A new book about the Obama Administration’s first term has Fox News backpedaling, with host Bret Baier insisting on Tuesday morning that “we found no examples of a [Fox News] host saying President Obama is a Muslim.”
The conservative Fox News Channel has seized upon the bogus claims that Obama might be a Muslim since the 2008 Democratic primaries, when Hillary Clinton’s opposition research dug up details of the president’s childhood and his two years spent at a mostly Muslim school in Indonesia. Ever since then, the Republican-leaning network has featured a steady drumbeat of guests — not hosts — who perpetually suggest that Obama might be a clandestine follower of Islam.
Baier took issue Tuesday morning with a new book by liberal author David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones. His forthcoming book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, puts readers in the middle of the administration’s struggles with Republicans during the 2010 midterm elections, revealing for the first time that Obama felt like he had lost support among white men because Fox News continually misled viewers by giving coverage to individuals who believed he might be Muslim.
Baier attempted to “fact check” that claim on Tuesday morning by offering a very narrow exception — that none of their regular hosts had repeated the claim as fact — but no amount of wishing can change the Republican opinion outlet’s record of misinformation.
When they first featured the claim in 2008 as if it were a serious news story, the Obama campaign shot back by condemning their irresponsible journalism. Even CNN host Wolf Blitzer criticized Fox News by proxy, explaining that CNN had sent a reporter to Indonesia to investigate the so-called story, like “any serious news organization is supposed to do.”
The drumbeat of “Is Obama a Muslim” coverage on Fox did not stop after the primaries ended, with Fox News becoming the primary television source for the so-called “Birthers” — people who believe the president was secretly born in Indonesia or Kenya, and that he secretly harbors Muslim views. Even though the conspiracy group’s claims have been repeatedly disproved, Fox News kept giving them air time for months. At one point, polling found that nearly half of New Hampshire’s Republicans believed the president secretly harbored an Islamic faith.
That helped drum up numbers of people in national polling who said they think Obama is a Muslim, which Fox News fed upon for weeks, as if it were a serious news story. The question, “Is Obama a Muslim?” became so persistent on Fox News that shortly after the 2010 midterm elections, a Fox News panel conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that nearly half of their Iowa viewers believed he really does follow Islam.
Baier is correct that Fox News hosts have not directly stated that Obama is a Muslim, but the news channel has treated birtherism as a serious news story despite the fact that it has been widely debunked. A study conducted at the University of Maryland in 2010 found that 63 percent of regular Fox News watchers believed that Obama was not born in the U.S., or that it was not clear.
Update: For an even more detailed analysis of how Fox News recycles debunked journalism to imply that the president is a Muslim, see today’s report by the progressive watchdog group Media Matters.
This video was broadcast by Fox News on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.