Among transmitters of memes [into the mainstream] that originated in the far right, one entity stands in a class all its own: Fox News.
The cable-news behemoth touts itself as "fair and balanced," but no one has ever really figured out just who they think they're kidding. Probably the dittoheads who buy up Ann Coulter books.
Well, an open bias is one thing. But broadcasting far-right conspiracy theories is another. And that's what Fox has done on numerous occasions.
The most noteworthy of these -- though it received almost no attention at the time -- occurred Feb. 21, 2001, when Brit Hume interviewed a fellow named Bob Schulz of We the People Foundation. Schulz was propounding on television a tax scheme that is built upon a hash of groundless conspiracy theories which have their origins in the far-right Posse Comitatus and other extremist "tax protest" schemes. It was, in fact, remarkably similar to the Montana Freemen's theories as well.
Here's the transcript of Hume's interview [from the videotape excerpt provided at the time by Fox News]:
- Brit Hume: ... Coming to the conclusion that there is no law on the books that actually requires them -- or most others for that matter -- to pay income taxes. Most astonishing, noted the Times, those companies were not only not being pursued by the IRS, but some of them have actually collected refunds on taxes previously paid but now they claim were never owed. So is there something to their argument? Bob Schulz thinks so. He's the leader of a small but vigorous movement that is seeking to convince Americans that the income tax is a massive fraud on the public. He joins me now from Albany, N.Y.
Well, this will come as quite astonishing news to a great many Americans, Mr. Schulz -- what's the basis of the claim?
Bob Schulz: There is a very substantial, credible body of evidence by as many as 87 researchers that has concluded that the 16th Amendment was fraudulently certified in 1913, and that in fact three-fourths of the states had not approved or ratified, properly ratified the 16th Amendment, the income-tax amendment.
Hume: And what have the courts ruled on that matter?
Schulz: The courts have not ruled on the fraudulent ratification of the 16th Amendment. Bill Benson, the individual, the professional who went around to the archives of all 48 states that were in existence in 1913, obtained 17,000 notarized and certified documents relating to the ratification process in that state, he put his report together and went to court with it, and the courts ruled it's a political question for Congress. He then took the issue to Congress, and Congress said it's an issue for the courts.
Hume: And so basically it stands because the folks who could have upset it have let it stand.
Hume: Right. Now let me ask you about the tax code itself. Now, I know that you contend that within the tax code there is a definition of what is called taxable income, and that somehow, although it appears to apply to all income from all sources, it does not, because of what is called Section 861. Can you explain what Section 861 is?
Schulz: Yeah. There is no law, no statute, or regulation that requires most citizens to file a tax return -- most U.S. citizens to file a tax return or to pay the income tax. As an example, under Section 861 of the federal code of regulations, it says clearly that there's a list of income items, and unless the item of income comes from one of the sources which the code lists, then the code doesn't apply to the, um ...
Hume: -- To the taxpayer in question.
Schulz: Right. And so all of those sources are foreign sources. Unless you are a foreigner working here, or a U.S. citizen working or earning your money abroad, then the tax code does not apply to you. That's clear in the code.
Hume: Now, I work for Fox News Channel, which was -- is a division of a company that has its headquarters overseas. It is a domestic enterprise. And it is from that that I realize my income. Now if I were to take the position this year that I was owed a refund because the taxes that the company does withhold -- and I don't think I can convince them not to -- that I was owed a refund, and applied for that, would I get it?
Schulz: Um, heh, it might be difficult, because of the size of your corporation. Clearly, the federal government is nervous, Brit. A growing number of employers -- so far they're small employers -- have taken this position and have received refunds back for the money they're withheld from the paychecks of their employers. So far, no large company has taken this position.
This wasn't the only occasion when Fox interviewed Schulz. When he staged a "hunger strike" (there's no evidence he actually went without food) later that year, Fox's Hannity and Colmes interviewed him, and were only a little less credulous than Hume.
[Schulz, for those interested, gave up his "hunger strike" after the intervention of Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who at first promised to give Schulz's group a briefing on tax laws with IRS officials, but even called that off when Schulz announced the meeting would be "putting the IRS on trial." Last anyone heard of Schulz, last November, he was threatening the federal government with a "final warning" to all branches of government to "obey the Constitution, or else." Um, OK, Bob.]
Then there's Bill O'Reilly, the former tabloid-TV-show host who now poses as a "journalist" as the chief talking head at Fox. O'Reilly in particular has a penchant for conspiracy theories.
O'Reilly, who especially prides himself at "no spin" broadcasts, bristles at such suggestions. So let's roll the tape, courtesy of the fine folks at WorldNetDaily, the Web site where O'Reilly's online column originally appeared, and with whom O'Reilly has had a long association. (Its own significant role as a transmitter is discussed below. WND has long been a clearinghouse for a number of other "New World Order" style conspiracy theories.)
This is from a piece dated March 21, 2001, titled "Oklahoma City blast linked to bin Laden":
- A former investigative reporter for the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City last night told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly she has gathered massive evidence of a foreign conspiracy involving Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in the 1995 bombing of the federal building that killed 168 people.
This wasn't the only time O'Reilly touted this theory. From a story by NewsMax (another conspiracism-rich Web publication) later that year, titled "McVeigh's Trial Attorney Alleges FBI Blocked Conspiracy Probe":
- During an interview Monday night on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly asked Jones whether he believed McVeigh had acted alone.
It is worth noting, however, that this time O'Reilly at least interviews the source of all these theories -- McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones.
It has remained an O'Reilly favorite. From a Fox transcript of May 8, 2002, "Are the OKC Bombing & 9/11 Linked?":
- Last year, we interviewed investigative reporter [Jayna] Davis from Oklahoma, who believes there was a tie-in between the bombing in Oklahoma City and 9/11.
Joining us now from Washington is Larry Johnson, the former deputy director of the State Department's Office on Counter-terrorism under Presidents Bush and Clinton.
So you think there's some validity to this?
LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COUNTER-TERRORISM OFFICE DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I was skeptical at first, Bill. I took the evidence, I looked at it, and I started talking to some of the witnesses. Where there's smoke, there's fire. You've got several things going on here that have not been thoroughly looked at and need to be checked out.
O'Reilly's record extends well beyond his propensity for right-wing conspiracy theories. There have been such slips, for instance, as when he recently referred to Mexicans as "wetbacks."
O'Reilly also has been sounding an ominous theme that likewise is becoming popular on the Patriot right: That liberals who criticize Bush's war efforts are "traitors." His recent remarks were especially noteworthy:
- Americans, and indeed our foreign allies who actively work against our military once the war is underway, will be considered enemies of the state by me.
Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand and others who see the world as you do. I don't want to demonize anyone, but anyone who hurts this country in a time like this, well, let's just say you will be spotlighted.
This, from the same fellow who accused Clinton of malfeasance during the Bosnian campaign, and who undermined our position abroad by openly suggesting that Clinton's missile attacks on Al Qaeda were an attempt to 'wag the dog.'
These, of course, are mere samplings. If you happen to watch Fox News with any regularity, these far-right themes come popping out from all kinds of corners, usually uttered by spokesmen from transmitter political organizations such as those I identified in the last installment. (The popular Hannity and Colmes program is also rife with this kind of rhetoric.) The result is a steady drip of extremist memes blending into the day's Republican talking points.
[This excerpt will reappear in a few days, when I republish Part IX, from which it is taken.]