Sarah Palin's home from home

Palin is joining Fox News. Here we give five top examples of "fair and balanced" reporting on the US

Today is a great day for broadcast journalism. Sarah Palin, ex-governor of Alaska and arguably the star of the 2008 presidential election, has signed up to work as a pundit for Fox News. You might have thought that her, I don't know, INSANITY might get in the way of her media career, but obviously it hasn't held her back so far.

In fact, a comment made by Palin on accepting the role sheds light on the calibre of the news outfit she is joining. She said:

I am thrilled to be joining the great talent and management team at Fox News. It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news.

Since her comments have often shown themselves to be incredibly accurate and insightful, I thought I'd round up the top five examples of "fair and balanced news" at Fox.

1. Mr Chairman . . .

Back in July, as the News of the World phone hacking scandal was breaking, Rupert Murdoch -- proprietor of both NotW and Fox News -- went on the channel. Jon Bernstein blogged about it at the time. Did they uphold the values of fair, balanced, independent news reporting and grill their chairman with a daring disregard for their own interests? Judge for yourself:

Anchor: "Mr Chairman, sir, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it."
Rupert Murdoch: "Fine, good afternoon."
Anchor: "The story that's really buzzing all around the country and certainly here in New York is that the News of the World, a News Corporation newspaper in Britain, used . . ."
Rupert Murdoch: "I'm not talking about that issue at all today. Sorry."
Anchor: "OK. No worries, Mr Chairman, that's fine with me."

2. What terror attacks?

Last week, Sophie Elmhirst blogged here about Rudy Giuliani denying on ABC that any domestic terrorist attacks took place under George W Bush. But far be it from Fox to get left behind! Last week, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi said on Fox:

One of the things the American people appreciate about the Bush administration [is], after September 11, not one time did the terrorists who tried to kill us and end our way of life, not one time were they able to attack the mainland United States again.

You guessed it -- the interviewer, Neil Cavuto, stayed shtum and did not correct this factual error (the Shoe Bomber, the LA airport attack . . . )

3. Glenn Beck

Ah, Glenn Beck. This major broadcaster at Fox News recently had the dubious honour of being named "Misinformer of the Year 2009" by the Media Matters for America website. He came to international attention in July when he said on air that Barack Obama had exposed himself "over and over again" as a person with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture". To give Fox some credit, Brian Kilmeade tried to argue with him, saying that most of the Obama administration was white, so "you can't say he doesn't like white people". (I'm sure there are better arguments to be made, but it's the thought that counts. Sort of.) But Beck pushed ahead, arguing:

I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.

Apart from the fact that his statement doesn't make sense, it's also based on precious little evidence. But the big boss didn't mind -- Rupert Murdoch said in November: "If you actually assess what he was talking about, he was right." Great!

4. Bill O'Reilly

Another big hitter at Fox News deserves a special shout-out, too. Bill O'Reilly's chat show The O'Reilly Factor is reportedly the most watched cable "news" programme in America. He calls his show a "no-spin zone" but others beg to differ. In 2007, researchers from the Indiana University School of Journalism published a report analysing O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo" segment with techniques developed by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. It concluded that he consistently used propaganda and name-calling, and cast non-Americans as threats.

5. A stranger among us

There are some good 'uns in there. Last week, a Fox reporter, Douglas Kennedy, went mad on air on the Fox News Watch discussion show, telling the host, Jon Scott: "This intro sounds like it's written by Dick Cheney in his bunker." He then said that the panel had a right-wing slant. Kennedy's co-panellist Judith Miller objected, saying: "Wait a minute, I am very, very liberal on a lot of issues." But Kennedy was not to be silenced: "You went to jail to protect Dick Cheney, Come on!" Yeah, you tell 'em.


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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.