Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Fox's laughable case for Romney

By Howell Raines, Special to CNN
September 28, 2012 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Fox's Bill O'Reilly brings on guests who deliver an alternate reality about Mitt Romney's weakened campaign, Howell Raines says.
Fox's Bill O'Reilly brings on guests who deliver an alternate reality about Mitt Romney's weakened campaign, Howell Raines says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howell Raines: Fox News has been contorting to deliver good news for Romney's campaign
  • He says commentators' spin attributes Obama gains to media distortion, voter ignorance, etc.
  • Raines: Bill O'Reilly says evenhanded things for deniability if spin is wrong, Romney fails
  • Raines: It will be interesting to see Fox spin if campaign should begin to reek of defeat

Editor's note: Howell Raines is an author and former executive editor of The New York Times. He is working on a novel set during the Civil War.

(CNN) -- Who says the media aren't interested in good news? Fox News has been broadcasting lots of it for Mitt Romney this week. Never have so many gray clouds had silver linings as those hovering over the hapless Republican candidate and his deflating campaign.

I bring you this report after having ventured into Bill O'Reilly's "No-Spin Zone," and believe me, his initial shout-out urging viewers to exercise "caution" before watching is fully, if unintentionally, appropriate. Apparently in Fox World, "no-spin" means "I am now going to share my news-based fantasies."

Howell Raines
Howell Raines

The Wednesday broadcast featured Dick Morris, Karl Rove and Dennis Miller, an a-cappella chorus humming O'Reilly's favorite tunes: that the mainstream media is rooting for Obama; that the polls consistently misrepresent a race that is still a dead heat; that Romney will re-emerge from this autumnal swoon by winning the October 3 debate through his superior if often-invisible oratorical skills; that Romney is in decline simply because voters don't yet understand the necessity of top-end tax cuts, the sanctity of corporate profits and the horror of social welfare spending run amok.

Across its programs, the Fox News mantra is "there's still plenty of time." That's a truism, but chanting the obvious is not among the standard definitions of journalism. Institutionally, Fox is in denial about the state of the campaign. Romney is looking very weak very early. The attempt to avoid reporting this state of play in a "fair and balanced" way is producing comical results.

Stylistically, the O'Reilly quartet may be on to something new. We've had mainstream journalism, alternative journalism, conservative journalism. This appears to be vaudeville journalism. Wednesday, the verisimilitude of the performance was maintained by the illusion that of the four, only Miller is a stand-up comic.

Toobin: Why are candidates silent on Supreme Court?

Rove's role is nuttily professorial. He has adopted one of those erasable white slates popularized by the late Tim Russert. On it he scribbles integers with plus or minus signs. These, he alleges, are the amounts being added to President Barack Obama and/or subtracted from Romney by such daredevil organizations as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS, NBC, CNN, Gallup and the co-opted poll-averagers at the website RealClearPolitics. Bottom line: This vast conspiracy is downgrading Romney three to nine points by using screens that overstate the votes of blacks, Latinos, Asians, women and the young.

Morris, who is beginning to bear a waxen resemblance to Orson Welles, explained, I think, that pollsters cheat by using false baseline figures from previous elections. Morris didn't have time to explicate fully how every news organization except Fox has signed up to help Obama by disseminating these cooked figures. Even so, O'Reilly thanked Morris for explaining polling mysteries he said he had not previously understood.

Opinion: Why Romney's rallies are a waste of time

The effect was somewhat spoiled by an unscripted guest from reality, Larry Sabato, the scholarly political scientist from the University of Virginia, who immediately dismissed Morris' rant as "grassy-knoll" statistics. He added that the poll averages on RealClearPolitics had things about right. Obama was ahead by about four points nationally. Of the big-three swing states, Sabato said, perhaps in order not to appear rude to his host, only Florida is still close.

Different messages in battleground state
Romney campaign questions polls

The presence of Miller is apparently driven by commercial considerations. He and O'Reilly now have a lecture-circuit act that is selling out in such venues as Houston and Las Vegas. The closest I've heard Miller come to elegant public-policy analysis was to call Obama a "crap president" earlier this week. As a nod to factuality, O'Reilly does call Miller a "satirist" and, less plausibly, an NFL expert, due to his badly reviewed stint on Monday Night Football. In any event, it's hard to imagine anyone with a master's in public policy from Harvard, which O'Reilly has, consulting Miller on an important national election -- unless there's money in it.

Which brings us to the interesting case of O'Reilly himself. O'Reilly is no dummy, and he did work as a broadcast news professional before veering into infotainment with "Inside Edition" and the Fox gig. For all his pugnacity, these days O'Reilly has the look of a man doing beautiful pirouettes on increasingly thin ice. He's clearly angling to survive a Romney train wreck with some credible deniability by leaving the delusional commentary to Rove et al. and hinting at his suppressed misgivings about Romney's chances.

Opinion: For GOP, it's the social issues, stupid

He's not a man easily knocked off balance by contrary evidence. Thursday he opened with Fox's own poll, which presumably lacked the evils defined by Rove and Morris. It showed Obama's favorability up by 51% to Romney's 48%. It was, from a Foxian point of view, a nicer number than Obama's five point head-to-head lead, 48% to 43%.

Cannily, he drops in terms such as "in fairness to Obama," praises the president's campaigning skills and takes note of criticism of Romney by other conservatives. He hangs his hat on the observation that October 3 is Romney's last chance to get back in the race. This leaves him room to turn around if the polls -- we're talking the real ones here -- don't.

O'Reilly's newest hedge, unveiled with Fox's bleak new poll, is that the "likability" factor gives Obama an advantage with "uninformed, casual voters."

I think there's a secret behind O'Reilly's trademark smirk. Were it in his interest to say what's on his mind about the candidates' performance to date, he'd almost certainly admit that Obama has come on like a superstar candidate of the Reagan ilk, and so far Romney is one of the biggest duds in post-World War II presidential elections.

Right now, Fox News' general excuse for Romney is that he's not getting his "message" across. I'll tune in from time to time to see when the news from the real world arrives in the Fox studios. The message of Romney's tooth-and-fang financial-market capitalism is driving down the polls, and the messenger is coming across as an unlikable empty suit, even when he ditches his tie and jacket.

At a certain point, campaigns in early decline begin to reek of impending defeat. I can't wait to see how they spin that in the no-spin zone. Meanwhile, we can contemplate the dilemma of another O'Reilly regular, the Loneliest in the Public Opinion Trade, aka pollster Scott Rasmussen. He's telling O'Reilly the race is tied within the margin of error around 46% or 47%.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howell Raines.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT