by Eric Boehlert
It’s an interesting bout of coincidence, Fox News’ recent obsession with President Obama’s birth certificate. The sudden obsession that produced more than 50 birther segments on Fox News in recent months.
As Media Matters chronicles in a new research report, Fox News hasn’t just been dabbling in birtherism, it’s been wallowing in the stuff. And by wallowing I mean talking about the topic incessantly (hour after hour) while neglecting to inform viewers that the world-is-flat type if conspiracy fueling the storyline is a lazy lie.
Fox News in recent weeks opted to simply push comically hollow propaganda and now stands exposed in the wake of the White House releasing the president’s long-form birth certificate.
And yes, Fox News pushed the Big Birther Lie at precisely the same time that Donald Trump decided to push the Big Birther Lie.
What a coincidence.
I mean, what are the odds that Fox News would suddenly take a sharp turn towards birtherism at the exact moment Trump started raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate while busy promoting his kinda/maybe candidacy for president? Fox News’ about-face was especially odd considering that when the exact same bogus birther story was raised during the 2008 campaign Fox News virtually boycotted the story. Fox News refused to touch it.
As Obama was running for the White House and questions from the far right were raised about Obama’s eligibility and his birthplace, Fox News paid the story no mind. Then in 2009, when Fox News personalities did address the birther issue, it was usually to belittle the story and mock its followers. (Bill O’Reilly: “Irrational” and “dumb.” Glenn Beck: “Idiots.)
And even as recently as February, when Fox News’ own Mike Huckabee tripped himself up by falsely claiming during a radio interview that Obama had grown up “in Kenya” (and therefore had an anti-American perspective), Fox News showed little interest in covering the Huckabee controversy, or trying to help him advance the Birther Lite attacks on Obama as being foreign and un-American.
But then, just as Trump stepped forward for his Republican star turn, Fox News decided to alter years of editorial judgment and to fully embrace –to celebrate-- the birther story, simultaneously aiding Trump’s (right-wing) political fortunes.
It’s almost like the two events were coordinated, no?
Either way, it’s now obvious Trump and Fox News formed a mutually beneficial political, and media, alliance: Trump used the Fox News platform to rise his profile, while Fox News used Trump’s birther attacks as cover to wallow in the non-story.
And yes, let’s be clear about this: Fox News has been wallowing in the birther story. Sean Hannity and others like to whine that it’s the nasty mainstream media that’s driving the non-story and trying to make it seem as though Fox News conservatives are obsessed with a tall tale that makes them, and the Republican Party, look dopey. (i.e. Fox News is the real victim in all of this!)
But of course, it’s Fox News that has hosted 52 birther talk segments (and counting) since late February. 52! And that’s just the opinion shows. (Imagine the avalanche of birther chatter if Fox News actually was obsessed with the utterly pointless story?) Only Fox News could produce more than 50 television segments about a ‘news’ story in which there haven’t been any new ‘facts’ in three years. Only Fox News would host more than 50 robotic birther ‘debates’ despite the fact there’s nothing to debate.
It’s also telling that Fox News would devote hours and hours of programming to birther talk at a time when the U.S. military is fighting three different wars, the Middle East is grappling with generational change, and leaders in Washington, D.C. are wrestling with a monumental deficit.
Yet against that backdrop of pressing, serious and legitimate news, Fox decided that the dead-and-buried ‘news’ about Barack Obama’s birth certificate deserved ongoing, primetime attention, and that every bungled, recycled claim Trump made about Obama’s birth certificate passed as a news flash. Why? Because Trump’s was “saying stuff people want to hear.”
And what sharp cable news channel doesn’t use that as a general yardstick?
Last week on The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly, who claims to not buy the birther conspiracy, was yet again hosting yet another discussion about the birther conspiracy. On the show, Fox News analyst Andrea Tantaros encouraged Trump’s ascendancy. Not because she necessarily believed it or even thought it was true, but because it was good fodder for the politics of personal destruction [emphasis added]:
Let the man speak. He's got a bigger megaphone than Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, than all of them combined. And you know what; he can drive up Obama's negatives more than any of the other of those GOP candidates.
And that’s probably as accurate an assessment as we’re ever going to hear in terms of explaining the truth behind the Fox News/Trump birther alliance: It’s been one of convenience. Trump will say anything in order to generate “Trump” headlines, and Fox News is running low on rhetorical ammunition to obsessively bash Obama.
Let’s face it, Sarah Palin’s media star has clearly faded and Huckabee shows few signs of wanting to campaign in 2012, so a desperate Fox News switched horses mid-race.
Now it’s riding Trump into birther oblivion.