NPR's Gross Explores (and Laughs at) 'Strange' Fox News

The folks at National Public Radio really don’t like Fox News. They don’t like NPR people on Fox News. When the NPR talk show Fresh Air with Terry Gross wanted to discuss Fox News and its role in nurturing tea-party protests, they gave 40 minutes to David Weigel of the left-wing site The Washington Independent. It had the usual tone of exploring the dark side of the moon. Gross led off the show discussing the new conservative protests:

It's a right-wing movement that has been interrupting town hall meetings, staging tea party protests, and challenging Obama's citizenship. The new influence of Fox News TV host Glenn Beck was demonstrated by the 9/12 March on Washington, which he promoted on his show.

To NPR, apparently every Tea Party protester is a birther, and every conservative question at a town hall meeting was an "interruption." They discussed his article on the recent Values Voter Summit for Christian conservatives first, and then turned to the topic of Fox:

TERRY GROSS: Let's look at the remaking of the right, and the role that Fox News has been playing in that. What was the role of Fox News in organizing and helping to organize the tea party protests and the 9/12 march on Washington?

DAVID WEIGEL: The role of Fox News in organizing these things has been massive, and it's something I'm continually taken aback by it. One through line I see is that most conservative groups are happy admitting that they are behind an event or they handed out leaflets, they booked something. Fox News is very sensitive about being criticized for its advocacy, but it -- let's just take the 9/12 march on Washington. One, it promoted a very strange, fringe event called the Tea Party Express. That was a bus of conservatives going from California to D.C., culminating with the march. And it embedded a reporter on this bus for the, you know, these smallish events -- reporting on the scene, giving updates when everyone was going on. They informed their...

GROSS: Embedded a Fox reporter.

WEIGEL: It was Griff Jenkins, who is kind of a color reporter but you know, a guy with a national audience. And when they get to the march itself, Jenkins is back on the scene; he's reporting on it, they have all-day coverage, which is not to be, not unexpected. But there's actually a moment where Jenkins was doing a hit and showing the crowd at some point in the early afternoon, and a Fox News producer, whenever Jenkins was about to go on, would wave up her arms and incite the crowd to start cheering louder. (Laughter)

And that's something you might see on a talk show, but Fox has just taken an out-and-out oppositional approach to the Obama administration. Not just with the tea parties, but I mean -- Glenn Beck's show, I don't think can be overrated as an influence in building a popular and intellectual opposition to the administration. More than anything, you can compare it to Keith Olbermann's show during the Bush administration; it's not close. I mean Beck, day after day is getting conservative movement intelligence, asking his readers to send him stuff, and going after members of the Obama administration. It's kind of unheard of. The advocacy is just unheard of and strange.

GROSS: Why do you think Glenn Beck has become so popular and powerful?

WEIGEL: I think it's very simple.

GROSS: Yeah.

WEIGEL: I think it's simple. The reason for Beck's popularity is that he tells the audience he's uncovering something. Sean Hannity, I don't think is -- he's not become much less popular, but he basically bashes liberals and says that Democrats are gross and Ted Kennedy's -- the late Ted Kennedy was unappealing, and stuff you've heard on talk radio for years and years. Beck says, I've uncovered something; me or my investigator -- have uncovered a video; we've uncovered a secret link; we've uncovered a document. And that's fascinating.

It's fascinating from the normal consumer of news's perspective. It's fascinating from the conspiracy theorist's perspective. I mean, no one else is giving you a chart showing you the 87 interlocking connections of the left-wing movements and Barack Obama. And I think that's exactly it; that's why he's become popular.

GROSS: What issues do you think Glenn Beck is having like, the biggest impact on?

WEIGEL: I think generally, he's shifted the window of discussion on presidential power and the Constitution. He's shifted the window on ACORN. ACORN's a good example because there were votes early in this year to defund ACORN, for ACORN -- and this is dubiously constitutional -- but the organization should not get any more funding because it had been indicted for voter fraud. And most Democrats voted against this. Glenn Beck pounded this relentlessly. He ran these undercover videos from conservative activists, and ACORN is now defunded.

I mean, on the constitutional issue in general, you've got a guy who's getting the best ratings on Fox, telling people every day about the Tree of Revolution, that Barack Obama is connected to ACORN, is connected to SEIU. All of this is rooted in the ideas of Saul Alinsky, who wanted to overthrow the government. I mean, if I could boil it down to political issues, it's ACORN and czars. But I think the influence has just been to turn the national discourse from what it was nine months ago, when we were saying 'We're in real trouble, what can or should the government do to fix it?', to 'Are we on the road to fascism?' (Laughter)

WEIGEL: And I think he's really introduced that into the national discussion in a way that's probably not realistic.

All this exploration of the conservative movement left no time to explore Weigel's employer, the Center for Independent Media, which reports funding from Barbra Streisand and George Soros.

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