A fundamental tenet for both rightwing politicians and their media pilot fish is: Never, ever, apologize for the crazy. If you get caught exaggerating or even lying outright, simply respond by saying, "The left sees it differently" or "The mainstream media take their cues from liberals" or some such weasel-bite, even if the dispute is over widely accepted facts.
Yet in just the past couple of days, two of the loudest and most obdurate voices on the right have had to apologize, or at least feign doing so, for major bloopers concerning Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s Tea Party rally held on Capitol Hill on November 5.
The most slippery mea culpa came from Fox News’s Sean Hannity. On the day of the rally (a/k/a "the Super Bowl of Freedom"), he used fake footage to bolster Bachmann’s absurd claim that the protest drew a crowd of 20,000 to 45,000–when reliable estimates stretch from 4,000 to 10,000, tops. Hannity’s producers spliced scenes from the much larger 9/12 rally sponsored by Glenn Beck in between shots of Bachmann’s much smaller turnout on 11/5, suggesting that her group had spilled out onto the Mall.
Journalistically a mortal sin, but in context the subterfuge was even worse, because Fox had been gaming Teabagger crowd sizes for months. Reliable crowd estimates for that earlier Tea Party of Beck’s were around 70,000, though Beck and sympathizers willfully kept up a running dispute about police crowd counts, asserting at different times that there were 100,000, a million, 2 million (and counting!) protestors out there last September.
Hannity’s film-flam probably would have gone unnoticed, adding yet another drop to the vast sea of fictions the rightwing media float upon, had not Jon Stewart’s eagle-eyed staff found an oddity: In some of Hannity’s clips verdant late summer greenery graced the November rally, while others were framed by the yellow and orange foliage of fall.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck’s Protest Footage|
Whoops! On Wednesday night, wagging his lantern chin as if to say, "Go ahead, take a poke at me," Hannity delivered a classic nonapology apology:
What a goof! "We screwed up." He "played some incorrect video." It was an "inadverent mistake."
It’s curious, though, how inventoried video can click its way into a night’s news some two months later.
But let’s say it did. Hannity sleazed right through his "Sorry, folks!" without ever owning up to what was so misleading about flashing shots of a large rally for a smaller one in the first place: That without injecting the 9/12 footage like silicon into a boob job, it would have been much clearer that he and Bachmann were wildly inflating crowd size. Or that, as Stewart said in his hilarious follow-up to Hannity’s apology, a truly honest Fox News slogan would be: "We alter reality. You are sold a preconceived narrative."
The day before Sean’s nothing apology, Michelle confessed a little something too, though not about crowd inflation. Instead, she had been forced to admit that it was "wholly inappropriate" to use images of naked corpses from Dachau to symbolize Obama’s health care reform, as a poster lofted right in front of her throughout the rally did.
Bachmann’s admission, however, came a full five days after her rally and only after Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) embarrassed her in a YouTube video, saying, "I can’t believe that Congresswoman Bachmann would stand where she stood, and see those images, and not have the common decency to say, ‘I disagree with the use of those images.’ I think that she owes the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust an apology." (Earlier and without a YouTube push, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, the House’s only Jewish Republican, found it in himself, or rather in a spokesman, to call the sign "inappropiate.")
Of course, offensive posters, switcheroo video, and connivingly cropped quotes are nothing new, especially on Fox. Media Matters has assembled a small encyclopedia of Fox’s cut-and-paste reality.
All this should make us consider the motive for the 50 or so townhall meetings that Republican lawmakers say they will sponsor this month. They obviously want to communicate the anger of astroturfized populism, but even more, they need a fresh supply of clips that can be sliced and diced into the rightwing noise machine.
But just as each Planet of the Apes sequel was worse than the previous one, the coming Townhall sequel (perhaps titled Townhall II: Escape from Obama’s Tyranny) is likely to disappoint. After this round of apologies for overreaching, rightwing leaders are going to have to tell their people to go only a little bit crazy, maybe even to forfeit the Hitler mustaches. It’s a difficult balance to strike; the tea parties may loose their cheery spontaneity.
And, though it may pain Sean Hannity, it may also become more difficult to lie about the size of crowds.