When asked to characterize the hate mail he received based on his high-profile quasi-appearance yesterday on Fox News, Tom Ricks replied, “F___ you, you a______, you’re a commie.” Ricks plans to post some of that nastiness on his Foreign Policy blog today.
Yet Ricks says he received a bevy of favorable missives too. ”More attaboys than hate mails,” says Ricks, adding that the good words came from a Jesuit priest who lost two cousins to the Iraq conflict as well as some Iraqi veterans.
Those folks were pleased that Ricks stood up to Fox News on Fox News yesterday. In a midday appearance with Fox News anchor Jon Scott, Ricks was asked about some of the fallout from Benghazi, Libya, in which four U.S. personnel, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens and a pair of security contractors, perished. Ricks replied that Benghazi was overblown, thanks in part to the hype that Fox News had accorded the tragedy. After Scott wondered how you overhype the loss of four Americans in a terrorist attack, Ricks asked Scott if he knew how many security contractors had died in Iraq. No idea, said Scott. After Ricks called Fox a “wing of the Republican Party,” Scott cut short the interview.
Fitting that the question about Iraq all but froze Scott: Few have drawn parallels between what befell contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty in Benghazi and what has happened to too many contractors in Iraq. The topic was on Ricks’s mind because he was recently researching the number of such personnel who died in Iraq. Hundreds, of varying nationalities, he found.
On his way out of the Fox News studio, Ricks says he was asked by a Foxer whether he really thought that the network had overdone the Benghazi story. Affirmative, replied Ricks. “Two months of pretending this is like Watergate, compared to the fact that hundreds died in Iraq . . .,” Ricks tells this blog, summing up his logic. The story behind Benghazi, says Ricks, is a trend toward grassroots diplomacy, in which U.S. personnel immerse themselves more than ever in the day-to-day life of foreign countries. “We’re doing the type of diplomacy that puts our diplomats at risk and as far as I can tell, Fox doesn’t give a s___ about that,” says Ricks, who formerly covered the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
Fox News’s unwillingness to allow Ricks to criticize the network over an entire chat segment has drawn a great deal of media attention. Eric Boehlert writes at Media Matters that the episode underscores the network’s reliance on paid contributors, a crew of folks, that is, who won’t turn on the network that signs their checks. “With in-house contributors, virtually everyone is on the same page so there’s very little need for debate,” writes Boehlert.
To its lasting credit, though, Fox News did allow the un-shy Geraldo Rivera to come on its air and blast the network’s take on Benghazi. He called Benghazi conspiracy spinner and Fox talent Eric Bolling a “politician” who was ”misleading” America. And he challenged the thrust of Fox News’s flagship Oct. 26 story alleging a feeble response to the attack. (Boehlert’s piece on Fox’s same-pageism acknowledges this Geraldo episode.)
So why does Geraldo get to sit on the couch of Fox & Friends and spout off for nearly eight minutes, while Ricks gets shut down in less than two? Perhaps because Geraldo is Geraldo, a Fox insider prone to grand statements. Perhaps because they knew beforehand exactly what Geraldo was going to say. Perhaps because they have no such familiarity with Ricks, despite his pre-air warning that he felt Benghazi was overhyped. Perhaps because Scott and his producers simply panicked.
Whatever the case, Ricks insists he apologized to no one at Fox News, despite a claim by Fox News executive Michael Clemente that he had. “He apologized in our offices afterward but doesn’t have the strength of character to do that publicly,” Clemente told the Hollywood Reporter. ”That’s news to me,” says Ricks.
Ricks professes to dislike television appearances, so perhaps he was just angling never to be invited back on Fox News. If so, he probably succeeded. In the video below, he discusses the Iraqi conflict with Keith Olbermann circa 2006, which shares some of the feel of his recent clash with Fox: