After terrorists kidnapped and beheaded two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, while releasing gruesome videos of the act, Fox News focused much of its ire on President Obama, portraying him as a source of troubling weakness.
"The president stuck his head in the sand, and now we've seen two Americans have lost their heads," insisted Fox analyst K.T. McFarland. Colleague Ralph Peters claimed of the president's foreign policy, "We have a president who has a real physiological problem: that he can't face responsibility and certainly not the responsibilities of his office," while Sean Hannity wondered if Obama's "radical indoctrination" had clouded his judgment.
On and on it goes, as the blame-America finger pointing takes up hour after hour of programming. The Washington Times' Charles Hurt on Wednesday wanted to know when Obama would stop acting like a community organizer and start hunting down the killers. Charles Krauthammer condemned Obama for not rising to the occasion, while former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Fox to claim world leaders see the president as "weak and ineffective" in the wake of the most recent beheading.
That last part is telling because in the spring of 2004, when Cheney was vice president and the misbegotten war he championed was raging in Iraq, two American citizens, Nick Berg and Paul Johnson, were also kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and were also beheaded for the world to see. But of course, Cheney didn't see that as a sign of President Bush's weakness and ineffectiveness, and neither did the White House's loyal band of professional defenders at Fox News.
Even six years into Obama's presidency, it's still stunning to see how radically different Fox presents the news and frames its commentary based entirely on which party controls the White House. When Bush was president, Fox talkers urged that Americans come together and support the administration as it battled lawless killers ("murders," "sadists," "savages") who decapitated Americans.
In 2004, Fox hosted long conversations about the beheadings and Bush's name was often never even mentioned. He was a non-player in the story. But today, the beheadings revolve around Obama.
With a Democratic president, many of those same 2004 talkers now turn their attention, and their wrath, to Pennsylvania Avenue and use the deaths as a cudgel to bash the president as being impotent -- i.e. "He didn't prevent the deaths!" Of course neither did Bush, but the Fox rules of propaganda were different for him.
Nick Berg was working in Iraq as an independent contractor fixing antennas. He disappeared on April 9, 2004. His decapitated body was found near an overpass in Baghdad, and soon a video of the beheading appeared on a website associated with al Qaeda. (On his radio show, Sean Hannity aired the unedited audio of Berg's dying screams.)
Four weeks after Berg's murder, terrorists abducted Paul Johnson, a Lockheed Martin engineer who lived in Saudi Arabia. They demanded the Saudi government release all its al-Qaeda prisoners. Days later, on June 18, Johnson was murdered on tape. (After the beheading news broke, Bush made a brief public statement and then boarded a plane to attend a Bush-Cheney '04 campaign rally in Nevada.)
That day, Fox News host Oliver North appeared on Hannity & Colmes and announced that the media and Democratic politicians, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, "had blood on their hands" because they had been denouncing the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by American soldiers; torture that Johnson's killer's cited in his death video.
Unlike today, the president in 2004 was completely blameless in the beheading deaths, according to Fox News. Democrats? Not so much.
Obviously, news of Americans being beheaded by terrorists ran counter to Bush's 2004 re-election claim of being able to protect citizens in the War on Terror. Hannity at the time, who can't stop criticizing Obama today, was adamant that Democrats stop criticizing Bush.
In June 2004, Hannity used news of Johnson's death as a reason Democrats should stop attacking the president politically while the country was engaged in "World War III" [emphasis added]:
HANNITY: Richard, the shrillness of the rhetoric, a vice president of the United States screaming that -- Al Gore screaming Bush betrayed America. Are we taking limited resources and the president and his cabinet have to spend all that time fighting politically when they ought to be focused in on World War III? It's time that we now unite a country, using this as the latest example that we have been warned. They want to kill us all?
RICHARD MINITER: I completely agree. I think politics should stop at the water's edge. We should go back to the Scoop Jackson Democrats where they would argue like heck about domestic policy, but during a war they would not attack the president or the military.
On that point, Hannity and colleague Bill O'Reilly were in complete agreement. From The O'Reilly Factor on June 18, 2004, commenting on Johnson's repulsive execution:
O'REILLY: It is becoming readily apparent that the United States, we, the people, have to unite. And if we don't unite, we're going to see this happen more and more, and then on a mass scale.
We've got to stop with the partisan garbage, because that's what it is, and we've got to stop with the selfishness and understand that this is a war. This is something we have never faced before. And stop the grand standing. And the politicians who exploit this for partisan benefit on both sides have got to be voted out of office. We have got to unite.
Contrast that with O'Reilly on Wednesday night's program when he urged Obama to "stop his confused posture, his stammering, stuttering" in the wake of the beheadings. O'Reilly attacked the president for wanting to "punt" on the crisis and said he would be doing Americans a "great disservice" if he refused to "formally declare war on Muslim terrorism."
Today, good luck finding calls on Fox News for unity -- the network is too busy trying to use the tragic murders to damage and debase the president.
Crossposted at Media Matters for America.