The Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives announced on September 24 that they are opening a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s communications with Ukraine, and Fox News is now working overtime to spin the narrative positively for the president.
Over the past week, details have emerged regarding a whistleblower complaint that involves Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Additional reporting and public statements by Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed that Trump and Giuliani pushed Zelensky to target former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential political rival of Trump’s, ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The internet- and right-wing media-fueled conspiracy theory behind that request has been thoroughly debunked.
Trump’s allies at Fox News are now doing their best to minimize the gravity of the impeachment inquiry and shift the narrative focus onto Biden or the whistleblower instead.
On impeachment, the Democrats, and the “deep state”
On the topic of impeachment and House Democrats, Fox is insisting that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is moving forward with impeachment only because she has caved to the progressive left; that the inquiry is merely symbolic, or political theater by Democrats; that impeachment will only backfire for them; and that this is just the latest in a long list of attempts by the Democratic Party, the elite, and the “deep state” to oust a successful president.
Fox regularly attempts to stir division among Democrats by insisting that progressive freshman members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have more power over the caucus than Pelosi; trying to make Ocasio-Cortez the face of a decision is also a common deflection tactic among Fox personalities. Right-wing media also regularly try to distract from negative stories about Trump by insisting that such coverage is part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Democrats and the mainstream media to destroy the president. (Past narratives that were similarly dismissed as attempts to destroy Trump have included the Russia investigation, accusations of Trump's racism, and warnings of a potential recession.)
Fox’s spin: Pelosi caved to pressure only because of the progressives in her caucus like Ocasio-Cortez
Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz asserted that “the resistance movement is hyperventilating and Nancy Pelosi succumbed to the pressure she was getting within her caucus” from “this radical, socialist, far-left part of the Democratic Party.”
On Fox & Friends, Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said that it was “the liberals and the AOC crowd that sort of forced her hand, so she made this gesture to appease them.”
Also on Fox & Friends, Fox contributor Tomi Lahren insisted that Pelosi “half-heartedly is placating to the radicals in her party -- the AOCs, the Rashida Tlaibs, those that have been calling for impeachment since this president was elected.” Lahren added: “I don’t even think Nancy Pelosi believes in it. I think that she is doing this simply to appease her base.”
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume asserted that “the speaker and the other leaders are under pressure from the left-wing of the party and the leftists in their caucus” because of “the loathing of Donald Trump and the desire to get him out of office.”
On his show, host Tucker Carlson asked guest Bryan Dean Wright, “How much, do you think, of this is being driven by Ocasio-Cortez and the rest?” Wright responded that it’s “100% of it,” adding that “the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is in control of the party.”
Fox’s spin: The impeachment inquiry is just a symbolic gesture and political theater by the Democrats
On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade insisted of the impeachment inquiry, “A lot of legal experts say it’s a symbolic gesture,” adding that “she had an opportunity to walk it back and allow a format to do something a little bit more humorous and enjoyable.”
Later in the show, Kilmeade again asserted that “it’s not really an impeachment because there was no vote yesterday,” so “it’s kind of a symbolic thing.” Fox News White House correspondent Kevin Corke responded: “Exactly. Thank you for saying that because I think sometimes in the press they get a little … loose in the turn here.”
Fox’s spin: Impeachment is going to backfire on Democrats
On Fox & Friends, Jarrett insisted that “this is gonna blow up in the faces of Democrats and the media like an exploding cigar.”
On Hannity, Fox contributor Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “Democrats are being incredibly stupid right now” because “impeachment is going to fail” and “help get the president reelected.”
Fox's spin: This is just the latest attempt by the “deep state,” elite, and mainstream media to destroy a successful president
On Fox & Friends, Jason Chaffetz insisted that “this is the deep state fighting back against a disruptive, unconventional president who is cleaning out this, this swamp.”
Fox contributor Newt Gingrich claimed on Fox & Friends that “the reality is the elite media hates Trump as much as Nancy Pelosi hates Trump, and the elite media doesn’t want to give him a break.” He insisted that “as long as Trump is determined to stand up for America, … these people are going to hate him.”
On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox host Jeanine Pirro insisted that “once he gives the transcript, once it’s disclosed tomorrow, … then they’re going to run around like they did with Mueller, and Russia, Russia, Russia, racism, racism, recession, now Ukraine.”
Also on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Republican National Committee Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon insisted that Democrats are “tearing up the Constitution” and “doing anything they can to subvert the will of the people,” likening the inquiry to a “coup.”
On the whistleblower complaint
Fox is wrongly asserting that the person who lodged the complaint can’t really be a legitimate whistleblower because the president is not part of the intelligence community and because the person didn’t hear the phone conversation in question firsthand. Network personalities are also claiming that the whistleblower is motivated by a political agenda and that the complaint only endangers the country and hinders Trump’s ability to conduct foreign policy in confidence.
The idea that the person who filed the whistleblower complaint is somehow not a real whistleblower is simply untrue. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act “provides an avenue for intelligence community whistleblowers to raise concerns about activities that may violate law or policy, while ensuring the protection of classified information.” But the law does not require that the subject of the complaint must be a member of the intelligence community -- rather the complaint simply must relate to the “administration, or operation of an intelligence activity within the authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information.” The law also does not specify that the whistleblower must personally witness an action to file a complaint about it, and the complaint in question is reportedly based on multiple incidents, many details of which are still unclear.
Fox’s spin: The person who filed the complaint is not a real whistleblower because he or she did not witness anything directly and because the president is not in the intelligence community
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade referred to the “so-called whistleblower,” saying that “he’s really not, or she’s really not, a whistleblower, because they didn’t witness anything directly.”
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs insisted that the “so-called whistleblower … didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the phone call” and therefore “may not have a protected whistleblower status at all.”
On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed, “Here’s the thing about the whistleblower: The whistleblower had no direct knowledge of it, heard about it somehow,” and was politically biased against Trump.
On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox’s Gregg Jarrett insisted that “the whistleblower is not a whistleblower” because “you can't blow the whistle on the president because he's not a member of the intelligence community, and that's what the law says.”
Fox’s spin: The whistleblower is politically motivated and has an agenda
On Fox & Friends, Kilmeade asserted that “the whistleblower -- according to our sources -- has a political agenda. The whistleblower also employed a lawyer that interned for two prominent Democrats and has that in the background,” asking, “Is that a whistleblower, someone who doesn’t -- how do you blow the whistle on a president on a conversation you weren’t on?”
Also on Fox & Friends, Jarrett claimed that the whistleblower’s lawyer “used to work for Hillary Clinton,” and co-host Ainsley Earhardt interjected, “Yes, her intern, and Chuck Schumer.”
On Hannity, Fox chief national correspondent Ed Henry reported “breaking news” that a senior administration told him that “the whistleblower had quote-unquote ‘political bias’ in favor of a rival candidate of President Trump in 2020.”
Fox’s spin: The whistleblower is endangering the country and hurting Trump’s ability to conduct foreign policy
On his prime-time show, Fox host Sean Hannity insisted that “the world is less safe and secure” and the whistleblower will “forever alter how any president in the future … will be able to communicate freely with other world leaders.”
On Joe Biden and Ukraine
Trump and Giuliani allege that then-Vice President Biden inappropriately pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was overseeing a corruption investigation into a company his son was involved with. On this topic, Fox is insistent that Biden’s actions were the same as or worse than Trump’s efforts and that Trump is just trying to help Ukraine rid itself of corruption. But the push to get Shokin fired was a part of a Ukrainian anti-corruption effort by advocates and international supporters of the country, and the United States’ clearly established position was that ousting Shokin was a critical aspect of anti-corruption measures.
Fox’s spin: Biden’s actions were the same as or worse than Trump’s
Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt asserted that Biden, in saying “I’m not giving you a billion dollars, Ukraine, unless you fire this prosecutor,” did something “almost worse” than Trump. Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett agreed that Biden’s actions amounted to a “quintessential quid pro pro” and his actions could amount to “a corrupt act that involves on a services fraud, bribery and so forth.”
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Federalist co-founder Sean Davis asserted that “they have accused Trump of doing exactly what they did.” Davis asserted that “the crime here, if you really look at it, is that he beat Hillary Clinton.”
Fox’s spin: Trump is just trying to help Ukraine deal with corruption, and it was actually Trump’s duty to try to investigate Biden, so it isn’t bad
On Hannity, Jarrett insisted that Trump was “duty-bound” to “ask that foreign country, investigate, produce the evidence, give it to us” if he thinks Biden acted wrongly. Jarrett added that “if he doesn’t do it, it is a dereliction of his constitutional duty.”
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, frequent Fox guest Joe DiGenova asserted that “even if [Trump] had said, ‘You’re not going to get the money,’ it would not be a crime.”
On the Trump-Zelensky call summary
Fox initially prepared for the release of a memo detailing the Trump-Zelensky call by asserting that Democrats were wrong for rushing through with an impeachment inquiry when they hadn’t yet read the document. The network also warned viewers that Fox’s sources said there may be some details in the call summary that would “raise eyebrows,” but claimed that there would be nothing that rises to an impeachable offense. After the summary memo was released, Fox insisted that it vindicated Trump; that there wasn’t much there to begin with; and that initial reporting was incorrect and therefore undermines the memo.
These pre-release memo talking points seemingly ignored the public statements in which Trump and Giuliani admitted that they had pushed Ukraine to investigate Biden and had withheld aid to the country. Additionally, Trump’s White House has repeatedly stonewalled various House investigations by refusing to hand over necessary information.
Before the transcripts were released, Fox pushed the following talking points:
Fox’s spin: The Democrats are rushing to impeachment before they’ve even seen the transcript
On Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich asserted that the “Democratic Party … has lost its mind” because Pelosi “hasn’t seen the transcript, hasn’t interviewed the whistleblower, has no new information.”
Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked, “Why would they even push impeachment right now when they haven’t read what that conversation was?”
Fox’s spin: There are some bad moments in the transcript, but nothing as bad as the Democrats are making out
On Fox & Friends, Fox News correspondent Garrett Tenney, citing a “senior administration official,” said that “there are a few words in it that will raise eyebrows, though it’s nowhere near as inflammatory as Democrats have suggested.”
On Hannity, Fox News senior correspondent Ed Henry said he was told that “there is no smoking gun in this transcript” and “it’s nowhere near as inflammatory as Democrats and some in the media have suggested,” but there are “a few words … that are going to raise eyebrows.”
After a White House summary of the call was released Wednesday morning, Fox changed their narrative:
Fox’s spin: There is no evidence of an explicit quid pro quo
On America’s Newsroom, Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts said: “The big thing that everybody was talking about was that there was a quid pro quo. … That language or even that suggestion exists nowhere in this document.”
Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge also appeared on America’s Newsroom to emphasize that “this is sort of a long distance away from the earlier reporting that was anonymously sourced that it was this quid pro quo over U.S. aid to the Ukraine.”
Fox’s spin: Biden was mentioned on the call only a few times instead of eight, as originally reported
On America’s Newsroom, Herridge claimed that “there are not multiple references” to Biden in the memo about the call, just “a handful, approximately three.”
Also on America’s Newsroom, Fox News anchor Bret Baier asserted that he didn’t “see eight times Joe Biden being mentioned. I count three, tangentially, so some of the earlier reporting may have been something different.”