[Note: I posted this on Daily Caller. They took it down, saying I couldn’t “trash Fox” on their site. I quit Daily Caller. Reposting the item here without changes.]
Axelrod’s Wish: On page 424 of his recent memoir, Obama’s former top strategist David Axelrod describes running into Fox chieftain (and immigration amnesty supporter) Rupert Murdoch at a dinner in the fall of 2010:
During the dinner, Murdoch, who was seated beside me, insisted that the president had to move on immigration reform. ….
“But the solution has to be comprehensive,” I said. “We can’t just attack a piece of the immigration problem. And you know, there’s one big thing that you can do to help, and that is to keep your cable network from stoking the nativism that keeps us from solving this.” [Emphasis added]
Four years later, Axelrod may be getting his wish. Most of the mainstream broadcast and cable networks avoided giving excessive coverage to the recent congressional fight over the Department of Homeland Security, which was all about Republicans trying to block Obama’s executive amnesty by attaching restrictions to DHS funding. NBC Nightly News went a step further and avoided mentioning the immigration issue even when covering the funding fight — treating the threat of a DHS shutdown as if it were some sort of out-of-the-blue natural disaster.
But it’s one thing for Dem-friendly NBC to go to bat for Obama’s causes. It’s another if Fox does it too. Fox is supposed to be the feisty opposition network. You’d think it would wage a rousing campaign against Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which are surely wildly unpopular among its viewers, both because of their ends (de facto legalizing of illegals) and their means (presidential overreach).
You’d think that. But you would be wrong.
Fox didn’t editorialize in favor of Obama. It just covered other issues. This is a proven pro-amnesty posture, pioneered in the spring of 2013 when the “Gang of 8” amnesty bill snuck through the Senate while conservatives were distracted by a seeming trifecta of Obama scandals (IRS/Benghazi/seizing AP reporters’ phone records). Given the unpopularity of amnesty with a large swath of voters, any publicity given to the issue is likely to result in an intimidating blizzard of phone calls to the U.S. Capitol, complete with threats against Republicans who might be primaried from the right, Cantor-style. Corporate pro-amnesty lobbyists need peace and quiet to work their influence on Republicans in the face of this GOP-base opposition. No stoking!
That’s what Fox delivered. What makes me so sure? I’ve got proof! Or close to it. Here is a list of the lead story each day on Megyn Kelly’s “Kelly File” show from January 14 (the day the House sent the Senate a DHS bill with a “rider” blocking Obama’s amnesty) until March 3, the day the House finally caved and passed a “clean” DHS bill. (I picked Kelly File because it seemed the high-viewership show likely to best express Fox News Channel’s id. Bill O’Reilly is powerful and egomaniacal enough to go rogue.) I’ve also noted when immigration was discussed, even if it wasn’t the main story — which (spoiler) it never was:
1/14 — ISIS
1/15 — ISIS
1/16 — ISIS
1/19 — State of the Union
1/20 —State of the Union/Terror. (Obama veto threat over immigration is mentioned)
1/21 — Iran (Later in the show, Gov. Perry is interviewed and immigration is discussed)
1/22 — Terror (Yemen)
1/23 — Israel
1/26 — Blizzard/Terror
1/28 — Terror (Later in the show, Sen. Sessions is interviewed and the immigration fight is discussed at some length)
1/29 — Terror/Taliban
1/30 — Terror/Taliban (Immigration later mentioned in passing by a pundit)
2/2 — Terror
2/3 — Terror (ISIS)
2/4 — ISIS (Immigration by Muslims mentioned later in the show by Gov. Jindal)
2/5 — Terror
2/6 — Terror
2/9 — Terror (ISIS) (General Dempsey in passing mentions open borders as a security issue)
2/10 — Brian Williams/Terror
2/11 — Yemen/Terror
2/12 — Yemen/Terror
2/13 — ISIS
2/16 — ISIS
2/17 — ISIS (Federal court decision on immigration and Senate filibuster discussed later in the show)
2/18 — ISIS (Federal court decision discussed later in show)
2/19 — ISIS (Appeal of federal court decision discussed briefly later in show)
2/20 — ISIS, Feds fear right-wing radicals (Funding fight discussed later in the show)
2/23 — Terror (Mall of America threat) (Senator Lee gets to give anti-amnesty funding pitch in second half of show)
2/24 — “American Sniper” Trial
2/25 — ISIS
2/26 —CPAC convention/ISIS
2/27 — CPAC convention (Jeb Bush immigration pitch discussed. Mention of House funding vote but not that it was about immigration. Segment on possible “Dreamer” murderer)
3/2 — Netanyahu (Mid-show discussion of federal court case, “Dreamer” murder case, Jeb Bush position.)
3/3– Netanyahu (Brief mid-show mention that “the standoff over funding the Homeland Security Department is over.”)
I sense a pattern! For this entire period, Kelly File was basically ISIS and Terror, with a few off-lead excursions into the DHS funding fight, usually when absolutely necessary (as when a federal judge blocked Obama’s executive action). Even some discussions of the federal court decision failed to mention the parallel Congressional funding fight. In fact, immigration was discussed as the underlying issue in the funding fight only 6 times over the whole 34 show period — and only 3 times in the crucial 20 show period that followed the Senate Dems’ initial filibuster of the Republican DHS proposal. These were the weeks when anti-amnesty organizations were desperate for some outfit like FOX to apply pressure on possibly wavering Senate Dems. Instead they got more ISIS. I would suggest that the near-exclusive obsession with Middle Eastern terror is difficult to justify by the inherent news value of the subject, let alone its value to Fox viewers. You’d think the network would want to take a break if only for variety’s sake.
The semi-hysterical focus on ISIS in itself played into Obama’s hands, of course, since the Democrats’ were making a ‘how-can-you-shut-down-Homeland-Security-with-all-this-horrible-terror’ argument. Technically, Democrats were the ones blocking a Homeland Security funding bill with a filibuster– but FOX was not about to emphasize that. “Filibuster” was mentioned only 2 times on Kelly File during this whole 48-day period (three if you count Senator Lee’s attack on “obstruction”). It was mentioned only 17 times on the entire Fox News Channel (plus nine uses of the word in relation to other issues, such as Keystone or Iran sanctions, or general chat show pundit-to-pundit admonitions to stop “filibustering”).
This isn’t what actual coverage designed to alert and inform opposition to Obama on the issue would look like. It would be more like: “Good Evening. Day 7 of the Democratic filibuster of Homeland Security Funding … ”
Even if Fox had done that, Republicans wouldn’t have succeeded in blocking the executive amnesty. Obama could have vetoed any bill they got to his desk, and the votes aren’t there for an override. The best the anti-amnesty side could realistically have hoped for would have been some embarrassing defections by Democratic senators like Donnelly, Manchin, Heitkamp and McCaskill (who in fact defected on one procedural vote). As Frank Sharry of pro-amnesty advocacy group America’s Voice pointed out, even a few key-vote defections would have punctured the Democrats self-presentation as a unified pro-legalization brand, and made opposition to executive amnesty bipartisan.
The main significance of Fox’s immigration tamp-down, though, was as a precedent — a dry run for how Murdoch’s network might ease the way for a legislative amnesty down the road (especially if, as is quite possible, the courts void Obama’s executive actions). If Fox gets away with it this time, there will be no opposition news network next time either.
P.S.: Whom to blame? It’s tempting to be sophisticated and point a finger at young FOX producer types who might be doing what they think the boss wants (as opposed to what the audience wants). That sort of thing happens in large organizations — the nervous aides are more autocratic and intolerant than the CEO. My sense, though, is that FOX is a pretty tightly run outfit. It’s run by the man who built it, Roger Ailes.
That seems to be Rupert Murdoch’s judgment. Remember Axelrod’s anecdote — the one where he lobbies Murdoch to do what has now been done. I didn’t tell you how it ends. Here is how it ends:
Murdoch shrugged. “You’ll have to talk to Roger about that.”