Bill O'Reilly's recent "joke" about decapitating Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank was only the latest example of a demented Fox News culture that permits on-air personalities to fantasize about assassination and other forms of violence against those deemed enemies of the station, its personalities or their worldview.
During the cable channel's 2008 election coverage, in what she later called an attempt at humor, Fox News contributor Liz Trotta linked Osama bin Laden to Barack Obama as people who both should be assassinated:
And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, uh Obama. Well, both, if we could.
A week before Trotta's "joke," Republican primary candidate Mike Huckabee was apologizing for his own Obama assassination quip. Addressing a gathering of the National Rifle Association, Huckabee joked that a loud thud heard backstage during his address was Barack Obama diving to the floor to avoid gun shots. Months later, Huckabee was given his own Fox News show.
With its biggest new star, Glenn Beck, Fox News hired a host well-known for on-air death fantasies–for instance, chattering about killing filmmaker Michael Moore with his bare hands and hoping out loud that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.-Ohio) would burn to death. In a Fox News skit in September 2009, Beck portrayed himself poisoning Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It's a culture that apparently filters down to Fox News viewers and supporters. Over the years Fox Nation, the Fox News "owned and operated" fan website, has regularly featured comments expressing the desire to see Barack Obama's assassinated.
Yesterday News Hounds (11/8/10) published a collection of such quotes, some of which can still be read at on the Fox site. Fox Nation purports to be self-policing, to depend on readers to report inappropriate and irresponsible remarks for removal. Apparently presidential assassination fantasies fall short of Fox Nation's standards for inappropriate or irresponsible commentary.
Recent examples of these assassination fantasies on Fox Nation include comments calling for President Obama to "get what Kennedy got," for the CIA to "take this pres down" and a warning to the president that the Koran "ain't thick enough to stop a .308 round."
There is some evidence that Fox's murder fantasy culture has already helped to spark violent action. Reporting for Media Matters, journalist John Hamilton tells the story of Byron Williams, a Beck devotee who engaged in a shootout that injured two California Highway Patrol officers in July. After his apprehension, Williams told police he'd intended to travel Oakland California to kill people at the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.
In a jailhouse interview in which he described the right-wing media sources that informed his views,Williams returned again and again to Glenn Beck:
I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn't for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind.
Among the things Beck did, according to Hamilton, wasattack the Tides Foundation in 29 separate Fox News shows in the 18 months leading up to Williams' foiled mission to Oakland.
Moreover, as the ADL reports, Pittsburgh's Richard Poplawski was so inspired by Beck's anti-government conspiracy theories, he reposted to a neo-Nazi website tape of Beck suggesting the government was building concentration camps for dissidents–before he was arrested after a shootout with police that left three officers dead.
If this all wasn't so deadly serious it would be seriously funny, because O'Reilly has spent years accusing liberal and progressive websites of fomenting hate speech. O'Reilly's crusade largely targets the comment and open forum sections of such websites, highlighting comments that generally pale in comparison to those broadcast on Fox and posted on Fox Nation. To add to the irony, when O'Reilly is called out for failing to make distinctions between the editorial content and comment sections of these websites, he argues that the groups are responsible for everything on their websites:
Open forum is bull…. You can regulate what's on your website.
When it comes to hypocrisy and Fox News, you really can't make this stuff up.
The hostility behind O'Reilly's creepy Milbank beheading joke was on display when the host appeared to make a veiled threat toward Milbank's boss in an appearance on another Fox show. Apparently angered that Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt permitted Milbank to publish columns critical of Fox News, O'Reilly had Fox host Megyn Kelly put a picture of Hiatt up on the screen, and told her audience:
This is the editor, Milbank's editor, Fred Hiatt. And Fred won't do anything about Milbank lying in his column. I just want everybody in America to know what the Washington Post has come to. All right, you can take Fred's picture off. Fred, have a nice weekend, buddy.
(Later in the same appearance, O'Reilly suggested that the host join him in physically assaulting Milbank: "I think you and I should go and beat him up.")
People love Fox News…. We said to the cable operators when we put the price up, we said, do you want a monument to yourself…. Cancel us, you might get your house burnt down.
Perhaps the fish does rot from the head.