Accuracy in Media

Rudy Giuliani’s much-publicized but misleading put-down of Ron Paul during Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate should have been tempered by a report that Saudi Arabia, the country that spawned most of the 9/11 hijackers, has been one of Giuliani’s lucrative foreign clients. However, Fox News questioners Chris Wallace and Wendell Goler did not bring it up.

Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that the same Associated Press story that named Saudi Arabia as a Giuliani client listed News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, as another Giuliani client. This AP story, which was not disputed by Giuliani or News Corporation, was carried on the Fox News website. 

This writer had raised questions about Fox News’ co-sponsorship of the debate, based on the fact that the company had a relationship with Giuliani when he was mayor of New York City. But now we know that the relationship has continued into the period of time that Giuliani has been planning a presidential run. It is an obvious conflict of interest.

It was during a discussion of foreign policy that Paul, a Texas congressman, identified U.S. involvement in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, as a factor in the 9/11 attacks. Giuliani pounced on that, saying the claim was worse than absurd. “Rudy’s Wrath” was the headline as Fox News proclaimed Giuliani the winner of the exchange. However, the Fox News text-message poll, with 40,000 votes, gave Paul 25 percent over Giuliani’s 19 percent. Mitt Romney came in first with 29 percent.

Giuliani was the first Republican candidate to come on Fox News after the debate and talk about his performance. Co-host Sean Hannity wanted to focus on Giuliani’s comments on 9/11 and his attack on Paul. Later, Michael Steele, Maryland’s former Lieutenant Governor, was on Fox News, declaring that Giuliani had destroyed Ron Paul. “It’s done,” Steele said of Paul’s campaign. It wasn’t mentioned that Giuliani had campaigned for Steele when he ran for a Maryland Senate seat. 

The exchange with Paul over 9/11 might have been seen in a different light if Hannity had asked Giuliani about why, according to the AP report, his firm represented Saudi Arabia. But that was a taboo topic. 

Equally important, it turns out that Paul’s point-that the 9/11 attacks were linked to U.S. involvement in Iraq and the Middle East-was factually correct. Osama bin Laden’s 1996 “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places” specifically mentioned the situation in Iraq, blaming the U.S. for the impact of economic sanctions on the Saddam Hussein regime. Bin Laden accused the U.S. of “aggression” against Iraq and the record shows that his anti-Americanism was motivated, at least in part, by the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. 

Yet, Giuliani claimed “I don’t think I’ve heard that before,” in reference to Paul’s citation of some of these facts. One would think that “America’s Mayor” and “Mr. 9/11” would understand the genesis of the attacks that took almost 3,000 American lives. 

Despite the facts of the case, Fox News correspondent Steve Brown said it was a matter of “Mission Accomplished” for Giuliani because of his exchange with Paul. Of course, “Mission Accomplished” has become associated with a war in Iraq that has no end in sight. Paul has been against the Iraq War from the beginning. He made the point, as he had during the first debate on MSNBC, that the war had cost the GOP control of Congress. Senator John McCain tried to insist that Republicans had lost Congress because they had been spending too much federal money. He didn’t explain why the public had replaced the Republicans with bigger spenders from the Democratic Party.    

Conceding Paul’s point about 9/11, however, doesn’t mean that the U.S. should withdraw from the Middle East, as bin Laden demanded, or as Paul advocates. But U.S. involvement in the Middle East should be debated and discussed. The Texas Congressman noted that President Reagan inserted U.S. troops into the civil war in Lebanon but that when 241 lost their lives in a suicide bombing he withdrew them, citing the irrationality of the region. The unanswered question of the debate was what President Reagan would do about Iraq. Only more debates, with war critic Ron Paul, will smoke the candidates out on this critical issue.  

There is no issue more important than American involvement in the Middle East. At least in this regard, the Paul-Giuliani exchange was welcome and long-overdue. We need more of this, not less. But Fox News seems determined to run Paul and other candidates out of the race.  

Steve Doocy of Fox News called Ron Paul the “Sanjaya” of the Republican presidential debate, a reference to the American Idol contestant many believe stayed in the national competition for too long. But this is reality turned upside down. Fox News didn’t want its audience to know the facts behind the exchange. Especially with his controversial Saudi and other foreign connections, Giuliani may end up looking like the real “Sanjaya” of the race.  

The bottom line is that Giuliani’s applause-winning response to Ron Paul was beside the point. Giuliani should have been on the spot, but he wasn’t.

Indeed, Giuliani was completely spared any tough questions about his controversial dealings with foreign clients. Neither Wallace nor Goler brought up the growing controversy over the Giuliani law firm representing a Spanish company that is privatizing a Texas road in the proposed “NAFTA Superhighway.” The same firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, represents Citgo, the oil company owned by Venezuela’s anti-American ruler Hugo Chavez.   

Fox News had attempted to limit participation in the debate to the so-called “serious” candidates before a public outcry forced all of them to be included. That ploy was seen as an effort to cement Giuliani as the frontrunner. After the debate, Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron was again trying to limit the field, declaring that the “second-tier candidates” had slowed down the exchanges. He implied that candidates like Paul, Duncan Hunter and Mike Huckabee should be left out of future debates.

Fox News has a reputation as a conservative news channel and many Republicans rely on it for news and information. But its handling of this debate raises serious questions about the channel’s commitment to being “fair and balanced.” It seems to be emerging as an arm of the Giuliani-for-president campaign. Honest conservatives should demand better coverage.

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