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Fox News: We Report -- Even if We Know It's False

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I've been dealing with the media and politics for 25 years, but I've never had a more surrealistic day than January 8. Several times that day Fox News reported that I was joining Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign. It was a big story - at least until the stunning election returns.

The only problem was, it wasn't true.

Fox News never even tried to contact me to verify their story, and when I contacted Fox, I felt like a character in a Kafka novel -- or at least Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Fox's Major Garrett -- a good guy whom I've known for years -- broke the story. My phone started ringing off the hook, and my email box bulged. There are still, thank goodness, a lot of real journalists out there. Tim Russert was first. I assured him it wasn't true, he thanked me for waving him off a false story, and that was that. Then my own network, CNN, called. I told them if I were quitting CNN that CNN would know before Fox News. Soon after, others called or emailed: Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, George Stephanopoulos and Teddy Davis of ABC, Beth Fouhy of AP, Mark Halperin of Time, John Harris of the Politico, Jill Lawrence of USA Today, Peter Baker of the Washington Post, Patrick Healy of the New York Times, David Gregory of NBC and Bill Sammon of the Examiner. There were probably more. I list the names only to give credit to journalists who behaved like reporters, not repeaters.

After I told Fox it wasn't true -- and this is the surreal part -- they kept reporting it anyway. In fact, Fox's Garrett told me he'd "take it under advisement." Take it under advisement? I realize I'm generally seen as just another liberal with an opinion, but this was not a matter of opinion, it was a matter of fact. Fox now knew their story was flatly, factually wrong, and they took it "under advisement."

Apparently that meant repeating the falsehood with added detail: the "fact" that I had been on a conference call the previous day with the Hillary high command. Again, false. My worry is that if this is what one of Fox's best and most respected reporters is doing, what are the hacks up to?

I exchanged several civil emails with Garrett -- and append them to this post. They are not nuanced. Read them for yourself. I report, you decide.

----- Original Message -----

From: Begala, Paul

To: Garrett, Major

Sent: Tue Jan 08 14:18:37 2008

Subject: N.H.D.


Major,


I know you're swamped, and I hate to bother you on such a busy news day, but whoever told you I am joining Hillary's campaign fed you some bum info. It's just not true. Or as I say to my boys, N.H.D. Not. Happening. Dude.


I'm not coming in as a volunteer, or as an adviser, or as a strategist or anything else. I have contributed to her campaign, and am convinced she would be a great President. But I am not joining the campaign in any form or fashion.


Again, I know how busy you are, but I'd sure appreciate you checking with me before you go with a story about me. This email is always a good way to reach me.


Thanks a lot.


All best,

Paul Begala

________________________________

From: Garrett, Major
Sent: Tuesday, January 08, 2008 2:31 PM
To: Begala, Paul
Subject: Re: N.H.D.


Paul:
I genuinely appreciate the e-mail.
I will take it under advisement.
And I look forward to discussing all aspects of the campaign with you in the future.
All best,
Major

Major Garrett, Congressional Correspondent, Fox News

----- Original Message -----
From: Begala, Paul
To: Garrett, Major
Sent: Tue Jan 08 15:18:16 2008
Subject: RE: N.H.D.

Major,

Just heard you say I was on a conference call with Hillary's campaign yesterday. That's not true. I was not on any conference call with Hillary's campaign - and have had no contact with her campaign for months. No one from her campaign has contacted me -- nor have I contacted them -- and I am not joining in any capacity, paid or unpaid, official or unofficial. I feel like that old Lorrie Morgan song, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?"

I have a lot of respect for you, and I like you, but I've got to ask you again to check with me before you go with a story about me. Someone is misleading you, and it is not me.

Again, I know the challenges of 24-hour news, and this is a crazy environment, but you can almost always reach me at this email address.

All best,

Paul

From: Garrett, Major
Sent: Tuesday, January 08, 2008 3:32 PM
To: Begala, Paul
Subject: Re: N.H.D.

Paul:
You know me well enough to know I am not trying to screw you.
You also know, or should know, that I'm careful and don't have a reputation for pulling stories out of my ass.
I'm not now. The sourcing is strong, very strong, or I wouldn't go with it.
I appreciate your e-mails and I redouble my efforts with each one I receive.
Please feel free to call me at any hour of any day.

Best,
Major

Major Garrett, Congressional Correspondent, Fox News

----- Original Message -----
From: Begala, Paul
To: Garrett, Major
Sent: Tue Jan 08 15:41 2008
Subject: RE: N.H.D.

Major,

Thanks so much for getting back to me. I do know you, and I like and respect you. You know me as well, and I would not lie to you, would not mislead you. And I am telling you that whoever told you I was on a conference call with Hillary's campaign was wrong. I'm quite sure that you're not making this up, so please don't misunderstand me. No doubt someone is telling you this stuff about me. It's just not true.

If my wife hears one more report that I'm joining Hillary's campaign I'm going to have to go in the Pundit Protection Program.

Thanks,

Paul