Tonal perfection characterized Smith’s mea culpa: “We really messed up, and we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV. … I personally apologize to you that that happened,” said the host.
The theme of Fox News’s capacity for apology surfaced this week, after “Fox & Friends” co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy joked about the Ray Rice situation. On Monday’s program, the two were discussing the emergence of the TMZ.com video showing Rice assaulting his then-fiancee in the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel. To wrap up the discussion, Kilmeade quipped, “I think the message is, take the stairs.”
Doocy, in the jocular spirit of a cable-news morning show during a discussion of domestic violence, joined in: “The message is when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.”
With that, “Fox & Friends” prepped public expectations for a stone-faced apology. Tuesday morning, that didn’t happen. Instead, Kilmeade appeared to be blaming viewers for using their eyes and ears: “Comments that we made during this story yesterday made some feel like we were taking the situation too lightly. We are not. We were not. Domestic abuse is a very serious issue to us, I can assure you.”
CNN, like a good competitor network, found newsworthiness in the depravity of “Fox & Friends.” In a chat with host Carol Costello, CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter said, “It’s a cheap try pretend to apologize but then again, Fox News tends not to come out and apologize when their hosts say offensive things.”
Cue the Google and Nexis searches for “fox news apologizes.”
In April, Fox News apologized for a graphic that painted a distorted picture of Obamacare enrollment numbers.
In March, Fox News host Clayton Morris apologized for “ignorant” comments that he’d made about gender. (Hat tip: Johnny Dollar)
In October 2013, Fox News apologized for reporting — based on a bogus story — that President Obama had pledged to personally donate to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures during the government shutdown.
In July 2012, Fox News apologized for showing a picture of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels in a discussion of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.
In July 2011, Fox News apologized after its politics Twitter account was hacked, resulting in a false message about the assassination of President Obama.
In November 2009, Fox News apologized for misrepresenting some footage of Sarah Palin.
So there’s a sampling of Fox News’s regretful moments of recent years (we don’t claim it’s comprehensive). The circumstances behind them vary — some correct factual mistakes, others remedy stupid, ill-considered remarks made in the error factory that is live television.
Does the network under-apologize for “offensive” remarks, as Stelter suggested? Who knows — a claim that broad and subject to value judgments is both unprovable and irrefutable, a perfect thing to say on cable news. Perhaps there is a contrast to be drawn with MSNBC, a network that went on an apologetic tear starting last November after offending the likes of Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, the “right wing” and others.
Despite the squishiness inherent in this debate, it’s clear that there’s an entire industry of apology demands directed at Fox News. Here’s a demand that Fox News host Megyn Kelly apologize for her comments about Santa and Jesus being white. Here’s a demand (from now-Fox News guy Howard Kurtz, in 2009) that Fox News apologize for using “partisan propaganda” on air. Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize for its Steubenville rape coverage. Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize to all Canadians for mocking their country’s military. Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize to John Kerry for catching his off-mic remarks (see comments section). Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize for some allegedly transphobic remarks by Dr. Keith Ablow (who produces apologizable statements in just about every appearance, it must be noted).
And on and on: Some of the demands are perfectly ridiculous, some compelling.
Of all the moments for which Fox News has apologized or received apology demands, none appears as regret-worthy as what went down on Monday’s edition of “Fox & Friends.” In advising “take the stairs,” Kilmeade appeared to be counseling domestic abusers on how to do their thing. Or perhaps he was counseling women not to get into elevators with their boyfriends. Abominable either way. Fox News — and “Fox & Friends” itself — has apologized for much less. Absent an explanation from Fox News itself, only pure arrogance can account for why the network whiffed on its responsibility to viewers. Years and years of on-air idiocy, after all, have propelled “Fox & Friends” to the top of the morning cable-news ratings. Why walk back the show’s business model now?