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In the end, leave it to Fox News Channel to elect Barack Obama president.

They have the resources. They have the clout. And, most importantly, they have the critical lack of vision required to prompt a backlash and elect the candidate they truly dislike.

Let this be said at the outset: the reporting staff, the field correspondents, and many of the anchors - Bill O'Reilly included - have been, by and large, professional and intelligent in their coverage and commentary.

The downfall of Fox, nonetheless, remains its propensity to send in the clowns, and to sic them on the perceived public enemy of the moment.

After sparing Obama in order to focus all possible scorn, vitriol, smug half-finished jokes and eye-rolling in the direction of once-frontrunner Hillary Clinton, it dawned on someone at Fox a few months ago that there was no politically astute alternative but to do what the network had been reluctant to do all along: Sic the white people on the black man.

It had certainly dawned on Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes by March, when he chose a speech to a gathering of radio and television news directors to try out a joke, in CNN's words, "deliberately confusing the Illinois senator's name with that of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden."

"It's true that Barack Obama is on the move," Ailes told the news directors. "I don't know if it's true President Bush called [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf and said, 'Why can't we catch this guy?' "

In previous shots at Obama, Fox anchors had often couched their insinuations in the form of attacks on the Clinton campaign, as in the quasi-reportorial tone of anchor John Gibson as he expressed outrage that Clinton people were "playing the Muslim phobia card."

"The gloves are off: Hillary Clinton is to be already digging up the dirt on Barack Obama. "The New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past. That's right, the Clinton team is reported to have pulled out all the stops to reveal something Obama would rather you didn't know: that he was educated in a Muslim madrassa."

Clinton people are "looking into his background," Gibson quoted a Website as reporting, in a story which was later debunked.

"They're saying: He was a Muslim," Gibson said, setting the tone for the They Said It, Not Us News Network. "He concealed it. His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign.

"Now, we have heard about dirty politics before," Gibson noted dryly. "Republicans aren't involved in this one."

The people at "Fox and Friends" and a number of other Fox News Lite shows - which use winks and banter to signal the political line which truly 100 percent patriotic Americans should be towing at the moment - have recently diversified from a steady diet of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Some of the looser cannons among Fox anchors have gone in a new direction, taking on the candidate's wife as unworthy, un-American, and perhaps even racist.

Quoting her incessantly, and, often, out of context, the Fox opinion molders obsessively reference her February statement that "For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." Subsequently, she said that she meant she was proud of the way Americans were engaging in the political process, and that she?s always been proud of her country. But on Fox, smiling anchors drill viewers on the party line that Michelle Obama is ashamed of America.

Michelle Obama was later taken to task for a speech in which she said that in 2008, an America which is divided and fearful and with many people struggling just to survive economically, is a country which is "just downright mean."

Fox News personality Sean Hannity then lowered the boom, inviting former Ohio Republican congressman (now Fox News host) Republican John Kasich and conservative pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz to help him gang up on, cajole, demean and browbeat a soft-spoken political science professor into conceding that America isn?t a mean country after all.

And they're not through yet, by any means. This month, Fox News veteran Geraldo Rivera quoted a Web report that the Republican Party has a videotape showing Michelle Obama in the pulpit of Rev. Wright's church, publicly railing against "whitey."

Rivera then said of the report, "I don't believe it's true," adding that he would bet $100 against it being accurate.

I love Fox News. I watch it every chance I get. I just wonder why they had to take out an actual trademark on the phrase "fair and balanced. And why they seem to have backed away from the Real Journalism part of the catch phrase.

I truly feel for the real journalists - and they are many - who work there. The ancillaries, the toothy wonders who bully and smirk their way through Rupert Murdoch's political agenda, do them no honor.

The joke is that it is the ancillaries that will put Obama in the winner's column come November.

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