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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 02:17 PM ET, 04/23/2012

Fox News, Steve Doocy and the ‘silver spoon’ smirk

Earlier this month, Fox News chief Roger Ailes told an audience, “[In] 15 years we have never taken a story down because it was wrong. You can’t say that about CNN, CBS or the New York Times.” That was untrue .

Now it’s even more untrue.

In a story broken by Talking Points Memo, Fox News’s Steve Doocy last Thursday dressed up a quote by President Obama in an interview with Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Doocy asked Romney what he thought of this alleged quote by the president: “Unlike some people, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” Romney gobbled it all up, saying, among other things, “I know the president likes to attack fellow Americans.”

Uh, but here’s the actual transcript of what Obama had said, in an appearance at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio. Notice the absence of “Unlike some people”:

Somebody gave me an education. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Michelle wasn’t. But somebody gave us a chance — just like these folks up here are looking for a chance.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said that the line wasn’t intended as a slam on Romney. To suppose that it is a Romney-centric remark, after all, would require believing that Obama had started targeting the former Massachusetts governor as far back as three years ago. In a March 17, 2009, statement on the budget, Obama used the same term in pretty much the same context:

Because we know that the countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, this budget also invests in a complete and competitive education for every American — in early childhood education programs that work; in high standards and accountability for our schools; in rewards for teachers who succeed; and an affordable college education for anyone who wants to go. That’s the reason the three of us are standing here today. None of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths — but we got a great education. And if we combine additional resources with a commitment to reform, then I think we can deliver that for every American child.

Slate’s John Dickerson goes so far as to call the silver-spoon line an Obama “cliche,” citing five instances in which the commander in chief has pulled it out of his bootstrap.

Whatever your suspicions on the president’s motives, there was no mistaking the suspicions of Fox News. For a couple of days last week, the network turned its studios into a seminar on class and privilege in America. The key Fox talents — O’Reilly, VanSusteren, Morris, et al. — took their whacks at the topic, with the predictable consensus emerging that Obama was engaging in class warfare.

Fox had company in raising the question. CNN, AP and others wondered aloud whether the president’s reference was a campaign battle cry. Yet those accounts contained important elements of caution, simply because Obama didn’t cite Romney. Nor did those accounts, like, gin up a preface to the Obama remark — a la Doocy. CNN tip-toed through the question: “The remark could be construed as veiled criticism of the likely GOP nominee’s wealth and background.”

It’s unclear just where Doocy got his bogus formulation. One possibility is HotAir.com. The day before Doocy misquoted the president, HotAir.com published a post by “Allahpundit” with this headline: “Obama: Unlike some people, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” The item did not use quotation marks to represent those precise words as having issued from the president’s mouth. But that’s perhaps a fair interpretation of the headline’s colon structure.

Says Allahpundit on the matter:

I’m not sure where [Doocy] got it. My point in the headline was that the “silver spoon” comment sounded like a veiled dig at Romney. It seemed part and parcel of Biden recently offering the “Romney Rule” as a contrast to the Buffett Rule and all the attention paid to Romney having a car elevator in his garage. Obviously, Democrats want to make his wealth part of their campaign message. Whenever Romney says he likes being able to fire people or mentions that his wife drives a Cadillac, etc., they jump on it because it feeds the narrative that his money prevents him from relating to average Americans. The “silver spoon” line sounded like a sly attempt to draw the same contrast. I didn’t mean to suggest that the “unlike some people” part was a direct quote, though; that’s why I didn’t use quotation marks and why I embedded video of Obama uttering the line, so that people could watch it for themselves and decide what he meant. It was my characterization of what I think was his hidden intent in saying it.

The chain of miscustody started sprouting links. The Washington Post repeated Doocy’s screwup, as did the New York Post. Both outlets have corrected the record (and declined to comment on how the mistakes came about). The Romney campaign also got into the pass-along act, posting a release that repeats the Doocy mistake. As of Monday mid-afternoon, it was uncorrected.

The comical aspect of this entire episode is the fluency of the Doocy-Romney exchange. Even though Doocy grossly misquotes Obama in his question to Romney, the candidate just runs with it. Even if he had noticed something amiss in Doocy’s question, well, Romney had his talking points at the ready. Fact-checking news hosts falls not to the candidates!

Fox hasn’t responded to two requests for comment on this matter. Perhaps it’s considering whether it really wants to end the 15-year run of factual perfection that impresses Ailes so much. But Doocy can do this, as the record shows. Last October, he had to correct a report saying that President Obama was planning on apologizing to Japan for dropping atomic bombs in World War II. Two dead-wrong stories on Obama — gotta be a coincidence.

As Doocy prepares his remarks, he might consider not only clarifying the real quote but also retracting the smirk that accompanies his false question. The smirk tilts from right to left along Doocy’s smug mug (left to right if you’re Doocy himself). It spans the 10-to-13 second mark of the video at the top of this post. It’s the sort of signal, so often seen on Fox, that lets Republicans interviewees know they’re welcome here.

UPDATE: Fox News tells TV Newser that Doocy will “clarify” the remark on Tuesday morning.

By  |  02:17 PM ET, 04/23/2012

Tags:  steve doocy, fox news, talking points memo, mitt romney, washington post, new york post, republicans, president obama, silver spoon, unlike some people

 
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