On Friday, President Obama signed a law that would block Hamid Aboutalebi from entering the U.S, as Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. Shockingly, Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly told a huge lie of omission (several, really) when she reported on the President's signing statement, and chewed it over with right-wing fanatic and New Black Panther Party case "whistleblower" J. Christian Adams of PJMedia.
Most liberals are being sarcastic when they say they're "shocked" by something a Fox News personality does, but I truly believe that Megyn Kelly wants to do better, and has done better. Even in this segment with Adams, she points out that George W. Bush "offered way more signing statements, something like 161 with President Bush, and only like 29 with President Obama." Setting aside her Fox-like point of view, Megyn Kelly knows how to report, and she is (or was) well-respected by people who know the difference. What used to be occasional lapses are becoming too frequent.
Case in point: Kelly's reporting on a law amending the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which contained a ban prohibiting admission of any UN representative who "has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities directed against the United States or its allies and may pose a threat to United States national security interests," and which now includes anyone found to have engaged in "terrorist activity."
President Obama issued a signing statement when he signed the measure, and here's how Kelly reported on that:
"Breaking tonight, the President signs a bill banning Iran's controversial pick for a new un ambassador from coming into the united states, but includes a very big caveat. The President saying, in a signing statement, that he's taking the legislation as guidance, buuuut he's not necessarily going to enforce it."
To Adams: "So, why sign it into law only to say, like, literally at the same time, this is all about Aboutalebi, and so at the same time he signs it in, he's saying 'Yeah, but I don't really have to abide by it at all.'"
"(T)he President did not make clear, with his statement tonight, he says, he signs it into law, but he deems the whole thing advisory, but he doesn't make clear if he's going to follow the law in this case, with Aboutalebi, or not. They had prior suggested that Aboutalebi's not coming in. We'll see in the future."
It's true that the President issued a signing statement, but it dealt with the constitutionality of the law, which is the clear reason for signing statements to exist. The White house has actually been crystal clear that it will "not issue a visa to Mr. Abutalebi." The signing statement explicitly states that the President's concern is with the law's potential to interfere with the Executive's constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors:
"curtailing by statute my constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors is neither a permissible nor a practical solution." I shall therefore continue to treat section 407, as originally enacted and as amended by S. 2195, as advisory in circumstances in which it would interfere with the exercise of this discretion.
Megyn Kelly, an accomplished lawyer herself, surely knew this, yet chose to omit that from her reporting, as well as another key fact. Did you see those quotaton marks in that passage? Care to guess who the President was quoting in his signing statement? From Public Papers of the President, George Bush, Vol. I, 1990, page 240 (emphasis mine):
This section purports to require that no individual may be admitted to the United States as a representative to the United Nations if the individual ``has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities directed against the United States or its allies and may pose a threat to United States national security interests.'' In effect, this provision could constrain the exercise of my exclusive constitutional authority to receive within the United States certain foreign ambassadors to the United Nations. While espionage directed against the United States and its allies is a problem of the utmost gravity, curtailing by statute my constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors is neither a permissible nor a practical solution. I therefore shall construe section 407 to be advisory.
I have to admit to being somewhat amused and charmed at Kelly's refusal to drop the word "finger" in a live broadcast, but dismayed at her descent into the Fox News' toxic editorial culture. I've known a lot of excellent Fox News reporters over the years, and they follow one of three trajectories:
They maintain high journalistic standards, are undermined by Fox News' editorial culture, don't leave, and are repeatedly passed over for promotion (Wendell Goler has been at Fox News since 1996).
Kelly seems to be slipping into that second category, the most common. The phenomenon is not some Media Matters fantasy, it has been confirmed to me by Fox News reporters. For example, when Ed Henry and I were still on speaking terms, I wrote a piece on exactly how Fox News' editors undermined Ed by butchering his question, and when I saw him at the White House, I wanted to explain the piece. He said, "No, you nailed it. Thanks for that."
I had also been a longtime defender of Ed (in print and among colleagues and administration officials) from the sudden charges of bias that arose when he went to work for Fox, even though he was actually doing the same job he did at CNN. He had always been a sharp questioner, deceptively so, and his early work at Fox News was simply an extension of that. It was a big deal when Jay Carney snubbed Ed at a briefing last year, but no one seems to remember that Ed suffered a similar snub from George W. Bush while he was at CNN.
But then, Henry began to play, more and more, to Fox's audience, reaching a sickening low when he suggested that the White House didn't care about military survivors' benefits. Along the way, the accuracy of Henry's reporting has suffered, which is the only thing a journalist has to hold onto in Fox-land, the artificial wall between their insanely inaccurate "opinion" programming, and their prized "hard news" operation.
Is Megyn Kelly following the same path? This was no mere lapse. Every citation I've made to her reporting was in the President's actual signing statement, it required no research at all. On the off chance that she maybe didn't read it, and relied on her producers instead (not a mortal sin), then she has an opportunity to correct her reporting on the next airing of her show. Maybe right before the "Easter Bunny Just is White" segment.
P.S. Some in the comments thought I was slamming Media Matters, but that wasn't my intention. They've done a lot of great work reporting on the news culture at Fox News, including the Sammon memos. I can see now how it reads that way, though. What I was trying to convey, through shorthand, was that the phenomenon I described should not be dismissed by skeptics as what they might view as a Media Matters fantasy, which is how it sounded in my head, but not in print.