FOX NEWS FINDS PALM TREES, T-SHIRTS IN MADISON…. The right has been desperate in recent weeks to characterize pro-union protests in Wisconsin as violent, and the activists themselves as thugs. Reality, alas, has interfered, and the events in Madison have been passionate but civil.

YouTube video

But on Fox News, reality can be manipulated for partisan ends. Brian Beutler flagged this unintentionally-amusing clip aired last night, as Bill O’Reilly “interviewed” Mike Tobin, the Fox News person covering the protests at the Wisconsin state capitol.

Tobin told viewers that “labor organizations” have “bused in” outside agitators. At that point, Fox News aired footage of a protest getting out of hand, with pushing and shoving, aggressive confrontations, police intervention, etc.

It seemed to be the evidence the right has been so eager to find, and the video quickly bounced around from conservative to conservative.

The problem becomes apparent when one stops to actually look at the clip. Why are there palm trees in the background? Why are some of the people in the video wearing t-shirts?

The answer is, at the very moment Fox News was accusing labor groups of bringing in outsiders for protests in Madison, the network was showing footage of a protest in California held a week earlier, passing it off as evidence of something that never happened in Wisconsin.

This is the same Mike Tobin, by the way, who claims he was “punched” by a protester in Madison, despite video evidence that suggests he’s lying.

There’s a reason Fox News viewers are so confused — they’re the victims of a con.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.