NEW YORK–FOX News chairman Roger Ailes denied that the network bore any responsibility for the burglary of the Ames, Iowa home of Frank Smith on Sunday. The denial came despite the fact that for the last two weeks, several FOX News hosts had wondered aloud if Smith’s house should be broken into.
“We are simply reporting the news,” Ailes told reporters. “The debate over whether or not to ransack Mr. Smith’s house is raging right now, and we would be remiss in our duties as journalists if we didn’t discuss this issue on our programs.”
Critics charge that FOX News is virtually the only network to treat the potential burglarizing of Mr. Smith’s house as a political issue. They also note that even fewer news organizations have given detailed instructions on how the house might be broken into.
For instance, the morning show Fox and Friends broadcast from outside Smith’s home, making note of exactly when he left for work and how long he’d be there. Glenn Beck sketched out a detailed schematic on his chalkboard, pinpointing the house’s major entry points and where some of the more valuable items could be located. Sean Hannity and guest Newt Gingrich discussed at length the shift schedules of the local police department, noting when law enforcement would be least equipped to respond to an emergency.
“Go back and look at the tapes,” a defensive Bill O’Reilly insisted. “Nobody on this network has ever said Smith’s house should be broken into. We’re just talking about what everyone else is talking about! Oh, by the way, he doesn’t lock his garage either. And sometimes he’ll leave the keys to his Civic in one of the drawers of his tool bench.”
Other news networks have been measured in their criticism. “On the one hand, FOX News clearly baited the public, then tried to act innocent,” said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. “You could even make a case that some of their on-air personalities could be charged as accessories to this crime. On the other hand, we have to pretend there’s another side to this issue for some reason.”
The incident is similar to one from 2005, when FOX News devoted a week of programming to giving out several thousand social security numbers, while debating exactly what could be done with them.