Fox & Friends stands by the White House’s lie about terrorists apprehended at the southern border -- even after Chris Wallace debunked it

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Fox & Friends is still trying to spin the White House’s false statistic about thousands of alleged terrorists being apprehended at the southern border -- even after colleague Chris Wallace demolished that claim over the weekend. According to co-host Brian Kilmeade, there is “a sense” the administration has secret information that supports its figure but “can’t share” it, and in any case, even one such apprehended suspected terrorist is “too many.”

His comments provide yet more evidence that the program, and Fox News more broadly, acts as a propaganda outlet for President Donald Trump -- even at the expense of the network’s own journalists.

On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied to the Fox & Friends hosts and their audience, falsely claiming that “last year alone, there were nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border. Wallace shredded her talking point in a combative interview two days later, noting that the State Department says there is “no credible evidence” that terrorists have crossed the southern border and that the statistic in question actually includes all apprehensions, which had almost entirely been made at airports (the “nearly 4,000” figure also appears to have been dramatically inflated).

While other media outlets -- including Fox’s cable news competitors -- highlighted Wallace’s debunk on Monday, Fox & Friends stood by the Trump administration and ignored it. That afternoon, the White House’s claim took yet another hit when NBC reported that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists.”

That report triggered a new firestorm of coverage about the administration’s malfeasance, and so on Tuesday, Fox & Friends rushed to the Trump White House’s defense.

During one segment, Kilmeade said that there are “a couple of things that have come out of Homeland Security and maybe the White House communications that maybe need to be further defined,” pointing to the NBC News report that he said “followed up on bigger statistics that were put out by Homeland [Security].” He then asked Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council and a favorite of both Fox and President Donald Trump, “What's the truth?”

Judd responded by claiming that it is “absolutely ridiculous to say that we have only detained six people that were on the terrorist watch list” because “we are not going to make that information known. We have to keep that close to our -- to the chest.”

This is nonsense. Administration officials have been making public claims about the purported number of suspected terrorists apprehended at the southern border for months -- the numbers have simply been dramatically higher than reality because those officials have been lying about the statistics, as Wallace pointed out on Sunday.

Kilmeade criticized journalists for highlighting NBC’s report during another segment, bringing it up before he mentioned the possibility of secret information. “The media seeming to downplay the number, saying, ‘Only six?” he said. “But isn't one too many? And a serious threat to our country, especially when you think about 9/11 and the number of hijackers they had?” He then argued that “there is a sense that there is a higher number than that, but they really can't share a lot of that information.” Again, the argument that the administration could have produced a higher factual number and simply accidentally put one out based on lies doesn’t make much sense.

Kilmeade concluded by addressing and dismissing his colleague’s refutation of the White House’s statistic. “I remember on Sunday Chris Wallace pushed back about the 4,000 number,” he said. “We ended up with the six number. But that doesn’t say that there’s [not] other numbers out there that have not been unveiled.”

Given the choice between reality (and his own colleague’s reporting) and the White House, Fox & Friends chose the White House.