"Fox News promoted Tea Party town halls because they made ‘better television.’"
Bill Hemmer, a co-anchor of Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” program, revealed in a profile of him published today why his network decided to highlight last August’s violent, tumultuous congressional town halls. In an interview with Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, Hemmer discussed how his show’s ratings have grown over the past year and suggested that the program’s decision to promote Tea Party town hall antics was based on attracting viewers:
A turning point, in Hemmer’s view, came during the health care debate in the summer of 2009: “We covered those town hall meetings with greater vigor than our competition, and we were rewarded with viewers. It was better television.”
Another view is that Fox seized upon the footage of angry constituents shouting at Democratic members of Congress because it undermined the president’s push for health care reform. Hemmer begs to differ. “I don’t think it was anger toward the Obama administration,” he says. “It was an honest insecurity on the part of average Americans.”
As Mediaite’s Steve Krakauer pointed out in a post this morning, “It’s hard to argue that ‘better television’ didn’t also mean more polarizing, politically one-sided television.” When Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) appeared on Fox and Friends in April, he told the anchors, “You guys deserve more credit for marshaling that anger than the Tea Partiers do.” Fox News, of course, has an extensive record of promoting and hyping Tea Party and anti-Obama protests. Their advocacy may just be an effort to increase ratings, as Hemmer suggests; after all, NBC’s Chuck Todd said earlier this year that the Tea Party’s “favorable rating among Fox viewers is through the roof.” Then again, Fox’s enraptured coverage might just be part of the network’s stated goal to serve as the Obama administration’s “enemy number one.”