Fox host accuses TV critics of 'double standard'
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It was supposed to be a smackdown of serious proportions -- a roomful of journalists meeting the architect of modern-day Republican electoral politics and a raft of GOP policies under serious public criticism these days: former White House political strategist Karl Rove.
Instead, critics here at the press tour were treated to a minutes-long critique from Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who felt some pointed questions from journalists about attempts by Congress to get Rove before a public hearing were unfair.
“I'm struck by what I think is a double standard. Maybe somebody can explain to me why it is that if Congress and the White House are having a fight over executive power, that should in any way constrain an independent news organization's decision as to who it's going to have on its payroll," said Wallace, who expressed doubts that journalists would be similarly probing of NBC News’ recent hiring of GOP strategist Mike Murphy. Later, while rushing out of the press conference to catch a plane, he dismissed the session by a curt assessment. “It's bullshit.”
Such is the peculiarly put-upon world of Fox News, where most criticism is unfair and probing questions are mostly evidence of political bias. Never mind that some have criticized Rove for hiding behind executive privilege to avoid explaining publicly to Congress his role in the U.S. Attorneys firing scandal – or the fact that a former White House press secretary recently wrote a book calling him a straight-up liar during the controversy over the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.
Not that the press session here was wall-to-wall tough questions for Rove. Journalists asked him about the transition to punditry, the mistakes Mitt Romney may have made and the quality of competing cable channels’ election coverage.
“I'm not the myth I have been developed into,” Rove said. “I'm like Grendel in Beowulf. People talk about me a lot and they don't see me very often.…(But) Harry Truman said, ‘If you live in Washington and want to have a friend, get a dog.’ And I've got two.”
Indeed, if anyone really had a right to be upset, it was Fox News Executive Vice President John Moody, who faced questions about Fox & Friends distorting pictures of two New York Times journalists who developed a piece unflattering to Fox (“Fox & Friends is an entertainment show that does some news,” Moody said, not really explaining why a news channel aired grossly altered pictures of two other journalists without explanation. “It's there for a little bit of entertainment.”)
Moody was also asked about anchor E.D. Hill's suggesting the Obamas’ fist bump might be considered a “terrorist fist jab” and the tightening ratings race with CNN and MSNBC.
But it was Wallace who often went on the attack, excoriating MSNBC for allowing Keith Olbermann to anchor primary coverage after delivering “10-minute screeds against President Bush, telling him to shut the hell up. Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity don't anchor the election coverage at Fox.”
That's the problem with presenting subjects whose personal histories are so convoluted and controversial. Howard Wolfson is taking an on air role weeks after leaving Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, while Rove talked of not wanting to affect the outcome of the presidential election after admitting many players in the contest are tapping him unofficially for advice and strategy.
Dismantling their carefully built justifications is tough to do in a press conference where any one writer gets two or three questions at most. And Wallace's bluster aside, it's hard to know why Fox and Friends airing photoshopped caricatures with a vaguely anti-semitic air get a shrug from the Fox News Sunday anchor, but Olbermann's involvement with MSNBC's primary reporting gets an explosion of condemnation (especially since Hannity and his partner Alan Colmes also have been featured in much of Fox News' primary coverage this year)
It's hard to know how all of this adds up to coverage that's any more fair and balanced than its competitors, which have made their own mistakes. But it seems TV critics can't ask those questions without snarking off folks like Wallace – who are seemingly much more comfortable asking incisive questions than answering them.