In the thick of the 2008 presidential election season, the Wall Street Journal detected a trend: “Television news organizations, facing unprecedented scrutiny, have often expressed contrition for poorly chosen words during this election season.” (Does “Obama’s Baby Mama” or “terrorist fist jab” ring a bell?)
Perhaps it was Monday night’s contrite(ish) on-air “editorial note” from anchor Eric Bolling on Fox Business Network, then, as much as the Republican presidential debate on CNN, that marked the true start of election 2012.
Before we get to that “editorial note,” let’s review what led up to it.
On Friday, Bolling, the host of Fox Business Network’s Follow the Money (which, for the unfamiliar, takes viewers “inside the world of corruption, abuse of power, and shocking betrayals of pubic trust”) introduced a segment as follows, with the chyron “Hoods in the House” appearing below an image of the White House:
BOLLING: Guess who’s coming to dinner? A dictator. Mr. Obama shares a laugh with one of Africa’s kleptocrats. It’s not first time he’s had a hoodlum in the hizzouse.
You can get the complete play-by-play of Friday’s show from Media Matters (with video) but here is the Cliff’s Notes version of what transpired: Bolling went on to proclaim “it’s not the first time [Obama has] had a hood in the big crib” (the White House, that is); put up an image of the president of Gabon in which his tooth was digitally altered so as to appear to be flashing; asked, “what’s with all the hoods in the hizzy” (meaning, the White House); flashed footage of the rapper Common during his recent performance at the White House; and cajoled his on-air colleague, Fox Business reporter Sandra Smith, to also refer to the White House as “the hizzy” and “the White Hizzy” (“Where? Where? Where? Go ahead, say it. Where?”).
This was no off-the-cuff rant. Bringing last Friday’s show to air was a team effort. The segment was conceived and scripted, segment teasers were written, chyrons were created, footage was pulled, a photo of Gabon’s president was located and a flashy tooth was digitally affixed. In other words, people (journalists, maybe even?) besides Bolling worked to make this segment happen last Friday.
If no one involved in the making of the segment objected to any of its content, plenty of people outside Fox Business Network have voiced objections since the segment aired. Media Matters has published daily critiques since Friday, including a recent piece noting that “Experts on Race Criticize Bolling’s ‘Very Old Racist Imagery’” (anyone who can’t see what’s troubling about Bolling’s segment should see, in particular, the quotes by Frances Negron-Muntaner, director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University). Colorofchange.org started a petition calling on Fox Business Network to fire Bolling, citing the anchor’s “unacceptable” “statements play[ing] off of racist stereotypes.” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg weighed in on the “Open, and Revolting, Anti-Obama Racism at Fox.” The most conservative of the co-hosts at ABC’s The View, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, said—chiming in at the end of a critique of Bolling by, arguably, the least conservative co-host of The View, Whoopi Goldberg—that she is “shocked” that Bolling is “able to continue to do that.”
“Continue to do that?” Media Matters has documented what it calls Bolling’s “Long History of False Claims, Inflammatory Rhetoric.” Maybe you heard something about one of Bolling’s more recent rhetorical outbursts: his claim last month, first on Twitter and then on Follow the Money, that President Obama was “chugging 40’s” (as in, 40 oz bottles of, usually, malt liquor) in Ireland “while tornados ravage MO” (Joplin). The next night, Bolling acknowledged on air that he “took some heat for” that comment which he went on to very loosely paraphrase as “Obama should have delayed his European bar crawl or whatever he’s doing over there, head to Missouri, check out the devastation, let the people in Missouri know that he’s there for them.”
On Monday night, Bolling made another acknowledgment—that “editorial note” mentioned at the start of this post—this time about his “Hoods in the House” segment. And, this time he sounded sorrier (in an I’m sorry you felt that way way). Said Bolling:
One editorial note. On Friday we did a story about the president meeting with the president of Gabon and we got a little fast and loose with the language and we know it’s been interpreted as being disrespectful. And for that, I’m sorry. We did go a bit too far.
The New York Daily News on Tuesday quoted Kevin Magee, executive vice president of Fox Business Network, saying: “I spoke with Eric and his producer yesterday and we all agree the line was crossed, thus last night’s apology. We now consider the matter closed.”
Line crossed. “Contrition for poorly chosen words” expressed. Matter closed. Election season launched. (Sorry!)