Accuracy in Media

With pundits saying that the Democratic Party has a good chance of taking over the U.S. House and possibly the Senate next Tuesday, the conservative Fox News Channel gave liberal Democrat Harold Ford another big boost on Wednesday night in his critical Tennessee Senate race. On the Hannity & Colmes program, Ford was given another big opportunity to attract conservatives to his campaign by attacking John Kerry’s comments about troops being “stuck in Iraq.” Ford took advantage of it, but went on to say, “I’m a Christian” and announced that he accepted Kerry’s apology because people can make mistakes.

If Ford defeats Republican Bob Corker in this very close contest, the Democrats could very well take the Senate. Ford’s regular appearances on Fox News Channel, including another one last Sunday, have been a critical factor in his ability to mask his liberal record and appeal to conservatives in that very red state. For a time, polls even showed Ford with a significant lead over Corker.

What many Fox News viewers may not know is that Ford is one of several liberal Democrats being financially supported by Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation, parent of Fox News. Another is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In trying to explain his backing for Ford, Murdoch told me at the October 20 News Corporation annual meeting that “one of our senior executives at Fox is a friend of would-be Senator Ford and brought him in and tried to convince me how conservative he was.” It was apparently convincing enough because Murdoch and News Corporation President Peter Chernin, a top Democratic Party fundraiser, both contributed to the Ford for Senate campaign. Both also made contributions to Senator Clinton’s campaign. Murdoch’s New York Post newspaper just endorsed Hillary for Senate over her conservative opponent John Spencer.

Moving to other issues, co-host Sean Hannity repeated Ford’s claim, made on Fox News Sunday, that he is a “Jesus-loving, gun-supporting believer that families should come first, that taxes should be lower and America should be strong.” Such a litany goes down well in conservative Tennessee. It served Ford’s purposes to have those claims made about him on a channel designed to appeal to conservatives. It amounted to a campaign contribution in the form of free air time. This performance came at a crucial moment in the campaign, just days before the election, when Corker has been trying to unmask Ford as the liberal he is.

Taking the Ford line, Hannity depicted the congressman as someone out of step with the liberal leadership of the Democratic Party on some issues. In fact, the congressman has a lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union of only 19 percent and the vast majority of his votes are perfectly consistent with the Democratic Party leadership. His rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action in 2005 was 80 percent.

Ford denied he was ever pro-choice on abortion but then contradicted himself, saying he had changed his view on the abortion “procedure” after seeing something that a physician had showed him. The implication was that he had discovered that a developing fetus in the womb was actually a human being. “It changed my heart,” he said. Ford came across as a sympathetic character struggling with the issue, who was becoming pro-life.

The facts, however, contradict Ford’s slick television appearance. According to Project Vote Smart, which monitors voting records of candidates, Ford voted only 22 percent of the time in favor of the positions taken by the National Right to Life Committee. He supported the interests of Planned Parenthood, an abortion provider, 78 percent of the time in 2006.

For some reason, Hannity even failed to ask the tough questions about the sincerity of Ford’s effort to distance himself from Kerry’s disparaging remarks about the troops. The Corker campaign has said that Ford’s call for Kerry to apologize was hollow, in view of the fact that Ford has said he will not return the $100,000 John Kerry’s political action committee (PAC) contributed to his campaign. Todd Womack, communications director for the Corker campaign, said that “As he always does, Washington Congressman Harold Ford is trying to have it both ways. He meekly says that Kerry probably should apologize but then says he’ll keep Kerry’s cash. That’s the type of Washington double talk Tennesseans are tired of, and demonstrates he puts campaign cash ahead of principle.”

Neither Hannity nor Colmes asked any questions about Ford accepting Kerry’s cash?or money from Playboy executive Christie Hefner. In that regard, the issue of his controversial attendance at a Playboy party was also not brought up. After refusing for a while to confirm that he was at the party, he admitted it, saying, “I like football and I like girls.” That’s in addition, of course, to loving Jesus.

One of the lighter moments came when Alan Colmes alluded to Ford having once served as liberal co-host of the Fox News show when Colmes was away. “You’re going to fill in for Alan again?” asked Hannity, laughing. But considering the way Ford was allowed to come across as a Christian conservative, it’s more likely he will be filling in for Hannity. That is, if he fails in his Senate bid. Just days before the election, however, Fox News seems to be doing all that it can do to push him over the finish line ahead of Corker. Fair and balanced? Not in this contest.

An outside observer cannot escape the conclusion that Fox News is going soft on Harold Ford because the boss, Murdoch, and other top executives are backing him. All of this may be shocking those accustomed to hearing that Murdoch is a “right-wing mogul” and that Fox News is an adjunct of the Republican Party, but the facts in this and other cases suggest otherwise. It would be supremely ironic, on the 10th anniversary of Fox News, that the channel might celebrate its success as a national voice for conservatives in the media by helping Ford win his Senate race and the liberals take the Senate.

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