Fox News and other conservative media outlets ran with a baseless rumor that Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs had “mysteriously” disappeared from her office earlier this week, when in fact she had traveled to Washington for scheduled meetings. This bizarre turn elevated what should have been a pro forma notice about the functioning of state government, meriting no more than a slight acknowledgment in the local press, into a national embarrassment for right-wing media.
On Wednesday, Republican state Treasurer Kimberly Yee shared a press release acknowledging that she’d officially be acting governor from that evening through Thursday morning, but that she would not seek to make any state appointments during this window of time. (The first two people in the line of succession, Democrats Adrian Fontes, the Arizona secretary of state, and Attorney General Kris Mayes, were also in Washington for meetings.) Hobbs arrived back on Thursday and took part in an event alongside President Joe Biden, who announced federal funding for a library honoring the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
Right-wing media, however, treated it all quite differently.
Fox News ran the headline, “Arizona governor mysteriously steps down for one day.” The article initially declared, “On Wednesday evening, the Arizona treasurer announced that she will be serving as acting governor beginning later this evening until mid-morning tomorrow amid a mysterious disappearance of Gov. Katie Hobbs.” This post has since been edited, replacing the phrase “mysterious disappearance” with “short absence” instead. There is also an editor’s note at the bottom: “A previous version of this article stated Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs ‘mysteriously’ stepped down for one day. It has since been updated with an explanation.” [FoxNews.com, 9/28/23, updated 9/28/23]
Newsweek’s headline declared: “Katie Hobbs Stepping Down as Arizona Governor Raises Questions.” Initially the article declared, “The reason has not been released and Hobbs has not commented on the move.” It then highlighted social media speculation by far-right commentators — including Hobbs’ former opponent Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed election denier who lost the 2022 gubernatorial election, as well as former Fox News contributor and Trump administration official Monica Crowley. The article has since been updated, with the outlet noting, “This story has been updated following contact with Governor Hobbs office to note Kimberly Yee took over as acting governor because, Hobbs, along with Arizona's secretary of state and attorney general, were all out of the state simultaneously.” [Newsweek, 9/28/23, updated 9/28/23]
The Washington Examiner’s headline read, “Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs takes unexplained absence, causing treasurer to step in.” As of publication, this article still does not appear to have been updated. The article further added, “Following Hobb’s unexplained short absence, she joined President Joe Biden, who made a stop in the key battleground state on Thursday, to announce new federal funds being directed to build the McCain Library, housed at Arizona State University.” [Washington Examiner, 9/28/23]
On Thursday, The Arizona Republic ran a piece highlighting Fox News’ initial false story as well as Fox’s later edit. Crucially, the Republic’s reporting also put this bogus story about Gov. Hobbs in the context of other conspiracy theories that have circulated against her on the right-wing fringe:
The erroneous news report, later changed by Fox, followed a false rumor that went viral on social media earlier this week that Hobbs had been “indicted” by the state Senate on charges related to conspiring with a Mexican drug cartel.
The network didn't attempt to explain why it called Hobbs' temporary absence from the state a "disappearance" in its report, which was headlined "Arizona governor mysteriously steps down for one day." A message seeking comment from Fox News wasn't immediately returned.
Hobbs didn’t disappear. She was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a meeting about border issues with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas following a weeklong visit to Taiwan, an important Arizona trade ally. She flew back to the state Thursday to meet with President Joe Biden, who arrived Wednesday night for a visit that promoted his campaign messages.
State Republicans disavowed the widespread internet rumor of Hobbs’ “indictment” Monday, noting that the state Senate does not issue indictments.
The Republic noted other rumors earlier this week, claiming that the state Senate had indicted Hobbs for purportedly aiding drug cartels. This rumor was so outlandish it even prompted far-right conspiracy theorist state Sen. Wendy Rogers to debunk it, posting on X (formerly Twitter), “The following is FAKE NEWS. The legislature doesn't issue indictments!”
Hobbs has been a target of right-wing conspiracy theorists for the past three years. Her opponent in the 2022 election, Kari Lake, repeatedly called for Hobbs to be imprisoned on the basis of false accusations about mass voter fraud in the 2020 election. Former Trump adviser and January 6 insurrection provocateur Steve Bannon declared that Hobbs would not be able to govern the state, following her victory over Lake in the election, as he and Lake falsely claimed that this election had also been stolen. Arizona’s Republican-controlled state legislature also expelled one of its own GOP members, then-state Rep. Liz Harris, after she accused Hobbs and numerous other Arizona officials of taking bribes from a drug cartel.
Fox has spread other hoax stories in recent months, including fraudulent claims that a hotel in New York state had displaced homeless veterans in order to house undocumented migrants, and deleted another false story about a Marine veteran’s burial. Fox anchor Shannon Bream of Fox News Sunday has also spread the right’s fake urban legend about schools “having to put litter boxes in for kids who identify as cats.”