Progressive legal advocacy group Democracy Forward this week asked the Treasury Department’s inspector general for an investigation of federal officials coordinating with the Fox Business Network in what the group called “a series of actions that could constitute illegal, government-sponsored propaganda.”
The letter was first reported on Tuesday by Maxwell Tani of The Daily Beast based on emails obtained by the group through Freedom of Information Act requests. This also follows up on another Fox News scandal from late last year regarding coordinated coverage between the show Fox & Friends and the embattled then-EPA head Scott Pruitt. (Fox News spokespeople claimed at the time that the level of coordination involved, such as prior script approval by Pruitt’s staffers, was “not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved.”)
Some of the newly revealed communications might be a bit pedestrian — such as Treasury officials going after media producers to refer to the Treasury secretary as “Steven Mnuchin,” rather than “Steve Mnuchin.” But the real meat of the story comes from the level of coordination between the two sides.
Just one of many examples listed in Democracy Forward’s request: In March 2017, Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Chung emailed Fox Business producer Julia Limitone to ask for multiple changes to an article she had written about Mnuchin’s trip to the G-20 summit and also for the network to send out a new tweet for the article. Limitone responded: “Jason, I just did exactly what you asked me to do, I’m going to remove that now as well. I will notify our social media team that the headline has been updated and ask them to retweet.”
To be frank, there’s probably not a politician on Earth who wouldn’t love to have a media outlet taking their instructions on story coverage. The problem is that Fox is all too eager to play along — and the network even aspires to make it a two-way street, with Fox influencing the administration itself on matters of real substance.
As The Hollywood Reporter highlighted last month from part of Democracy Forward’s document release, one Fox Business anchor sent emails urging the administration to push harder on its tax cut policy:
On April. 25, 2017, Fox Business Network host David Asman appeared to advise then-Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh (a former Fox News contributor) on how the administration should pursue a key policy goal: achieving a major tax cut. After sharing a quote from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Asman wrote in the email, "Take the BIG TAX CUTS NOW ... a long-term deal with small cuts is useless. NOTHING IS PERMANENT IN WASHINGTON. Big tax cuts now give the economy the push it needs."
After Sayegh thanked Asman for "these thoughts," the Fox Business host congratulated him on his recent Trump administration appointment. "How exciting!" he wrote. "This is a great chapter of your life, Tony. Congrats!" ("Thanks David!" Sayegh responded. "Miss all of you up there.")
Another example, laid out in the Democracy Forward letter: After Mnuchin backed down from an initial goal of passing the tax cut bill by August 2017, the administration became touchy about not being reminded of that original goal. (They eventually passed the tax cuts in December 2017.) And as it turned out, Fox News was willing to take that instruction.
Adam Shapiro, then a Fox Business correspondent (and now an anchor at Yahoo Finance), wrote in an email to then-Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh after a meeting in April 2017: “I candidly shared with my producer the need to be fair and not batter Secretary Mnuchin with the old soundbite about the August TAX reform goal. [It's] old news. Never hesitate to contact me if my team gets anything wrong or is unfair.”
As Media Matters noted at the time of Fox & Friends’ Pruitt story, Fox News has shown that it will mete out virtually no consequences for its employees’ ethical lapses -- whether for the Seth Rich conspiracy theories peddled by avowed pro-Trump opinion host Sean Hannity, or its supposedly “hard news” division effectively acting as the communications wing for the Trump administration and the Republican Party.