Watch Fox News Try and Bail Out Mitt Romney on "47 Percent"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 19 2012 9:32 AM

Watch Fox News Try and Bail Out Mitt Romney on "47 Percent"

You know a story is doing real, internal organ damage to a campaign when his partisans strain to defend it. Fox News's defense of Mitt Romney's "secret tape" took almost a day to construct, starting -- as Andy Kaczynski captures here -- with the cast of Fox and Friends explaining how sensible Romney was.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Fox and Friends is a fundamentally stupid show, though -- what would appear on the rest of the network? Romney used a 4 p.m. hit with Neil Cavuto (who was fairly dogged) to try and change the subject to a lame 1998 clip of Barack Obama admitting that he, like every Democrat, believes in "redistribution." Fox's prime time line-up went on to try and clean up the tape. Bill O'Reilly opens his show by shrugging at "a controversy over Governor Romney telling supporters that a large portion of the American population is dependent on government and most likely will not vote for him."

"Here is my question," asks O'Reilly. "Why is that controversial? That's true."

He plays the clip, then puts on the analyst cap.

What on earth is the controversy? If I'm Governor Romney, I run with this all day long. And I have the stats to back my position up. Right now the federal and state governments are spending nearly a trillion dollars a year on means-tested entitlements. Those are payments other than Social Security and Medicare. More than 46 million Americans are now receiving food stamps. That's a record. Nearly nine million Americans are now on federal disability, another record. And more than 100 million Americans, 35 percent of the population, are living in a household receiving some kind of welfare.
Now I'm assuming that Governor Romney wants to stop the madness and get people back to work so they can pay their own bills. I'm assuming that's what he wants to do. So Romney should be pointing a finger, a finger at President Obama saying he wants a welfare state, the President does. And he's well on the way to creating one because that's what the stats show.

The 9 p.m. block rolls up and Sean Hannity picks up the baton:

It is Romney unplugged as the GOP presidential nominee delivers one of his sharpest critiques yet of President Obama and the entitlement society that he enables. Now, while conservatives and fiscally conscious Americans are applauding Governor Romney's statements, Liberals and the mainstream media, they are attempting to spin this into some major gaffe. They are arguing that Mitt Romney is engaging in class warfare and turning his back on voters.

Hannity shows viewers the video, warning them that it was "posted by a left wing Web site," then translates it.

Let's break down what you just heard. Because everything that Governor Romney said, is 100 percent accurate. Now, first he said, the 47 percent of voters will side with President Obama no matter what. Now, wouldn't you now it, that is exactly where the Gallup has this race at this very moment. Forty seven percent say, they intend to vote for President Obama, 46 percent will vote for President Romney. That is well within the margin of error.

I don't disagree with the idea that Romney has, and will, run against "entitlement." It was only a few weeks ago that he was filling the airwaves with ads accusing the president of ending welfare-to-work.

But -- do we actually have to get this rudimentary? -- not all "entitlements" are created equal. Typically, if a Republican wants to make the moocher point, he says that one in six Americans are on food stamps. True! He doesn't say 47 percent of Americans are moochers, though, because that number included millions of struggling poor people who do work, and old people who paid in for decades to get benefits. Hannity aside (he really is a talking point that walks like a man), I'm sure the Fox News spinners get this. But they have to pretend they don't.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.