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Chris Wallace Asked To Distance Himself From Fox News Tea Party Promotion

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Media watchdog organization Media Matters For America will be sending a letter Tuesday to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, imploring him to "to publicly address recent actions by Fox News personalities that unambiguously cross the line separating news and legitimate commentary from political activism and demagoguery."

As one of Fox News' most visible hosts, you have repeatedly characterized your network as "fair and balanced" and as one that should be taken seriously. However, a series of recent events -- referenced below -- undermine the argument that Fox News should be treated as a credible "fair and balanced" news outlet.

You have criticized your Fox News colleagues in the past when they have undermined your network's credibility. In March 2008, when you confronted the Fox & Friends hosts for distorting then-Senator Obama's words during what you described as "two hours of Obama bashing," you said that "one of the things that's great about Fox News is that we don't all follow talking points and we disagree about things." Following that incident, you said that "we really are, despite the sniffing or dismissals of our liberal critics, 'fair and balanced' at Fox News" and added that your news network does not "espouse" a "conservative point of view."

One of the key issues for Media Matters appears to be the increasingly bizarre antics of Glenn Beck, who recently broadcast a bizarre bit of performance art in which he imitated Barack Obama pouring gasoline on an "average American," and whose guests have taken to just passing out on the air at the sight of the host. There would be precedent for Wallace to follow here, as well-known Fox newscaster Shepard Smith has already, famously, mocked Beck on the air.

The other issue for MMFA is Fox's visible support for the corporate lobbyist funded faux-populist "tea parties." As MMFA points out, Fox hasn't hidden their co-branding, describing the events on-air as "FNC TAX DAY TEA PARTIES," as well as offering bandwidth for "virtual tea parties," a move that doesn't jibe with their continual insistence that the network is covering these events as they would any protest.

The letter concludes: "We trust that you are concerned about the effect of these actions on your network's reputation and that of everyone associated with it and urge you to denounce them as inappropriate for a news organization."

[FULL TEXT OF LETTER]

Dear Mr. Wallace:

We are writing to respectfully ask you to publicly address recent actions by Fox News personalities that unambiguously cross the line separating news and legitimate commentary from political activism and demagoguery.

As one of Fox News' most visible hosts, you have repeatedly characterized your network as "fair and balanced" and as one that should be taken seriously. However, a series of recent events -- referenced below -- undermine the argument that Fox News should be treated as a credible "fair and balanced" news outlet.

You have criticized your Fox News colleagues in the past when they have undermined your network's credibility. In March 2008, when you confronted the Fox & Friends hosts for distorting then-Senator Obama's words during what you described as "two hours of Obama bashing," you said that "one of the things that's great about Fox News is that we don't all follow talking points and we disagree about things." Following that incident, you said that "we really are, despite the sniffing or dismissals of our liberal critics, 'fair and balanced' at Fox News" and added that your news network does not "espouse" a "conservative point of view."

Since launching his Fox News show, Glenn Beck, who has emerged as a prominent player in your network's lineup of weekday programs, has engaged in increasingly outrageous, demagogic, and conspiratorial rhetoric. His recent actions include the following:

* Imitating President Obama pouring gasoline onto the "average American": On April 9, Beck responded to, among other things, reports that Obama will pursue immigration reform by imitating Obama pouring gasoline onto the "average American." After lighting and extinguishing a match, Beck asked: "President Obama, why don't you just set us on fire?" Beck remarked that "[w]e didn't vote to lose the republic" and later added: "We'd like to have a country left in the end of four years. No need to set us on fire."

* Mocking Obama's aunt's "limp": On April 2, Beck -- using a cane as a prop -- devoted large portions of a segment to mocking Obama's aunt's "limp."

* Portraying Obama and Democrats as "vampires": On March 30, Beck portrayed Obama and Democrats as "vampires" "going after the blood of our businesses" and suggested "driv[ing] a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers."

Beck's outrageous and distasteful actions laced with anti-Obama political demagoguery have not occurred in a vacuum. In recent weeks, Fox News has engaged in anti-Obama political activism by aggressively promoting the "tea party" protests, which the network has described as primarily a response to Obama's fiscal policies. Fox News has repeatedly aired graphics describing the protests as "FNC TAX DAY TEA PARTIES" and has run advertisements promoting them.

Fox News websites have listed information about upcoming tea parties and have touted them with slogans like "No Taxation Without Representation!" Fox News' purportedly objective daytime news shows have also engaged in this behavior, with America's Newsroom going so far as to air graphics touting the date, time, location, and website of specific tea parties. On April 13, host Bill Hemmer said: "Can't get to a tea party? Fox Nation hosts a virtual tea party."

We trust that you are concerned about the effect of these actions on your network's reputation and that of everyone associated with it and urge you to denounce them as inappropriate for a news organization.

Sincerely,

Eric Burns

President, Media Matters for America

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