NPR logo Fox News Official: We Shouldn't Have Linked Obama-Mushroom Cloud


Fox News Official: We Shouldn't Have Linked Obama-Mushroom Cloud

An update on that striking moment on the Fox News Channel on Wednesday, when anchor Megyn Kelly told viewers to stick around for coverage of President Obama's new nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia, with this tease:

"Now critics are asking: Will the new deal leave the U.S. defenseless until it's too late? Coming up next hour."

Her words were immediately followed by footage from Fox Movietone News of the detonation of an atomic weapon, replete with mushroom cloud and the rumbling sound of the explosion.

The provocative, even incendiary suggestion that the Obama administration's deal could lead to nuclear holocaust might well fit in with the tenor of Fox News' ideological programs led by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. But they would seem to conflict with Fox's claim of an even-handed approach to its news coverage.

I asked Jay Wallace, the vice president for news at the Fox News Channel, about the juxtaposition.

"It wasn't wrong," Wallace said,"but we failed to provide an appropriate context for the footage." He said upon seeing it, he instantly thought of the famous 1964 commercial by President Lyndon Johnson's campaign just once against Republican nominee Barry Goldwater to question his judgment. It was withdrawn after immediate public outcry.

But that ad wasn't the point of the ensuing coverage, and wasn't mentioned in Kelly's words. Wallace stressed that the anchor was unaware that the footage would air.

In the absence of an explicit discussion of past political rhetoric using nuclear imagery, Wallace said, the footage of the atomic blast should not have been used. And he said seeing it immediately set off "red flags" in his mind.

After the program aired, Wallace said, he spoke with two producers involved, though he would not name the producers. He called it a discussion, not a rebuke. After all, Wallace said, the network always wants to create edgy teases to help keep viewers glued to the top-rated cable channel.

But he says they have to match images and words in a way that stops short of unintended editorializing.