Fox News committed political heresy Tuesday (Sept. 12, 2006) by allowing a guest to question whether there are any true terrorist cells in the United States, but it did its best to undercut what the guest was saying with a series of biased banners. With Video.
"Fox and Friends" featured a brief segment with John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University. Mueller is author of a book called Overblown, but Fox never showed a copy of the book as it often does. The premise of the book is that the reason there have been no terrorism attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 is not, as George Bush says, that security is so much tougher, but that there just aren't any cells here.
"It seems to me a possibility that ought to be considered is the reason there haven't been any attacks is there aren't any terrorists here," he said. "The FBI has been spending a lot of money and effort to try to find a true terrorist cell in the country and simply haven't been able to do so."
"Fox and Friends" co-host E.D. Hill, who usually asks only the most obvious questions of Republican guests, had actually done a little research to prepare for this interview, and, with an air of hostility, she rattled off the names of several Americans now in jail on terrorism charges. "How can you say there aren't any here?" she demanded.
Mueller kept his cool, noting that, "The number of people picked up is incredibly small. Most of them have been homegrown. Many of them seem to be flakes, like the guy who was going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow torch or the guys that were going to go to Chicago if they could find where that was and kick down the Sears Tower. So what we've got is a relatively small number of people picked up here or there. Some of them may be dangerous and it's good to have them in the slammer. The FBI had an official report a year ago saying they were unable to find a single true sleeper cell in the United States. That suggests not that they're incompetent, I think, but maybe there isn't anything to find. That's my prospoition I'd like people to consider at least.”
Many terrorism acts are easy to carry out, such as shooting up a shopping mall, he said, and still there haven't been any here, while there continue to be numerous ones in Israel despite heavy security.
“What that suggests to me is that the terrorists either aren't there or they aren't trying very hard or they're someplace else," Mueller said.
Hill repeated the Bush line -- if we fight them over there, we won't have to fight them over here, but Mueller had an answer.
"They keep talking about hitting the United States, hitting Denmark, hitting Italy, hitting Australia. None of those have happened, so it may be there's an awful lot of huffing and puffing coming from their direction as their often is from the American position as well," Mueller said.
As Mueller spoke, a series of three messages marched across the bottom of the screen like a series of Burma Shave signs along the highway:
"Thomas Kean was Chairman of the 9/11 Commission"
"Kean: What Mueller says is Heresy"
"Kean: These people do exist and they're out to hurt us badly"
The effect was to either totally distract the viewer from what Mueller was saying while reinforcing the Bush administration line or to at least undercut what he was saying if a viewer happened to be able to pay attention to both at the same time. Mueller, meanwhile, was oblivious to the way his words were being challenged and had no opportunity to respond to them, as he would have had had Fox News chose the more honest path of having a guest with an opposing point of view on at the same time.
This looks minor, but it is not an accident on Fox News' part. In-your-face propaganda is much less effective than these types of tecniques.