Picking up where the network left off in 2009, Fox News jumped into its first political campaign of the year, this time setting its sights on the U.S. Senate to help elect Republican Scott Brown to the seat previously held by Democrat Ted Kennedy. Fox News and other media conservatives anticipated and celebrated Brown’s election with a hyperbolic fervor that would redden the faces of the “Obamaniacs” they most despised in 2008. As conservative media saw it, in defeating Democratic challenger Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Scott Brown took down Goliath, the 1980 Soviet Olympic hockey team, the Berlin Wall, and the British Empire. Before Brown assumed his seat in the Senate, he had been nominated by Drudge and Fox News to be our next president.
Fox News didn’t simply cheer from the sidelines of this contest. Indeed, the network actively aided Brown’s campaign. Fox News repeatedly hosted Brown in the days leading up to the election, and during each appearance, Brown directed viewers to his website to find out “how to help with donating and volunteering.” Fox News political analyst Dick Morris took it upon himself to urge viewers to “go to DickMorris.com … to help elect Brown,” because if “we win this fight, then there will never be another victory for Obama.” When asked at a rally about “ethical questions” raised by Fox News’ advocacy for Brown, chief political correspondent Carl Cameron fled, saying he didn’t have time to answer. But he did have the time to autograph “Brown for Senate” campaign materials and pose for pictures with Brown’s volunteers, as Think Progress documented.
Fox News also did Brown the favor of repeatedly misrepresenting remarks Coakley made to portray her as incompetent. America’s News HQ anchor Gregg Jarrett stated on January 17, “Martha Coakley is out of step when she says things like terrorists are no longer in Afghanistan, or in the debate saying, quote, ‘We need to get taxes up.’ ” Interpreting Coakley’s remarks in this way requires a willing suspension of basic verbal reasoning skills; and that was Fox’s “straight news” programming. On Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy actually claimed that Coakley “suggested the Taliban [are] gone from Afghanistan,” and Michael Scheuer declared that Coakley “doesn’t seem to mind” that “we are losing there.” For his part, Glenn Beck accused Coakley of “religious bigotry” for saying that those who would “deny emergency contraception to a woman who came in who had been raped” probably “shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”
In case boosting Brown while attacking Coakley wasn’t a sufficient strategy, Fox News baselessly fomented fears that Democrats would “cheat” to steal the election. Warning Fox News viewers not to become complacent before Election Day, Beck stated, “[Y]ou can imagine how ugly this thing will get if — oh God help us all — if it’s too close to call.” Beck displayed the ACORN logo and added, “[T]hey have friends in low places.” Invoking the Florida recount, Beck asserted that Democrats “were so incompetent they didn’t even know how to cheat. But don’t worry — they’ve gotten good at it now.”
Fox even told viewers that they could strengthen their 401(k)s by electing Brown. Echoing CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Fox Nation declared that “Brown Win Could Cause Huge Stock Rally.” On Election Day, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson introduced Fox business contributor Stuart Varney by stating, “Well, you may want to make a call to Massachusetts and get some people out to the polls. Well, that’s because our next guest, and a friend, says that your portfolio could look much better if Scott Brown wins Ted Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat.” As Varney spoke, Fox & Friends displayed an on-screen text reading: “What can Brown do for you? A boost in your 401K may be in the cards.” And over on Fox Business, Charles Payne asserted that a Brown win “fertilizes the soil for an incredible longer-term stock market rally.”
But after closing up 115 points on January 19 before election results were in, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 122 points the day after Brown’s victory and another 213 points the next day. Baffled by this turn of events, Beck said on his radio show, “I’m not sure why it’s coming down” since “it made total sense to me” that the market would “go through the roof” if Brown won.
Predictably, conservative media saw no limit on what Brown’s victory could signify and to what extent progressives and progressive policies could suffer. Media outlets converged on a few shallow narratives: The election was a referendum on Obama; Obama should move to the right; and voters have rejected health care reform. (Somehow, Americans hadn’t reached these conclusions by January 10, when Coakley still held a comfortable lead.)
Exit polls, however, showed that a majority of Massachusetts voters approve of Obama’s job performance. And contrary to the claim that Brown’s victory means Congress should toss out health care reform, Massachusetts is not representative of the nation as a whole. Indeed, the state already passed a health care program that insures nearly all residents — a unique situation that allowed Brown to argue that his state would not benefit from national reform. Brown, and the vast majority of Massachusetts, supported the state’s 2006 reforms, which are widely seen as the model for the national plans currently under consideration in Congress.