I was in San Francisco last April, having dinner with an old friend from college. His mother married, many years ago, a close business partner of Rupert Murdoch. This had been, back in our school days, the cause of many a sympathetic, slow shake of the head, because we liberal middle class kids felt badly that he was only two degrees of separation from a man we thought sucked in a big way. I asked him, not really remembering the Murdoch connection, how his mother was doing. He smiled and said she was fine, and then started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"Her husband was over at Fox News in New York last week and oh my God those people are so dumb. They're all running around, talking about needing to be conservative enough for Rupert, and guess what? Rupert doesn't care what the fuck they say on TV."
He kept laughing through the rest of his sentence, something to the effect of Fox News is so right-wing because they think they're supposed to be right-wing, not because they really want to be.
And yet, the damage they do is devastating.
Jon Stewart lambasted Fox News last fall for framing coverage of a well attended rally on Capitol Hill in DC as if it were a group of Tea Party rallyers. Nice for making jokes on late night TV, it showed that Fox wasn't above doctoring video. Please don't tell me it was a mistake. The rallies were clearly held not just on different days, but in different seasons. It was just one of many misleading video splices and poorly gathered or prepared information that allowed the network to make ridiculous claims, some of which are presented in the same link in this paragraph.
So now Shirley Sherrod is ordered to resign, via her cell phone, and hello, don't you folks remember that DC has a law against talking on the phone while driving? Don't do that to your employees, even if you're trying to basically fire them.
What the hell happened? None other than Andrew Breitbart, the man who called Ted Kennedy "a pile of human excrement" right after Kennedy's death, started publicizing some very out of context statements that Sherrod, a senior staffer at the USDA, made years ago in her position as Director of Rural Development in Georgia. The full context came out in the media the day after she gave her forced resignation, which makes me ask why this couldn't have been found out before Vilsack lowered the boom on her. For me, it has echoes of what happened to Helen Thomas earlier this summer. If all it takes is for a right-wing person (in Thomas' case, Ari Fleisher) to start complaining on the Internet about what someone said and the White House folds like the last newspaper off the press, aren't they sending a signal that this kind of career murder can continue?
E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post seemed pretty irate about what happened to Sherrod, wondering out loud what kind of racial intersection is at play with these attacks on Obama and the people of color in his staff. I don't disagree that people like Hannity, Beck, Limbaugh, and Breitbart will opportunistically seize on race as a place of vulnerability, but I don't think they limit themselves to that, either. They certainly seem to enjoy taking down women who are pushing a liberal agenda, like Sherrod and Thomas. I most definitely agree with Dionne's opinion piece that President Obama needs to stand firm and not capitulate to fabrications. These things aren't news, they're not even accurate of history. They're produced. By producers at Fox News.
And that is not, by any measure, journalism.