How Fox News Covers Right-Wing Cop Killers
The politicization surrounding the killing of two New York Police Department officers over the weekend was amazingly swift. Fox News led the right-wing media charge, immediately claiming Democratic elected officials were somehow responsible for the gun rampage, which began in Baltimore when Ismaaiyl Brinsley allegedly shot his ex-girlfriend, and extended to Brooklyn when the mentally troubled shooter assassinated two police officers, before killing himself on a city subway platform.
On Fox, hosts and guests were sure who was to blame for the tragedy; not the gunman necessarily, but political and community leaders like President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Bill de Blasio and MSNBC's Al Sharpton. Why? Because the men, to varying degrees, have spoken out about the troubled relationship between law enforcement and the black community, and raised concerns about two recent high-profile cases, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in which unarmed black men were killed, and police officers responsible were not indicted.
Against that backdrop of civil protest, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Fox News, "I personally feel that Mayor de Blasio, Sharpton and others like them, they actually have blood on their hands."
"Let's talk about the president as well," responded Fox's Jeanine Pirro, suggesting Obama and Mayor de Blasio were to blame. "The two of them have undoubtedly created racial tensions that worsens, not betters the situation for law enforcement."
Appearing on Fox News, former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani insisted the message from recent Obama "propaganda" was that "everybody should hate the cops." (No such Obama "propaganda" actually exists.)
The coverage of the Brooklyn killings on Fox News has leaned heavily on assigning a larger cultural and political blame. Yet in stark contrast, as Media Matters has documented, Fox News has routinely paid very little attention to breaking news stories that feature right-wing, or anti-government, gunmen who target law enforcement officials as a way to deliver their warped political messages.
And critically, when they have touched on those deadly attacks, Fox talkers have stressed that it's not fair to blame politics. Note that in 2013, after racist skinhead Michael Page started killing worshipers at an Oak Creek, WI., Sikh temple, and then murdered a police officer, Fox's Andrea Tantaros stressed that the killing spree was an isolated event that didn't have any larger implications. "How do you stop a lunatic?" she asked. "This is not a political issue."
At Fox, that has been the pattern: These kind of deadly right-wing attacks are treated as isolated incidents that are mostly void of politics. Instead, the perpetrators are portrayed as lone gunmen (and women) who do notrepresent any cultural or political movement.
On a September night this year, 31-year-old marksman Eric Frein was allegedly laying in wait outside the Blooming Grove police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania, preparing to assassinate state troopers. That night, state police officer Bryon Dickson was shot and killed as he walked towards his patrol car.
He "made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and to commit mass acts of murder," state police commissioner Frank Noonan warned the public at the time. Another official noted the shooter has a "longstanding grudge against law enforcement and government in general" dating back to at least 2006.
"He was obviously a big critic of the federal government," a man name Jack told CNN. "No indications of really any malice towards law enforcement in particular. Mostly--most of his aggression was towards the federal government."
In the two weeks after the shooting, as a massive manhunt unfolded in the mountains of Pennsylvania, Fox programs mentioned Frein's name in just six reports, according to Nexis transcripts. One of the reports mentioned Frein's hatred of law enforcement, but none mentioned Frein's vocal anti-government leanings.
When Frein was finally captured in late October, Fox News covered the stories a handful of times. Again, there was no emphasis on his possible anti-government motivations and why the "survivalist" set out to assassinate law enforcement officers.
Another police assassination attack unfolded in June. Claiming to be acting under the bloody "banner of Liberty and Truth," Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda entered a restaurant Las Vegas executed two local policemen while they at lunch.
As bullets flew, one of the shooters reportedly shouted that the "revolution" had begun. The killers then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, and covered them with cloth that featured the "Don't tread on me" Gadsden flag, which has recently been adopted as a symbol of the tea party movement.
Six days earlier, the shooters had posted a manifesto on Facebook where he announced "we must prepare for war." Jerad Miller, who traveled to Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch this spring to join the militia protests against the federal government, declared: "To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed."
Raw Story reported that Miller "left behind social media postings that show his concerns over Benghazi, chemtrails, gun control laws, and the government's treatment of rancher Cliven Bundy." And according to an NBC News report, the shooter had talked to his neighbor about his "desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers."
Fox News primetime hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story the night after it happened; Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it.
The Las Vegas attack came just two days after a member of the "sovereign citizen" anti-government movement waged a brief war outside a courthouse near Atlanta. Dennis Marx came supplied with an assault weapon, "homemade and commercial explosive devices," as well as "a gas mask; two handguns; zip ties and two bulletproof vests," according to the Associated Press. He opened fire, shooting one deputy in the leg. Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don't believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law. The FBI has called the movement "a growing domestic terror threat to law enforcement."
Fox News barely covered the Marx attack on law enforcement. Nor did Fox assign collective blame.
On May 20, 2010, two West Memphis, Ark., police officers were shot and killed by a father-son team during a routine traffic stop. The shooters were AK-47-wielding sovereign citizens with ties to white supremacy groups and who had posted anti-government rants on YouTube.
And in April, 2009, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed after she had fought with her son. When two officers arrived and knocked on the the front door, Poplawski ambushed them, shooting them both in the head. Then he killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues. Poplawski was convinced Obama was going to take away Americans' guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Once again, Fox paid little attention to those right-wing executions of law enforcement officers.