Research/Study Research/Study

Fox News has relentlessly assailed Judge Juan Merchan

Fox figures and guests have lobbed over 200 attacks at the judge in Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial, claiming he is biased, conflicted, and compromised, among other things

Since the beginning of former President Donald Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial, Fox News figures and guests have repeatedly challenged the integrity of the judge presiding over the case, Juan Merchan.

Throughout the duration of the trial, figures on Fox News have lobbed at least 220 such attacks at Merchan, suggesting that the judge has an anti-Trump bias so the “fix is in,” attacking his handling of the case as “supremely biased” and “severely compromised,” and claiming the judge should have recused himself.

  • Media Matters reviewed claims panning Merchan over his impartiality on Fox News from April 15, 2024, when jury selection in the case began, through May 21, 2024, when the court adjourned for several days prior to closing arguments. We did not include general criticism of the judge’s decisions or personal invective aimed at the judge that were unrelated to his ability to be fair and impartial, although the network also aired such attacks.

    The most assaults on impartiality came from prime-time host Sean Hannity, who made 34 claims against the judge. Hannity’s self-titled show, Hannity, also led the network in attacks made on a single program, with 52 claims.

  • Video file

    Citation From the April 16, 2024, edition of Fox News' Hannity 

  • The figures who launched the most attacks on the judge on the network were Hannity, followed distantly by host Laura Ingraham (12 claims), host Jeanine Pirro (11 claims), legal analyst Gregg Jarrett (10 claims), and host Mark Levin and contributor Leo Terrell (9 claims each). Notably, most of those figures host shows, and five out of the six have legal degrees. 

    The programs that pushed the most attacks on Merchan were opinion shows Hannity (52), The Ingraham Angle (26), and the network's weekday morning show, Fox & Friends (20). They were followed by so-called news-side show The Faulkner Focus (18) as well as weekend show Life, Liberty & Levin (13). While Fox personalities and guests issued the majority of attacks on opinion shows (150), they also impugned Merchan's impartiality 70 times on Fox’s so-called news shows. 

    Many figures on Fox stated that Merchan should have recused himself due to alleged bias, ignoring the fact that a New York judicial ethics committee which had weighed in on the judge found no evidence of bias, saying his impartiality “cannot reasonably be questioned” based on either his daughter’s political work or his modest political donations. That did not deter the talking heads on Fox News.

    For example, on America’s Newsroom, a so-called news show, frequent Fox legal guest Jonna Spilbor claimed that “this is the worst possible judge that could ever be presiding over this case,” adding, “He should have recused himself … because the appearance of impropriety given his connection to his daughter obviously, but his daughter’s connection to the whole Democratic Party and Joe Biden and Kamala, it’s mind-boggling. He should have run away from this case and said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with it. I respect my robe too much.’” Spilbor concluded that Merchan is “going to be the reason why Donald Trump loses a case that he should win.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the April 15, 2024, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

  • On Sunday Morning Futures, Jarrett attacked Merchan as “biased,” adding, “It’s as if Merchan has taken off his black robe, stepped down from the bench, and he is now sitting at the prosecution table determined to help engineer a wrongful conviction.” 

    Claims accusing Merchan of bias often revolved around his daughter’s work and his political donations, with figures on Fox arguing that the judge couldn’t be impartial in the face of those facts. 

    Hannity claimed, “This judge is a Democrat, this judge donated to Joe Biden, Trump’s opponent,” adding, “The judge, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a fair trial.” After listing some complaints he asked, “Is that not somebody that comes across as abusively biased?” 

    On the so-called news show The Faulkner Focus, Terrell called the judge “compromised,” stating, “He should have been recused from this case. He was placed in this position to inflict this type of political damage to Trump. And I’ll tell you right now, he cannot be impartial given the fact of his daughter.” 

    After anchor Harris Faulkner claimed it seemed like “legal terrorism.” Terrell added on, “Very simply, the judge is hostile to President Trump, he has a dislike towards President Trump, and I’ll tell you right now, the fix is in.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the April 23, 2024, edition of Fox News' The Faulkner Focus

  • During her May 7 opening host monologue, Ingraham claimed that Merchan had “validated Trump’s most scathing criticisms of him as a supremely biased and conflicted judge.” She went on later in the monologue to state that “the judge himself is severely compromised.” 

    Merchan isn’t the only person involved in this case whom Fox has attacked. Media Matters previously documented the network’s campaign to undermine the jury, and Fox has smeared the lead prosecutor Matthew Colangelo as well. This pattern of going after figures central to Trump’s trial suggests the network is planting seeds for its viewers to dismiss the outcome of the case if it goes against Trump. 

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for the term “Merchan” or any of the terms “Trump,” “hush,” or “Stormy” or any of the terms “Manhattan,” “New York,” “NYC,” or “Bragg” and the term “trial” all within the same paragraph as the term “judge” from April 15, 2024, when jury selection for former President Donald Trump's Manhattan criminal trial trial began, through May 21, 2024.

    We included claims, which we defined as instances of uninterrupted blocks of speech from a single speaker that attacked the impartiality of Judge Juan Merchan. For host monologues, headlines, and correspondent reports, we defined a claim as the speech between read quotes and played clips. We did not consider the speech within read quotes or played clips unless a speaker in the segment positively affirmed said speech either directly before or after the quote was read or the clip was played.

    We then reviewed the identified claims for whether they suggested that Merchan is anti-Trump, that Merchan or his handling of the case is biased or unfair, that Merchan should recuse himself from the case, or that Merchan has a conflict of interest.