Fox's bipolar Romney tape defense

The network first tried to ignore the tapes, then defended them full-stop

Published September 19, 2012 6:09PM (EDT)

If at first you can’t ignore it, defend it, is apparently the strategy behind Fox News' response to the video of Mitt Romney's fundraiser speech about government moochers that was leaked to Mother Jones.

An analysis of the three cable news networks shows that Fox ignored the video on the first day of its release, Monday, before finally mentioning it after Romney’s hastily arranged press conference at 10:00 that night. By then, MSNBC and CNN had discussed the video at length. Overall, Fox has spent considerably less time discussing the video. As of this afternoon, the conservative network has mentioned the videos 55 times, compared to 83 for CNN, and 128 for MSNBC, according to a query of TVEyes media monitoring software. Fox also mentioned Mother Jones only 14 times, compared to CNN’s 51, and MSNBC’s 33.

When host Greta Van Susteren made the first mention of the tape on Fox, it was to ask a panel of pundits about the impact the video might have, but she never actually played the video or even explained what Romney said. Still, her coverage of the video -- which she said she hadn't seen yet -- and her guests' response to it were mostly fair and not polemic in the typical Fox News way.

But while the other two networks’ mentions are fairly evenly distributed across the past three days, Fox’s coverage has been bifurcated. On Monday, it was ignored, save the single fair-handed treatment it got on Van Susteren’s show. But by Tuesday morning, the network had drastically shifted gears and started defending Romney aggressively. "Fox and Friends" host Brian Kilmeade said, “I would love for that to be a message for anyone on the stump."

By the time the night’s prime-time shows rolled around, the network was fully onboard. "Here is my question. Why is that controversial? That's true,” Bill O'Reilly asked. Sean Hannity agreed: “Let's break down what you just heard. Because everything that Governor Romney said, is 100 percent accurate.”

Other Fox hosts tried to sow a seed of doubt about the tapes because of their provenance. They noted that Mother Jones is a “left-wing” publication or that Jimmy Carter’s grandson was involved in the distribution of the video. Never did they mention that, even as Paul Ryan said, Romney’s comments were probably not smart. As Slate’s Dave Weigel wrote, “Hannity aside (he really is a talking point that walks like a man), I'm sure the Fox News spinners get this. But they have to pretend they don't.”

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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