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Fox News’ Washington News Chief Admits to “mischevious speculation”

Bill Sammon, who’s responsible for the network’s Washington coverage, linked Obama to socialism many times during the 2008 campaign, but didn’t believe the allegation, he acknowledged.

Bill Sammon, managing editor of Fox News Washington, at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, when he was a reporter for The Washington Times. (The Washington Times / Landov)

In the final stretch of the 2008 campaign, a Fox News executive repeatedly questioned on the air whether Barack Obama believed in socialism.

Now it turns out he didn’t really believe what he was saying.

Bill Sammon, now the network’s vice president and Washington managing editor, acknowledged the following year that he was just engaging in “mischievous speculation” in raising the charge. In fact, Sammon said he “privately” believed that the socialism allegation was “rather far-fetched.”

These remarks, unearthed by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, raise the question of whether Sammon, who oversees Washington news coverage for Fox News, was deliberately trying to sabotage the Democratic presidential candidate. He has come under fire before for memos he sent to the network’s staff that have seemed less than fair and balanced.

Sammon’s admission came on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise—cabin rates ranged as high as $37,600 per couple—sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College. Here is what he said, according to an audio recording:

“Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to ‘spread the wealth around.’ At that time, I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched.”

That he did—on several occasions.

On Oct. 14, 2008, Sammon said on the air that Obama’s “spread the wealth” remark “is red meat when you’re talking to conservatives and you start talking about spread the wealth around. That is tantamount to socialism.”

On Oct. 21, he told Greta Van Susteren: “I have read Barack Obama’s books pretty carefully, and he in his own words talks about being drawn to Marxists… Now all this stuff’s coming out about whether he’s a socialist. I don’t know why anyone is surprised by it, because if you read his own words and his sort of, you know, orientation coming up as a liberal through college and a young man, it’s not a huge shock.”

Sammon, a former Washington Times reporter, also made sure his troops got out the word. On Oct. 27, he sent an email to staffers highlighting what he described as “Obama’s references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists” in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father.

In an interview, Sammon says his reference to “mischevious speculation” was “my probably inartful way of saying, ‘Can you believe how far this thing has come?’” The socialism question indeed “struck me as a far-fetched idea” in 2008. “I considered it kind of a remarkable notion that we would even be having the conversation.” He doesn’t regret repeatedly raising it on the air because, Sammon says, “it was a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media”—and by 2009 he was “astonished by how the needle had moved.”

Sammon notes that in the same talk on the cruise, he pointed out that George W. Bush had his own stimulus package and had spent half the TARP bailout money: “I was talking about both sides being big spenders.” (True; he also told the cruise guests that “when it comes to spending money, Obama makes Bush look like a piker.”)

In that speech, Sammon said he eventually concluded that what he had thought was baseless speculation among Obama’s socialistic views turned out to be accurate:

“Now imagine my surprise when this year, I witness President Barack Obama standing in the cross hall of the White House and having taken over the American car industry, look into the camera, and announce to the nation essentially, that he would personally vouch for the warranty on your car’s muffler. All of a sudden, the debate over whether America was heading for socialism seemed anything but far-fetched…The debate over whether America is headed for socialism seems all too real, especially to those who still believe in capitalism.”

During last year’s health-care debate,Sammon urged Fox News staff in a memo to “please use the term ‘government-run health insurance,’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible.” He acknowledged that the phrase “public option” was “firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon,” so when it was necessary to use it, he wrote, add the qualifier “so-called,” as in “the so-called public option.” And “here’s another way to phrase it: ‘The public option, which is the government-run plan.’” Many Fox News journalists followed suit, using terminology that Republican pollster Frank Luntz had pushed on the network.

In an interview at the time, Sammon defended the memo and said his 25-year record as a newspaper reporter demonstrates that he hasn’t favored either side. “Have I said things where I take a conservative view? Give me specifics,” he said.

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast’s Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.

How Not To Manage a Harem

You may wonder how Rachel Uchitel could be angry with Tiger Woods for playing around with other women, especially when her friends say she’s savvy enough to be seeing other men herself. People magazine reports that the golf pro’s alleged mistress was “none too happy” about other women he may have been seeing. This isn’t as daft as it sounds.

Any man who successfully manages a harem knows he must be on the lookout for such resentments, and prevent them from flaring up. But Rachel’s dismay—reports of which may seem odd in light of news that her main function for Tiger was to provide him with other women—looks like part of a pattern. Maybe the problem is Tiger’s inability to navigate the choppy waters of erotic attachment. Another alleged mistress, Mindy Lawton, has called Tiger “selfish” and “heartless.” If you view all cheating husbands as subhuman, her assessment is to be expected, but I found the comment startling. I don’t believe Tiger is truly heartless. If he cultivates a harem without taking responsibility for it, he is, however, careless.

The skills required to maintain a happy harem take practice, patience, and a bit of internal discipline, not unlike perfecting one’s golf game.

Pasha, playboy, or paying customer? A man with an appetite for more than one woman must decide what he wants to be. Philandering men—even celebs—are not uniformly arrogant jerks. Those with a gift for harem management can leave a woman with warm, nostalgic feelings, an afterglow of romantic gratitude. An essential skill for men who choose to cheat, which some are lucky to be born with, is the ability to conduct a love affair without turning the “other woman” into a potential enemy.

Not every woman spending time with a married man has the urge to destroy his image, embarrass him, or take him to the cleaners. Contrary to the stereotype, a mistress (or friend with benefits) is not always jealous of her lover’s wife and children. But her goodwill is not unconditional. It depends on him knowing how to make his multiple women feel appreciated. Some men will never have this talent, while others just need time to develop it. Let’s hope Tiger belongs to the latter camp because, if the allegations about his behavior are even 50 percent true, he desperately needs to learn some harem-management skills.

You don’t have to be rich or famous to learn these, and it might even be easier if you’re not. For one thing, being in the public eye like Tiger means your blunders are never fully private. Most accomplished philanderers make mistakes when they’re starting out in life. If the entire world doesn’t hear about it, you have a chance to refine your harem etiquette.

The parade of women allegedly cashing in on a relationship with Tiger begs the question: Are these ladies just opportunistic? Or do they seek symbolic compensation for something he didn’t deliver? What was missing? Warmth? Affection? Sexual pampering? Maybe he wasn’t generous enough.

To be wealthy, married, unfaithful, and ungenerous is to insult a woman’s basic intelligence, as well as her pride. This, for a man in Tiger’s position, is the first and most obvious rule of harem etiquette. But it’s not just about presents and cash. Even men with normal incomes have multiple affairs without causing their ex-lovers to turn on them. In fact, more men get away with it than the tabloid headlines would suggest. We hear about the infidelity train wrecks ad nauseam—there’s a new one every week—while successful infidelities are quietly swept under the rug.

Here are some things I’ve learned from men who have practiced good harem etiquette.

It’s not clever to provoke a woman’s jealousy or insecurity. Flattering though it may be to a man’s ego, her damaged vanity can brew silently and turn into a very effective form of hatred that will come back to bite you. A man who uses a woman’s sexual jealousy to reassure himself doesn’t belong in a harem. If you enjoy feeling clever, take some pride in preventing jealousy by making each woman you’re involved with feel uniquely attractive. Stay on message.

If a woman ends up feeling like a married man’s plaything rather than his playmate, she’s like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off on the doorstep of his home. Don’t make absurd, unrealistic promises. To anyone. Including your wife.

Here’s what Tiger may not realize: Being kind to your mistress is not a betrayal of your marriage. It’s actually kinder to your wife. You can treat your wife like an angel, while her children rise up and call her blessed, but if you’re not also treating your extramarital partners decently, philandering puts your marriage at higher risk.

Many a dissatisfied, insulted sex partner becomes the obsessed enemy of a woman who remains totally unaware of her rival’s existence. If you must play around, it’s your job to prevent this happening between the women you’re involved with—and if you don’t care about your role in this, you really have no business cheating. Girl-on-girl vendettas are no joke.

Treating a woman decently right up to the end of your association with her is the best way to prevent relationship blowback. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts by acting like a jerk in the final critical stages. This isn’t the solution it appears to be.

It’s also sheer folly to think you can demonstrate respect for one woman by trashing another. When will some guys learn to stop telling all the women they shag that the other encounters “don’t mean anything”? It’s not just in poor taste, it’s dumb! Never say it! This short-sighted maneuver may bring temporary rewards, but when the relationship ends, her long-term memories come back to haunt him: “I, too, meant nothing, and therefore owe him nothing in terms of courtesy or secrecy.”

Another tip: If you’re into rough sex, as has been alleged about Tiger, it’s important for your companion to feel that this occurs in a tender, emotional context. Don’t be fooled by orgasmic evidence. Just because a woman is genuinely turned on by defilement doesn’t mean that she won’t be genuinely disturbed by rough treatment of her heart.

Though successful cheaters tend to be more emotionally aware than the average man, relax, this isn’t about engineering a new race of hyper-sensitive males. It’s very much in a guy’s politically incorrect self-interest to respect the power of women’s conventional-yet-unpredictable emotions, as Tiger’s predicament shows. His immaturity is understandable: The skills required to maintain a happy harem take practice, patience, and a bit of internal discipline, not unlike perfecting one’s golf game. Could we really expect Tiger’s relationship skills to match his golfing skills a decade or so into his professional career? He will need to do some catching up.

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