By BRIAN STELTER
Published: June 13, 2010
“Welcome to this struggle,” Andrew Napolitano said triumphantly as he wrapped up the first television episode last weekend of his libertarian talk show, “Freedom Watch.” He saluted the camera and concluded, “From New York, defending freedom, so long America.”
He will be back next week, a commercial said, with a special guest, Glenn Beck.
Mr. Napolitano’s struggle is for smaller government and individual liberty. “The American public needs to know and understand, the government serves you better when it serves you less. That’s the argument,” he said on the show.
“Freedom Watch” is arguably Tea Party TV in its purest form to date.
It is the latest product of the News Corporation, led by Rupert Murdoch, and being shown on the weekends on the Fox Business Network, which is searching for higher ratings by adding provocative commentators.
Fox News already dominates the market for conservative TV talk with hosts like Mr. Beck and Sean Hannity, and has generated billions in revenue to show for it. Now, the upstart Fox Business is making room for libertarian talk, too. An aggressive pro-civil liberties, anti-government streak is evident on both “Freedom Watch” and “Stossel,” a weekly Fox Business show hosted by the former ABC News anchor John Stossel that was added last fall.
As any libertarian will tell you, there are sharp differences in opinions between conservatives and libertarians, and now Fox has programs for both.
“I think Fox is seeing a business opportunity here,” said Jacob G. Hornberger, the president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, a libertarian educational group.
In an interview, he said, “There’s always been this debate between left and right, liberals and conservatives. All of a sudden here’s Napolitano saying, where do you stand on this libertarian position?” Libertarian commentators, he said, have largely been locked out of TV debates in the past.
With its emphasis on out-of-control government and with Mr. Napolitano’s warning last weekend that the United States was “halfway to socialism,” “Freedom Watch” could be seen as a reaction to the policies of President Obama and a Congress controlled by Democrats. In the past, the host has also been critical of the Bush administration for fear-mongering about terrorism and curtailing civil liberties.
The Web was essentially an incubator for Mr. Napolitano, who has been a legal commentator for Fox known as “the judge” for more than a decade. “Freedom Watch” started as a weekly webcast on FoxNews.com early in 2009, and later ramped up its production to several days a week.
On the webcasts, Mr. Napolitano discussed libertarian hot topics like states’ rights, excessive overseas spending and draconian drug laws.
This month, Fox confirmed that he was getting a weekly TV show, beginning on Saturday mornings and replaying in prime time on Saturdays and Sundays.
The first TV episode was billed as a “Tea Party summit,” with appearances by the Fox pundit Sarah Palin; Representative Ron Paul, Republican of Texas; and his son Rand Paul, a Republican and candidate in Kentucky for the United States Senate. (The elder Mr. Paul endorsed and wrote a forward for Mr. Napolitano’s most recent book.)
Also on the show were three Tea Party favorites, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and the former House majority leader Dick Armey of Texas, Republicans all, or “freedom fighters,” as the host called them. The lone Democratic guest was Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania.
“You know I love the tea parties,” Mr. Napolitano remarked at one point.
Fox News received both credit and condemnation last year for drawing national attention to the Tea Party movement. Last summer, after a Tea Party protest in Washington, Fox even mocked other news organizations for not paying enough attention. In a print advertisement it asked, “How did ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and CNN miss this story?”; in fact, each network had covered the protests.
“Fox News created the Tea Party with the town halls last year,” said the liberal commentator Bill Press, the author of the forthcoming “Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America’s Airwaves.” Referring to “Freedom Watch,” he said, “Now they’ve given the Tea Party its own TV show.”
Fox executives have said that the network’s news division covers the movement, but does not favor it.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Napolitano declined an interview request on Friday. In an appearance to promote the show last week on the highest-rated hour on Fox News, “The O’Reilly Factor,” he said his intent was “to be the night watchman for the public, to expose when the government does wrong things, steals property, steals freedom, violates the Constitution.”
Lew Rockwell, the chairman of the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute and, like Mr. Hornberger, a regular guest on Mr. Napolitano’s webcasts, said he considered “Freedom Watch” to be “the most important libertarian broadcast in the history of the American media.”
“There has never been a show willing to address the difficult subjects involving liberty as this one does, let alone to do it so effectively and entertainingly. And Republican statism gets no free pass,” he said in an e-mail message.
Mr. Napolitano seems to be part of a retooling at Fox Business, which started in 2007 as a competitor to CNBC. Fox Business, which has had trouble finding a loyal audience, does not subscribe to full Nielsen ratings. Saying it has had a “horrible time getting ratings,” Mr. Press said, “I think they’ve just decided to make it the second propaganda channel.”
Fox did not respond to his comments.
Among other recent changes, Fox Business has added Charlie Gasparino, formerly of CNBC, and Gerri Willis, formerly of CNN, to support its business news regimen. Fox Business says “Freedom Watch” will address business topics, too, like economic liberties and consumer rights.
“Resistance to the growth of government will continue,” Mr. Napolitano said on Saturday, portending a lot of work ahead for the night watchman.