April 28, 2014

In a report last Friday, CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter broke down media coverage relating to Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who defied federal authorities over his cattle and later uttered some racist comments in front of a New York Times reporter. “Conservative outlets, most notably Fox News, turned Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy into a sympathetic star,” noted Stelter.

That was a tad incomplete. Sure, Fox News’s Sean Hannity rallied around Bundy, throwing easy, sympathetic questions his way in repeated interviews. The rancher’s refusal to pay grazing fees to the federal government appeared to delight Hannity, who at one point claimed that the mooching might just lower the price of meat for American consumers. After Bundy’s racist comments surfaced, however, Hannity repudiated them.

Yet Hannity hardly served as a spokesman for conservative media on the matter of Cliven Bundy. Take a look at this item in the Weekly Standard’s “Scrapbook.” It came out before the racist comments (despite the date stamp), and it is unequivocal in its condemnation of Bundy’s act:

This does not sound to The Scrapbook like the dread hand of tyranny, in Nevada or Washington, oppressing an innocent farmer, or pushing some law-abiding citizen around. It sounds, instead, like a rancher gaming the system to his own financial advantage, and disguising his scheme in populist rhetoric: refusing to pay a tax which others must pay, and “tying up the courts”—for two decades!—as he continues to ignore the law. Far from acting in an arbitrary or capricious manner, the federal government has shown patience and forbearance in the face of lawlessness that customarily lands people in jail. It is worth noting that Bundy’s rancher-neighbors and the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, who contend with the same federal policies, offer him little support.

“We just thought it was common sense,” said Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. “It was something more in the nature of a friendly reminder and caution to fellow conservatives not to get sucked into this thing.”

Nor did Kristol see a mass swoon for Bundy among his competitors. “I doubt that other magazines on the right were expressing a lot of support for him,” he said. Bundy’s views on federal power and his defiance over grazing fees, said Kristol, wasn’t as much of a “conservative cause celebre as the far right might have wanted and liberals might have hoped.”

Conservative media entrepreneur Glenn Beck said skeptical things about Bundy as well. And Fox News itself, despite giving Hannity a platform for his cheerleading, also hosted Bundy-oriented misgivings. For instance, on April 16, long before Bundy was revealed to wonder whether blacks would’ve been better off as slaves, Tucker Carlson said on Hannity’s own show, “I mean, and they certainly wasted more than a million dollars … hassling the Bundy family — is an absolutely correct point. But it’s also true to say, again, here’s the principle, and it’s a conservative principle: If you use public property to make a profit, you ought to pay.” (For a roundup of pro-Bundy views, have a look at this Media Matters piece).

CNN’s Stelter on his Sunday show “Reliable Sources” credited Fox News for a diversity of viewpoints on Bundy. None other than Donald Trump, also on Hannity, advised Bundy to cut a deal with the feds. “Donald Trump, voice of wisdom. That’s how strange this story got,” summed up Stelter.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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