, that someone has to do it, meaning he is simply being a good commentator.
When Murdoch outlets including Fox News were feeding hysteria about a proposed Islamic cultural center blocks away from Manhattan’s “Ground Zero,” Williams assured his conservative counterparts (Hannity, 8/4/10), “I happen to agree with you about the idea that they shouldn’t build the mosque.” Three days earlier on a Fox News Sunday panel (8/1/10), Williams sided with co-panelists Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol, calling the Islamic center “polarizing” and a “thumb in the eye” of September 11 victims.
Appearing on the O’Reilly Factor (1/26/09), Williams indulged in the conservative tradition of trashing women married to Democratic presidents, going after Michelle Obama just days after her husband took office. Williams outflanked O’Reilly and conservative guest Mary Katharine Hamm, calling Michelle Obama a “liability” who tends to “blame America” and assert “I’m the victim”; “she’s got this Stokely-Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going.”
Before his dismissal from NPR, Williams earned a reputation on the network for softball interviews with Bush administration officials about Iraq’s supposed WMDs. In one such interview (Morning Edition, 1/22/04), with Dick Cheney, Williams failed to challenge the vice president’s claim that discoveries of mobile biological weapons laboratories provided “conclusive evidence” of illicit weapons. The existence of such laboratories had been debunked more than six months before the interview (FAIR Action Alert, 1/23/04).
Fox News contributor and former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis (FoxNews.com, 10/6/11) wrote a paean to an arch-conservative political organizer, headlined “I’m a Democrat and I Respect Grover Norquist.” Davis recounted how the anti-tax crusader had set him straight on the Great Depression and Herbert Hoover’s liberal economic lunacy, and ended by praising Norquist’s love for his family: “But it’s not possible for anyone to be anything but a good person who has such love and devotion to his wife and his children.”
As Salon’s Justin Elliot pointed out (6/3/11), Davis frequently prefaces right-leaning arguments by declaring that he’s a “liberal Democrat.” “I am a pro-choice liberal Democrat,” Davis announced in a column for the right-wing Newsmax site (11/12/09) —before endorsing the inclusion of the anti-abortion Stupak Amendment in the healthcare bill.
Opposing “card check” legislation that would make union organizing easier, Davis told the Associated Press (3/22/09), “I’m proud to call myself a pro-labor liberal Democrat who believes that reforms are needed to provide a level playing field for both labor and management.” As Elliot pointed out, at the time Davis was a management lobbyist, with clients including Whole Foods, Costco and Starbucks.
Davis’ lobbying career has found him keeping distinctly undemocratic company, as the New York Times (12/31/10) reported:
Since leaving the White House, Mr. Davis has built a client list that now includes coup supporters in Honduras, a dictator in Equatorial Guinea…[and] the Ivory Coast strongman whose claims to that country’s presidency have been condemned by the international community and may even set off a civil war.
Davis was an officer of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Reuniting Our Country Political Action Committee in 2008, called for Obama to “be a sharp-elbowed centrist” (USA Today, 8/18/11) and cheered the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council as the savior of the Democratic Party (Huffington Post, 2/14/11). Such positions have made him a popular liberal stand-in on Fox News programs, including Hannity and the O’Reilly Factor.
Pollster and “Democratic strategist” Doug Schoen almost makes Lanny Davis look progressive. Schoen began an appearance on Hannity (12/18/09) by congratulating right-wing scam artist Andrew Breitbart on shutting down the anti-poverty group ACORN: “It’s a real service,” said Schoen.
On the same show, he said that politicians and parties were becoming irrelevant, because “the citizen, whether it be a former elected official like Governor Palin or an ordinary Tea Party activist, can change the face of our country and our politics.”
And if that wasn’t clear enough, Schoen praised an earlier Hannity appearance by Allen West, the far-right Tea Party Republican congressmember from Florida, who Schoen called “extremely compelling,” adding: “You didn’t hear anything partisan out of his mouth. That’s what the American people are looking for from both parties. They’re not getting it.”
“The Union Threat to the Democrats’ Future” was the headline over a Schoen Wall Street Journal column (1/20/11) charging that the Democratic Party base “is made up disproportionately of public-employee unions, liberals, trial lawyers and other special-interest groups,” and calling for the party to court independents by moving “decisively back to the center.”
In a Wall Street Journal column (10/18/11), Schoen called the Occupy Wall Street movement “dangerously out of touch,” “radical” and “unrepresentative,” and bemoaned a nonexistent White House endorsement of the group: “President Obama and the Democratic leadership are making a critical error in embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement—and it may cost them the 2012 election.” In that column, as Think Progress (10/18/11) pointed out, Schoen misrepresented his own survey of Occupy Wall Street activists’ opinions by, among other things, claiming that the “radical redistribution of wealth” was one of the policies that “binds a large majority of the protesters together.” The poll of 200 activists Schoen conducted found just 4 percent, or eight protesters, who said they were for radical redistribution of wealth.
Schoen has worked for the right-wing opposition in Venezuela, where his polling was called into question by election results and international monitors (Associated Press, 8/19/04). Appearing on Hannity & Colmes (1/6/09), Schoen called Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez more dangerous than Osama bin Laden, saying that Chávez “uses his money, and he uses proxies like Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, to attack us.”
Through his firm Penn, Schoen and Berland, Schoen has long represented corporate clients, including Wall Street firms like CitiBank, and the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds—for which, tobacco industry documents reveal, Schoen proposed to set up an astroturf “smokers rights” operation in New York City’s Harlem (Source-watch.org). When asked about his corporate work with regard to his Wall Street Journal column on Occupy during an appearance on the Michael Medved radio show (10/18/11), Schoen said he didn’t have very many corporate clients at the time, then attempted to solicit new business right there on the show.
Schoen penned a Wall Street Journal column (11/21/11) with former Democratic pollster Pat Caddell—another stalwart Fox News liberal—calling on Barack Obama to renounce a second presidential term in favor of Hillary Clinton. The idea, which brought headshakes from Democrats and liberals, was a hit among Republicans and conservatives. The column was enthusiastically discussed on several Fox News shows (e.g., Hannity, 11/3/10; On the Record, 11/15/10).