David Sirota

David Sirota
Denver, Colorado,
November 02
David Sirota is a political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future , the founder of the Progressive States Network and a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. He also blogs for Credo Action. and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. His two books, Hostile Takeover (2006) and The Uprising (2008) were both New York Times bestsellers. In the years before becoming a full-time writer, Sirota worked as the press secretary for Vermont Independent Congressman Bernard Sanders, the chief spokesman for Democrats on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, the Director of Strategic Communications for the Center for American Progress, a campaign consultant for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and a media strategist for Connecticut Senate candidate Ned Lamont. He also previously contributed writing to the website of the California Democratic Party. For more on Sirota, see these profiles of him in Newsweek or the Rocky Mountain News. Feel free to email him at lists [at] davidsirota.com

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Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 11, 2009 12:29PM

Conservative Idol: Health Care & the Fox News Incentive

Rate: 18 Flag
UPDATE: Not surprisingly, just as I was writing this post, Fox News did a "breaking news" segment that showed a crazed protestor screaming at Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (D). Here's the screen shot from Fox's website. I'm sure the protestor will soon be an "exclusive guest" on a Fox News program. As I said, this is not merely a right-leaning news outlet - it is a partisan propaganda machine.

To understand how Fox News crosses the line from right-leaning news outlet into partisan propaganda machine (and there is a difference between the two), look no further than exactly how the network is driving (or at least trying to drive) the health care debate via the congressional town hall meetings.

As a PR tactic, Fox's three-tiered formula is absolutely ingenious:

1. First, Fox has given a huge amount of airtime to covering the lobbyist-organized protests at the town hall meetings, without, of course, mentioning that many of the protests are organized by lobbyists. Mind you, we know this interest in protest and "democracy" is completely politically motivated because we know it is completely new -- it's not some ongoing Fox News principle. This is the same network that regularly pilloried anti-war protests during the Bush administration, and gave them almost no coverage, much less positive, whatsoever. So it's safe to assume that Fox is only now interested in protest and democracy because it might hurt President Obama, Democrats and the progressive agenda.

2. Whenever one member of the protesters in the Khaki Pants Offensive makes an especially circus-like scene, Fox then has that particular protester on for an interview -- all under the pretense that the protester has made him/herself "news." In the last two days alone, I've seen Fox aggressively promote "exclusive" interviews with screaming protesters from Rep. John Dingell's (D-MI) and Rep. David Scott's (D-GA) town meetings. Fox dutifully promotes these people as persecuted martyrs, and their actual claims about health care are barely -- if ever -- explored for their veracity (or lack thereof).

3. Finally, after helping create the media image of mass protests, Fox has manufactured a reason to continue covering the supposed mass protests. And the cycle starts over.

What this does is create a vicious cycle whereby the small group of conservative activists who are terrorizing these town halls have an incentive to be more and more aggressive. They know that if they can go further than the last supposed martyr, they might get their mug on Fox News. In that way, it's a little like American Idol - only it's Conservative Idol. And so from protesters trying to shut down town hall meetings with screaming we get protesters shoving matches and then protesters arming themselves and then protestors making death threats. This is the Fox News Incentive System at work.

Let's be clear: I have absolutely no problem with conservative protesters -- even those organized by corporate lobbyists -- expressing their strong opposition to health care reform. While I happen to think most of these people are motivated from raw selfishness, and while polls show these people represent a tiny minority of Americans, I sincerely believe they have every right to make their voice heard. Indeed, my personal email signature is a Teddy Roosevelt quote which says, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

However, just because you have a right to speak, doesn't mean you have a right to block/intimidate others from speaking or a right to shut down town hall meetings. That's what the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd is trying to do in starting its World War Z. And the Fox News Incentive System is rewarding them for it.

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fox news, health care

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David, you said "However, just because you have a right to speak, doesn't mean you have a right to block/intimidate others from speaking or a right to shut down town hall meetings".

I am sure you meant include that this also applies to the union goons who showed up in St. Louis to do a little intimidation of their own.
So I guess you're talking about the union thugs being brought in then, eh?
Where's the evidence that the union guys were sent by the Democratic machine? Because without any evidence, I can just as easily assume that they were acting on their own. Plus, it's hard to play the "see, you guys do it, too!" game and compare one thuggery incident with dozens of incoherent, disruptive screaming matched disguised as protests, not to mention death threats, effigy burnings and the like.

A little perspective, please. Ignorant ranting and violence are not democracy. They are third world banana republic politics.
That the health care solution has been protested by a bunch of fat americans is one of the funniest situations in my lifetime.

As you can see in the link below most of our health problems are self inflicted by smoking, over eating, not exercising and eating crap instead of food.

Why do you want us to pay for your failure to control yourself? Is there no pride left, the guy in NH has a picture of him holding a sign wearing a tee shirt to show his 40 belly clearly. He thinks it is the government he has to worry about, look in the mirror fatso, you will see the enemy clearly, or at least as much that can fit in front of a mirror.

Sorry you have to watch fox. I guess I could do it if I was paid for it....maybe. The corps know that public option will be the end of private health ins - and are fighting like hell to keep the dollars rolling in.
If we dont wind up with a public option at the end of this, we need to replace those pol's who prevent it, fox or no fox.
We pay for cable, then we are forced to watch adverts on cable, now we get programming that is bogus as well. In this case we also pay a premium for health care in order to fund this propaganda.
How about we just call them Fox? I don't see where there has been any news on that network since day one.

For Blackflon and Deborah Young: You point at one--ONE--occurrence that you argue had Democratic support (although you neglected to show that the "union thugs" were "brought in" by a fake popular front set up by Democratic lobbyists). But you do not mention the many many thuggish incidents by wingnuts at Democratic town halls. I suppose in your ratiocination one dubious citation equals a record of continuing disruption. Oh, and where are the elected Democrats who have vowed to make town hall meetings "town hells," or made jokes about lynchings and murders? Does that sort of language not show intent? I'm not a doctrinaire Democrat, but I can sure tell the difference in behavior.

Most other people can too. You're not fooling anyone. You're just allying yourself with the creeps and the bullies, and in this case, the losers. Good luck with that strategy.
As someone who personally witnessed 250,000 people marching on the national mall before the beginning of the Iraq War and subsequently saw it mentioned by, oh, zero major networks, the coverage Fox News gives to this tiny proportion of protestors is infuriating to me. They're a twenty-four hour special-interest lobby, masquerading as news, and they're preying on the fear and misinformation of others. The purpose of those town hall meetings was supposed to be discourse, but instead, as you said, they're merely drowning everyone else out and intimidating others from speaking. Go ahead, ask your pointed questions, but actually listen to and evaluate the answers! Instead, we have groups of misinformed people acting against their own self-interest.
You totally misread the situation, David.

Obama's popularity is slipping daily, largely as a consequence of this horrendous power grab a/k/a health care reform.

Spector's town meeting was devastating for the Dems--serious, politely put questions that had the Senator either granting concessions that will be retracted later (like most of Obama's campaign promises) or mumbling in his beer.

And if the polls and town meeting results don't convince you, take a gander at The New York Times non-fiction best seller list. Four of the five are violent attacks on the Obama Administration and all of the collectivist garbage that it represents.
If it is true that the union people are roughing these"protestors" up a little then God Bless them. I like it when we fight back. It doesn't often happen.
"I suppose in your ratiocination one dubious citation equals a record of continuing disruption."-- hontonosijin (thanks)
That's the EXACT description of what a bully does. I know. I experienced a couple of bullies recently. These town hall meeting disrupters are bullies, and Fox News is a bully for promoting these thugs. Of course, Fox News will say "tsk, tsk, what a shame!" if one of those wingnuts shoots someone. Then FN will "report" some minor flaw of the person who dies endlessly as if that person was to blame for their own death. It's racially motivated. It's facism. It's wrong.
"Where's the evidence that the union guys were sent by the Democratic machine?"

Where is the evidence that the Town Hallers were sent by the Republican machine?

Yes, some of it may have been organized by outside groups. So what?

I guess the protests about the Vietnam War and the protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention were simply spontaneous.
@Dr. Spudman....you said If it is true that the union people are roughing these"protestors" up a little then God Bless them. I like it when we fight back. It doesn't often happen.

And yet you complain about a few shouting voices.
"And if the polls and town meeting results don't convince you, take a gander at The New York Times non-fiction best seller list. Four of the five are violent attacks on the Obama Administration and all of the collectivist garbage that it represents."

Gordon: Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought to Be," hitting #1 didn't mean "the American people" as a whole agreed with him anymore than Franken's "Rush Limbaugh is a big, fat Idiot" ALSO reaching #1 indicated the same regarding Mr. Franken. There's always an audience for these books.

But it's telling that you savor the "violent attacks" these books provide on the president of this great country. Very significant that you apparently get a charge from such a description.

I remember how conservative David Brooks BLASTED Bobby Jindal's speech awhile back, correctly pointing out that Jindal was rehashing the same tired attacks upon liberal/progressive ideas. And here you use the buzzword "collectivist." Why, we're all going to become commies!

Republican conservatism is an utter, spectacular shambles, and your type of rant indicates you people will be consigned to the political wilderness for a long time to come.
We don't need no damn "socialist" health care! And while you're at it, keep your damn 40-hour work week, work-place safety and child-labor laws. And isn't it unfair for employers to have to pay time and a half for over 40 hours a week?

And who needs "public schools"? I say, food safety is highly overrated. We can trust the insurance companies to provide quality affordable health care as much as we can trust big corporations not to pollute our air and water.
Scary. I recently read a piece on Truthout, in which an expert on fascism described it as a step-by-step process, and postulated that the US is about a third of the way there, due largely to this crazed mob and the media ghouls who are working them into a wild frenzy.

I concur.

With you.
David - thank you for watching Fox News so I don't have to.
I think the solution to this problem is a plant... Step 1. Go to a town hall. Step 2. Act crazier then everyone else. Step 3. Go on FOX and tell them that they are idiots. Step 4. PROFIT.
David, I live in Brazil and only get a handful of international channels through cable. CNN international wasn't running the town hall, neither was the BBC, so my only choice was Faux Noise. This was the most bizarre, overtly Orwellian "coverage" of the town hall one could get, or should I say, couldn't get. I had to turn it off after the first 15 minutes, because the little-boy anchor, Trace Gallagher, kept cutting away from the President and eventually left the event altogether. Fox was hoping for some shouting matches and angry, red-faced wing-nuts with Hitler t-shirts to confont the President; when the questioners appeared civil (too civil), Gallagher complained, insinuating that the questions had been staged. Then he proceeded to distort every single thing his network had allowed the President to say until that point; the President talked about a public option and a competitive market place where people could shop and compare various plans. Gallagher immediately started talking about single-payer system, and referred to a speech the President had made about that more than two years ago as a candidate. Not content with that, Fox kept on interrupting the town hall evey 10 seconds, and putting "guests" on, in this case none other than the News Corporation VP, to "comment" on Obama's points--points, I might add, that no one who was watching Fox was getting because they refused to let their audience actually hear anything the President was saying. This "network" is absurd; it is shameful and a disgrace. I really do hope that Rupert Murdoch, with his new "policy" of charging for online content, begins to lose readership and viewership exponentially. Fox is an embarrassment to the whole concept of the first ammendment.
"Fox is an embarrassment to the whole concept of the first ammendment."

Fox is also burying, but burying, the left-wing dominated networks and cable stations in the ratings. Vox populi rides again. A real tribute to the First Amendment. Capitalized and one "m" please.
You know, I've been thinking about the progressive position on debate and discussion quite a bit. Dave asks, "Let's be clear: I have absolutely no problem with conservative protesters -- even those organized by corporate lobbyists -- expressing their strong opposition to health care reform."

The more I think about it, the more I wonder. This reminds me quite a bit of Pelosi taking impeachment "off the table," or Obama not going after the torture sanctioned and performed by the Bush administration because he "wants to look ahead." If the other side is playing dirty, we put ourselves at a terrible disadvantage by playing "clean."

I don't know the answer. No, of course I don't want to send screaming morons to Republican town hall meetings. On the other hand, I think this quote is very true: "if you use sportsmanship on a known scamp, you put yourself at a terrible disadvantage.’"
Melissa Souza, I watched the Obama Town Hall meeting and at one point he actually asked for questions from someone who disagrees with his health care plan. No one put up their hand. Not one person in that hall disagreed with him. makes you wonder.

Also when Fox cut away I simply changed the channel. It's that little clicker thingy that you use when you don't like what you see on the TV.
While I'm more likely to watch MSNBC than Fox (way more likely), I'm under no delusions that MSNBC is any more "news" than Fox claims to be. I think they need to remove "News" from their title and just state that they are a Conservative Analyst Channel, just as I think MSNBC should call themselves a Liberal Analyst Channel.
To Gordon O. Dear Mr. O., while I agree that the most common spelling of amendment is with one m., you can have it spelled with two m.s as well (just google it, ok?), and it doesn't have to be capitalized. As for your allegation that Fox News ratings dwarf those of left-wing cable, suffice it to say that Faux Noise is the only one of its kind--it is a veritable monopoly. The rest of the media is moderate to left-of-center, on certain occasions. Faux, on the other hand, concentrates what is left of that shrinking population part--the rural, older, white and, sorry to say, not very well informed electorate that make up the Republican base. No other channel dare mimick Faux Noise because there isn't enough of an audience to split up among several channels of that kind. So Faux is King, and Queen and Duke and the rest of it of the extreme right, a vitriolic, quasi-comical propaganda machine, with no competitors in sight, galvanizing the wing nuts. And since Democrats are made up of a much younger audience, who generally don't watch that much cable in the first place, but prefer to blog and to twitter, then these kinds of news programs are being left with an increasingly older audience that is the one demographic group which overwhelmingly and stubbornly leans Republican. As for the comment above that not one person contested Obama, I suggest you read a transcript of the town hall and you will see that there were quite a few that did so. And as far as changing channels, I simply turned off the television because unlike most of you I didn't have the option, living abroad, of any other channel other than Faux (which was of no use since I barely got to see any of that town hall meeting--the network was so intent on blatant censorship of the President).
I guess I am the minority in thinking this ugliness is not entirely a bad thing. I have no idea where people got the idea that health care reform would go over smoothly. Health care represents 17% of the GDP. That's the biggest sector of the economy, bar none. With all that money out there, you have to expect verbal fisticuffs, if not the real variety.

A long time ago, I wrote on my own blog how big a throwdown I expected it to be. Millions of people have their skin in this game, and unless it gets really, really contentious, we are not going to see a resolution. I think we need to have it out, blood, guts, and all, right now.

Let Fox do its worst. The Republicans have already said they want to break Obama over this issue. But as everyone can see, the left isn't hiding this time. So now the tables are turning and conservatives realize for the first time that they also have their necks on the table.

I say let them roar. The louder they roar the more the public will realize it really wants health care reform. Remember conservatives tried to control civil rights marches with tear gas and fire hoses, and what they ended up doing was turning the public against them once and for all.

I have a feeling these overheated town hall meetings are the firehose images, all over again.
"Lobbyist-organized?" "Tiny minority?" "Raw selfishness?" Wrong. Concerned, independent American citizens are appropriately responding to sweeping health care reform that has the potential to usurp individual rights and bankrupt this country. Ignorant or misguided, you're fueling your own "partisan propaganda machine."
Gordon: Melissa Souza wrote a detailed, factual account of watching the Town Hall on Fox, and you responded with an irrelevant dismissal that indicated you think whatever is most popular must be best.

As far as your polls go, what most surveys do not tell you is that much of Obama's fall in approval and in his handling of health care comes from people on the left who think he has caved in too much to the right. The public option is still more popular than not, and in every poll ever taken, when single payer is described (not just labeled) it gets massive support. Your side is apparently getting a lot of support from people who don't even know that Medicare and Social Security are government programs.

Blackflon: Liar. When Obama asked for opponents' questions, two people responded at the end. Throughout, the president demolished every argument against health care reform in general.
Consider not just the source, but the audience. The Idol reference is apt- the performance, though loud, rings hollow outside Fox's "demographic" of a mostly old white audience, most of whom are not into wellness or prevention. Not coincidentally Fox viewers are white, over 50 and still pissed about civil rights acts. All are or will soon be on medicare and/or SS, so blatant hypicrosy rules, and all for the most part claim chritianity, with no problem ignoring their savior's teachings on the sick and poor. Fox claims to also chase the 25-50 demo, but this is mostly the children of the above. So, it is the Miss California pagaent for unhealthy and un-steady crazed white folks, who, as you say, all want to see their eloquence on display on their favorite tv "NEWS" channell.

Union goons? Are you talking about the SEIU? Back in the day, there would have been some Teamsters that would have kneecapped these douchebags if they tried this shit. I'm not saying it would be right, but lately it would be pretty satisfying.
Fox News is about the most biased media outlet I have seen. The majority of their viewers are faithful Republicans that think even George W. Bush was great for this country. It goes to show you how many Americans have lost their ability to think independently without being spoon fed every idea, concept, or belief from a self serving media outlet.
Oh, y'all mean the poor dude who was videotaped getting up and walking away from his (felonious, some jail time deserving) beating, and the next day showed up in a wheel chair? Yeah, you run that dog, boys.
Excellent report, David.
I was watching the same clip (someone yelling at Arlen Specter during a Town Hall meeting) on CNN. He was not the only one having a hard time. A female senator was also giving a Town Hall meeting today and she had a rough time of it. I've heard there's some Republican group coordinating the disruption of these Town Hall meetings, but these did not look coordinated, they looked like a group of senior citizens who were FRIGHTENED.

It also struck me that CNN is beginning to sound a lot like Fox. I had to make sure I was indeed watching CNN and not the Fox Network.
I watch Bill-O to see what kind of misinformation he is spreading. When Dick Morris is on, the BS meter goes off the chart. I think there must be a BS detector they could install on TVs that would put a crawl warning at the bottom of the screen whenever a liar is holding forth. Instead of a V-chip, a LIAR chip.
Every Fox-o-phile should watch the segment on Huckabee last Sunday where a Dr. Lipschitz (I think) was discussing the escalating costs of health care and giving the rationale why we have to reform the way insurance does business. I was amazed that Huckabee had him on, considering some of the completely nutty people he sometimes has, but this guy did not say one thing that was untrue, and he made the economic case for health care reform.

Why do I have so much time to watch the nuts on all cable channels? I am busy electronically entering health records, which I have done for 23 years now, and I am thoroughly acquainted with the plight of the uninsured, the revolving hospital door, the high cost of meds, the doctors who order tests to protect themselves from lawsuits, and the responsible practitioners who are finding it really hard to love their work in this climate. Tort reform is only a gift to the insurance companies; they do not proportionately lower their rates in relation to the savings they reap. The insurance companies were not always as evil as they are now. They got drunk on Wall Street with the investment bankers, and they have never been the same since. Pres. Obama is about to perform an intervention on these folks, with the aid of our elected representatives, and I couldn't be happier about it. Elections have consequences, folks. I wish I could have dictated to my government that not one dime of my tax dollars should go toward the war in Iraq, but I guess only the anti-abortion people get to dictate how their tax money is spent.
"Blaming obstructionist Republicans is nonsensical because Democrats control all three branches of government. It isn't conservative rumors or lies that are stopping healthcare legislation; it's the justifiable alarm of an electorate that has been cut out of the loop and is watching its representatives construct a tangled labyrinth for others but not for themselves. No, the airheads of Congress will keep their own plush healthcare plan -- it's the rest of us guinea pigs who will be thrown to the wolves." Camille Paglia, front page Salon.
I'd be very much interested in any authority for "ammendment" as an acceptable spelling for "amendment."

When one is referring to a specific amendment, e.g., the First Amendment, it becomes a proper noun requiring capitalization, as in melissa souza.
Where do you get the idea that these people are lobbyists? They are regular people that are well informed like me. We are tired of the Senate and House representatives cramming legislation that is bad for our government down our throats. We can't afford it and we don't want our country going down the tubes. Republicans are just as guilty as Democrats on this. It is not a left/right issue.
Here, here, SJ.

It's good that some network is around to record Obama's lies about AARP endorsement.