This is a first draft of an article I posted at Mediaite. Here’s the final version.
As we reported yesterday, the eagle eyes of The Daily Show noticed that Sean Hannity substituted news footage from the 9/12 rally for last week’s much-lower-attended Super Bowl of Freedom. The effect was to make the latter event seem like a much bigger deal than it was.
Last night, Hannity apologized. Let’s see if his explanation washes, and try to figure out which is the legitimate news organization.
Here’s what Hannity had to say:
“And finally tonight, although it pains me to say this, Jon Stewart? Comedy Central? He was right. Now on his program last night, he mentioned that we had played some incorrect video on this program last week while talking about the Republican healthcare rally on Capitol Hill. He was correct, we screwed up, we aired some video of a rally in September, along with a video from the actual event. It was an inadvertant mistake, but a mistake nonetheless, so Mr. Stewart. you were right, we apologize. But by the way, I wanna thank you, and all your writers, for watching. (Laughter)”
Hannity says they “played some incorrect video,” but that’s not really accurate. The video they played was a pre-edited clip package. This wasn’t a case where the technical director hit a wrong button, this was edited together in advance. Someone had to seek out that older footage to add it in with the footage from that day. Who would do such a thing? Here’s the original segment. Pay close attention to the opening seconds:
Griff Jenkins, hmmm, where have we heard that name before? Wasn’t it also his crew that was “reprimanded” for whipping up a 9/12 crowd for the cameras?
While the White House took some lumps over their treatment of Fox News, incidents like this certainly seem to underscore their overall point. One of the linchpins of Fox News’ defense is the idea that there’s a wall between their news and opinion programming. Problems with their news programming notwithstanding, this defense is leaky at best.
The “opinion show” defense is only really operative when it comes to opinions. When it comes to news content on opinion shows, they retain some duty to present facts accurately and fairly. When I asked Fox to clarify those standards in the past, they refused.
Aside from that, the bleed-through of Fox’s opinion programming to their news desk extends beyond driving their news editors to cover certain stories. Fox’s news personnel are frequent guests on these opinion programs, blurring the line and attaching their credibility to the likes of Hannity or Bill O’Reilly.
But in this case, there was no-one from the newsroom to act as ombudsman for Hannity. His show’s producers edited Fox News footage together in a false way, and they played the package twice. It is legitimate, then, to ask whether the news desk is convinced by Hannity’s explanation. It is their credibility at stake.
The recent dustup over the Treasury Department’s attempt at excluding Fox News’s Major Garrett from a round-robin interview revealed apparent walls-within-walls within Fox’s news operation, too. Their original report, which stated that the Obama administration was behind an attempt to freeze Fox out of the interviews with Feinberg, contained no documentation or direct quotes from any of the principles. Why didn’t they interview Major Garrett for that spot? When Garrett finally did tell his story, only after Fox News had capitalized on the story, it turned out that Fox’s original report was incomplete and misleading.
This was underscored by the fact that Fox News’ Senior Vice President for News Michael Clemente had just spent the weekend filling in the gaps in that original report.
It would appear, then, that apart from their opinion arm, there are actually 3 distinct chambers of the Fox news operation: The news desk, the reporters, and the executives. It seems they would like us to judge the credibility of each separately.
We asked Fox News if their news operation satisfied with Hannity’s explanation of the misuse of their footage by an opinion show, if we could get an explanation from the video editor and/or the technical director explaining how this accident occurred, and if we could get Fox News Channel’s editorial standards with regard to presentation of news content during opinion programs. We await their response.