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The Rise and Fall of Fox News

The coverage of the financial crisis has been helpful in demonstrating that many of the “conservatives” in the media are not so conservative after all. When the going gets tough, they are quick to abandon their principles. Several commentators on the Fox News Channel joined Senators Barack Obama and John McCain and most congressional Democrats in supporting the socialist-style bailout scheme.  

Exhibit number one is Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, who declared [1] on “Special Report with Brit Hume” on Fox News on October 2 that conservatives in the House of Representatives opposing the plan were crazy, nuts, and idiots. This vicious personal attack was followed by Barnes claiming that President Reagan would have supported a $700-billion federal takeover of the financial sector in the U.S. He cited no evidence for that claim.

In fact, wasn’t it Reagan who said, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem?”

A new Rasmussen poll [2] finds that 59 percent of Americans still agree with Reagan on that. Just 28 percent disagreed. Rasmussen reported, “The fact that most Americans still agree with Reagan helps explain the ongoing public resistance to the bailout bill currently working its way through Congress and the fear of many voters that the federal government will do too much rather than too little to deal with the current economic situation.”

Of course, thanks to people like Barnes―and the votes of Barack Obama and John McCain and most congressional Democrats―the bill has now passed.

The assumption by all of these people, rarely examined by commentators in the media, is that a massive expansion of federal power over the economy, and more federal spending and more debt, will somehow “solve” the financial crisis. But there is no reason to believe this is the case. Indeed, as financial analyst and investor Peter Schiff argues, [3] it can only makes things worse by facilitating the policies that created the problems in the first place.

I had always laughed in the past when people on the political Left referred to Fox News as “Faux News.” They were upset because Fox News has been successful airing programs including conservative viewpoints. But during coverage of the financial crisis, all of the conservative panelists on Brit Hume’s usually first-rate program were cheerleaders for the takeover scheme. These included Barnes, William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer. It was not “fair and balanced.”  

Yet, despite all of this pressure, when the takeover plan passed on Friday, most House Republicans stood on principle and opposed it. Indeed, House conservatives had led the opposition. They voted it down 108-91. By contrast, House Democrats voted for it 172-63.

The 108-91 Republican vote against the plan was extraordinary, in view of the massive lobbying in favor of the bill, and the fact that the liberal and conservative media were mostly in favor of it. House Republicans had voted against the plan on September 29 by a larger margin of 133-65.

Several members of Congress who opposed the bill specifically objected to the provision allowing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to bail out foreign banks. Barnes didn’t explain why it is so rational and smart to be using American taxpayer money to bail out foreign banks, including some in China.

To understand the full context, Hume had said to Barnes on the October 2 program: “Let me ask you this question, Fred. You’re not unsympathetic to the conservatives in the House of Representatives, and the noisiest opposition to this measure has come from conservatives in the House. Give me your thoughts on the quality of their arguments.”

But rather than express any sympathy for conservative principles, Barnes got overheated and replied, “I think their arguments are idiotic and myopic. It’s as if they are operating from some ideology that says we cannot interfere with the free market by having government do more. But, look, Ronald Reagan would do this. Alexander Hamilton did it. When you have an economy, when you have a financial crisis that threatens to blow up the economy and put America in a deep recession or worse, that’s when government is supposed to act. If you’re a libertarian and you don’t believe in government, that’s something. But those Republicans are not libertarians. They’re just nuts.” He also said that some of the proposed alternatives offered by conservatives were “crazy.”

Incredibly, Barnes, who claims to be and is advertised as a conservative, was expressing opposition to the “ideology” of conservatism. His idea of having the government “do more” was an unprecedented federal intervention in the economy. It was the socialist “solution” of Barack Obama and most Democrats, and endorsed by Senator John McCain and most Senate Republicans.

But House Republicans, the most conservative legislators on Capitol Hill, remained opposed to the measure, even after legions of lobbyists were sent to twist their arms. 

Barnes is entitled to his opinion, no matter how liberal it may be. But we should no longer be under any illusion that he is a “conservative” on fiscal or economic matters.

Defending the free enterprise system and trying to protect U.S. taxpayer money, Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan took the lead in opposing the bailout, calling for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s resignation, and urging alternatives. To his credit, Neil Cavuto, host of “Your World” on the Fox News Channel, permitted opponents of the plan like McCotter on his show [4] to express their points of view. On several occasions, Cavuto himself seemed frustrated with the media-driven campaign to pass the federal takeover plan. He is a true professional. 

Unlike Barnes, Cavuto deserves a lot of credit for maintaining a sense of perspective and balance as he examined the financial crisis. He didn’t automatically side with Wall Street’s demand that Paulson be given dictatorial powers over the U.S. economy.

Barnes, of course, wasn’t the only “conservative” one who went over to the other side. The Heritage Foundation is facing strong dissension in the ranks over its controversial decision to support the Wall Street bailout. Ironically, Heritage is running a “What Would Reagan Do?” educational campaign, trumpeting the conservative views of the former president.

The situation is similar over at Investor’s Business Daily (IBD), whose conservative editorial page writers were pressured to endorse a swift federal takeover of the financial sector. As some observers noted, IBD’s “Time to Act” editorial, which backed the socialist-style Paulson plan, severely undercut the credibility of its own editorial series highlighting and criticizing the socialist proposals of Barack Obama. IBD forgot a basic lesson―that socialism is wrong, even when a few corporate Republicans support it for the benefit of Wall Street.

Barnes’ colleague at The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, was more measured in his comments, but he, too, supported the Wall Street bailout. He said [5] in his magazine that House Republicans “should help pass the bill” because that was “the only responsible thing to do in terms of the economy.” But most House Republicans stayed true to their principles.

Kristol claimed that this was “the only way McCain has a chance to win,” adding, “To those House Republicans who care about conservative principles, about limited government and free markets―I’d ask this: How much damage will a president Obama and a Democratic Congress do to the causes you care about? Electing McCain gives us the best shot at solving this crisis in a way that doesn’t lead to a permanent and perhaps irreversible expansion of the size and scope of government.”

Kristol had ignored the damage to limited government and free markets that was being done through the bailout. He also ignored the argument that by voting to endorse a $700-billion plan to benefit Wall Street, McCain not only took a stand against the taxpayers and the public but now lacks the credibility to argue against more federal spending.

The only rational and defensible and true conservative position was to oppose all of this new spending and debt.

As the astute analyst Dick Morris and others have commented, McCain had a good chance to win this election by getting on the side of the public and opposing the bailout. But after seeming initially to get behind the conservative opposition, after briefly suspending his campaign, he ended up voting with Obama and most Congressional Democrats. He surrendered one of the biggest issues he had by following the lead of the “faux” conservatives on Fox News.