Fox Exec Admits To 'Mischievous' Remarks About Obama

Bill Sammon, a top news executive at Fox News, gave a lecture in 2009 in which he admitted to making "mischievous" on-air suggestions during the 2008 presidential race, speculating that then-candidate Barack Obama was a socialist. Sammon went on to say he did this even though he thought at the time that this charge was "far fetched."

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Controversy now around a top political news executive at the Fox News Channel. It centers on a lecture he gave in 2009. In it, the executive confided that he had suggested on the air that then-candidate Barack Obama was socialist, even though he didn't believe that to be the case.

As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, audio of the lecture was obtained by the liberal press advocacy group Media Matters For America, a frequent critic of Fox.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Bill Sammon is vice president for news and managing editor of the Washington bureau at Fox News. He made the remarks while aboard a cruise in the Mediterranean for attendees of a fundraiser for Hillsdale College, an explicitly conservative campus in Michigan, back in the summer of 2009.

Mr. BILL SAMMON(Vice President for News, Fox News): Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to, quote, "spread the wealth around." At that time, I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publically engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched.

FOLKENFLIK: He then went on to say that speculation proved founded after the government takeover of banks and car manufacturers.

Mr. SAMMON: The debate over whether America was headed for socialism seemed anything but far-fetched.

FOLKENFLIK: Sammon had also briefly acknowledged former President George W. Bush's role in boosting spending through TARP and a smaller stimulus. But back when that was happening, in 2008, just three weeks before the general election, here's just one of many examples of what Sammon said on the air about candidate Obama when the news executive considered that whole socialism idea far-fetched.

MR. SAMMON: That is red meat when you're talking to conservatives and you start talking about spread the wealth around. That is tantamount to socialism.

FOLKENFLIK: In an interview today with NPR, Sammon said he was trying to characterize what conservatives thought.

Mr. SAMMON: I was, frankly, astonished that that was a serious topic of conversation in a presidential campaign, if for no other reason than it just isn't the kind of thing you normally hear someone talking about with a presidential candidate.

FOLKENFLIK: Sammon's speech focused largely on Mr. Obama's emotional tumult over his abandonment by his father and his racial identity. Sammon says calling his remarks mischievous speculation was inartful and that he hues to Fox News' promise of a fair and balanced approach to news coverage. He says he would not label Obama a socialist.

Mr. SAMMON: I have refrained from drawing judgments like that. I don't take it's the place of somebody like me to be saying, this guy's a capitalist or this guy's a socialist.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox's top opinion hosts are all, to varying degrees, conservative. Sammon, on the other hand, oversees news coverage. And Media Matters has previously released memos from Sammon guiding coverage that seemed to encourage specific phrases unflattering to the White House policies under Mr. Obama. Sammon says he just wants to make sure both sides of every story are covered.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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