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Sunday, October 25, 2009
Will MRC Retract False Claim About Feinberg Interview?
Topic: Media Research Center

So the Media Research Center's Tim Graham is trying to make a big deal of claiming that Media Matters (disclosure: our employer) promoted purported inflammatory quotes by Rush Limbaugh that turned out to be unsourced, if not fake. Actually, as Media Matters' Eric Boehlert pointed out, a blog post merely quoted a columnist who cited the statements, then updated it to note that the quotes were in question.

Now, it's the MRC's turn to retract a false claim -- an actual one this time.

An Oct. 23 MRC press release "applauded ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN for uniting with competitor news network Fox News in response to the Obama White House excluding Fox from an interview with “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg." The release went on to quote MRC chief Brent Bozell as saying:

“Not even Richard Nixon would have dared try this.  This was a White House attempt at censorship and brass knuckle intimidation.  But it backfired. 

“This was more than a strike at Fox News. It was a calculated and frightening declaration of war on our First Amendment right to a free and unfettered press.  And it might have been successful had ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC caved to the pressures of the White House.  

“But they did not yield and for that, they should be commended. These networks recognized this as a direct assault on free speech.  I applaud their dedication to operating on the vital truth that freedom of the press trumps everything, including ratings and market share.  

The problem? Bozell's version of events -- that Fox News suffered a violation of its First Amendment rights by being deliberately excluded from the Feinberg interview until other journalists stood up for it -- appears to be completely false.

As Talking Points Memo detailed, the facts are much less sinister:

Feinberg did a pen and pad with reporters to brief them on cutting executive compensation. TV correspondents, as they do with everything, asked to get the comments on camera. Treasury officials agreed and made a list of the networks who asked (Fox was not among them).

But logistically, all of the cameras could not get set up in time or with ease for the Feinberg interview, so they opted for a round robin where the networks use one pool camera. Treasury called the White House pool crew and gave them the list of the networks who'd asked for the interview.

The network pool crew noticed Fox wasn't on the list, was told that they hadn't asked and the crew said they needed to be included. Treasury called the White House and asked top Obama adviser Anita Dunn. Dunn said yes and Fox's Major Garrett was among the correspondents to interview Feinberg last night.

Simple as that, we're told, and the networks don't want to be seen as heroes for Fox.

Further, pretty much everyone involved is shocked that Fox News (along with its MRC fellow travelers) is blowing this up into a First Amendment issue:

TPMDC spoke with a network bureau chief this afternoon familiar with the situation who was surprised that Fox was portraying the news as networks coming to its rescue.

"If any member had been excluded it would have been the same thing, it has nothing to do with Fox or the White House or the substance of the issues," the bureau chief said. "It's all for one and one for all."

A Treasury spokesperson added: "There was no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing."

So, when can we expect that retraction from Bozell, Graham and Co.? We'll be watching.

Posted by Terry K. at 10:17 AM EDT

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