By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
9:27 PM EST, February 16, 2013
Much of Friday's political-media online chatter was focused on Fox news hiring failed presidential candidate and pizza executive Herman Cain as a political analyst.
But the big story that seemed to mostly sail under the radar was the embattled channel's hour-long, full-right-wing, all-out, let's-give-a-big-big-hug coronation later in the evening of Dr. Benjamin Carson, the famous neurosurgeon at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital, who made headlines for what he had to say Feb. 7 at the National Prayer Breakfast.
I cannot remember seeing anything quite like it even on Fox.
What happened for 60 minutes on Hannity Friday night went beyond even the nights when the portly show host would genuflect before vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin nodding so wildly in agreement with her crackpot pronunciations that you feared he would need neck surgery by the next commercial break. (May she rest in peace, amen.)
Now I know Fox appears to be losing its mind as its ratings dip for the first time in years just as Jeff Zucker has the troops at CNN feeling like they could actually throw off the chains of ratings bondage and stand tall again. But even given all of that, you have to check out these videos.
I could write another Ph.D. dissertation on all the propaganda going on in this hour as Fox News tries to fast-track Dr. Carson from the prayer breakfast to Ground Zero of the culture wars. And, I must say, I was surprised to see how eager and ready to go there he seemed to be - banners flying.
A few things to look at as you watch the tapes. And, again, this is Fox trying to give birth to a new star on the right - showing him how grand life can be if he is willing to play ball.
First, look at how long the prayer breakfast videotape is shown with Carson denouncing political correctness and President Obama's efforts to further tax the rich as Obama looks on from his seat at the head table. The way the image is presented onscreen is that viewers see Obama seated on the left staring at Carson throughout the surgeon's speech with that impassive, jaw-flexed, hard-eyed look he used in TV debates when an opponent was saying bad stuff about him.
Meanwhile, standing at the viewers' right is Carson at the podium, confidently, passionately and skillfully comparing America to Rome as it crumbled.
I could not help but think as I looked at this tableau in freeze frame later how desperately Fox has searched for a person of color who could take on Obama this way and not be open to charges that the "real" reason he or she is criticizing the president is racism.
And it's impossible not to believe the brass at Fox News is thinking; Carson could be the one. This could be the messiah we have been waiting for. Let's stack up Obama's credentials against his, and see who wins. This guy saves children in the operating room.
Next, notice how Hannity, before the first commercial break, is introducing, suggesting, dangling the notion of Carson as a political candidate. Yes, Dr. Carson, you could be in the the White House, and Fox can help make all that possible, because that is what we at Fox do: operate as a propaganda arm of the political right.
The segment with pollster Frank Luntz leading a focus group through an analysis of Carson's words would be surreal if it wasn't on Fox.
And if you think I am using "propaganda' recklessly in describing this hour, look at the insane question and answer session with a bleacher-full of right-wing stooge-journos asking questions of Carson.
One is more servile than the next: Fox News, Fox Business, breitbart.com, Rupert Murdoch's dumbed-down and brought-to-doctrinaire-heel Wall Street Journal.
The right goes crazy about the way Team Obama tries to control press opportunities, and the outrage is valid. I have said more than once Obama has more contempt for the press than any president since Richard Nixon. For a so-called constitutional scholar, Obama seems to have totally missed that part of his education where the importance of the First Amendment to democracy was explained.
But what goes on in this Hannity video with these questions is straight out of the Soviet Union, circa 1949, or North Korea today.
And the folks from these outlets are proud of their on-bended-knee behavior.
What I wonder is how far Dr. Carson is going to run with this political football. I have interviewed him, and I know his history and career well. I have tremendous admiration for him. I am surprised to see him looking so comfortable within the smarmy embrace of Sean Hannity.
I also have tremendous respect for Johns Hopkins Medicine. My wife and I have both been treated there, and I can honestly say it is the only institution in my life that was every bit as good as its reputation once I got inside the door and got a bit of a look backstage.
I hope Dr. Carson doesn't let political users like Fox compromise the greatness he and Hopkins have achieved together.
I am not a brain surgeon, but I have been studying and writing for decades about how seductive, blinding and culturally dangerous the bright lights of prime-time TV can be.
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