To watch Fox News on Tuesday, you'd think a new Berlin Wall was about to be erected along the banks of the Mississippi. With President Obama signing the stimulus, the word "socialism" was almost never far away from the lips of someone on the network.
A search of transcripts available on Lexis-Nexis -- a limited sample, unfortunately -- for Fox's programming from Tuesday shows that in the span of just six hours, the network managed to squeeze in five segments devoted to a discussion of impending socialism; the words "socialism," "socialist" and "social democracy" were used a total of 37 times. "Your World with Neil Cavuto," "The O'Reilly Factor" and "On the Record with Greta" all managed to stay socialism free, but "Special Report" and "Hannity" each had two segments about it, and "Glenn Beck" had one. No transcript for "FOX Report" was available, but I happened to see the show repeat one of the segments from "Special Report," for a total of six time slots on the subject between 4 p.m. ET and 11 p.m.
Admittedly, the channel wasn't nearly as socialism-heavy before Tuesday. A search of transcripts available for the weekday programming from last week, as well as this Monday, revealed only one additional segment, from "Hannity." There were 58 additional uses of the words "socialism," "socialist" and "social democracy," however. (It's also worth noting that none of these counts include the network's in-house advertising, which, from anecdotal observation Tuesday, seemed to be pushing Beck and Hannity's discussion of the issue pretty hard.)
We did the same search of CNN and MSNBC, over the same time period, and came up with only two occurrences of those key words -- both in the same night, from the mouth of Lou Dobbs, natch.
Considering all that, it might be nice if Fox actually appeared to know what socialism is. Unfortunately, the story from Tuesday's "Special Report" and "Fox Report," a news piece that anchor Bret Baier billed as a "fair and balanced look," gave no indication that reporter Shannon Bream had any idea what she was talking about.
The Library of Economics and Liberty's article on the subject, written by the late Robert Heilbroner, a longtime socialist who was the Norman Thomas Professor of Economics emeritus at the New School, defines socialism as "a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production."
But Bream based her report on the share of the U.S. gross domestic product made up of government spending. That's a unique benchmark, to say the least -- indeed, it's so meaningless that by using it to examine a broad swath of countries worldwide, you could make a decent case that socialism won the Cold War. In Bream's defense, though, she appears to have lifted it almost straight from Jon Meacham and Evan Thomas' recent article in Newsweek, "We're All Socialists Now." But at least the Newsweek writers weren't disingenuous in their use of the statistic; Bream was. Meacham and Thomas wrote:
[T]he numbers clearly suggest that we are headed in a more European direction. A decade ago U.S. government spending was 34.3 percent of GDP, compared with 48.2 percent in the euro zone... In 2010 U.S. spending is expected to be 39.9 percent of GDP, compared with 47.1 percent in the euro zone... As entitlement spending rises over the next decade, we will become even more French...
The architect of this new era of big government? History has a sense of humor, for the man who laid the foundations for the world Obama now rules is George W. Bush, who moved to bail out the financial sector last autumn with $700 billion.
Bream used the same numbers, but her story focused entirely on Obama. In a special touch, before she recited those figures she brushed away the correct definition of "socialism" that had been offered by the Center for American Progress' Heather Bouchey with a curt "semantics aside..."
Moreover, if you look at a bigger picture of the same statistics from the same source, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, that 39.9 percent of GDP number doesn't seem quite so out of the ordinary. The figure from 1999 that Meacham and Thomas were the first to use -- government spending at 34.3 percent of GDP -- happens to be the second-lowest the U.S. has seen since at least 1981. The lowest was 34.2 percent, in 2000.
Government spending's share of the GDP has risen under each of the last three Republican presidents, while it fell fell under former President Clinton's watch. Under Ronald Reagan, it reached a high of 37.2 percent, in 1986. George H.W. Bush saw it top out at 38.5 percent in 1992 -- his son watched it climb to a peak of 38.6 percent last year. This year, the OECD projects, it will hit 39.8 percent.