Following the release of a memorandum detailing parts of President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine, Fox News’ response was nearly identical to talking points provided by the White House.
White House talking points that were circulated claimed that “press reports have given currency to flat-out falsehoods about the call” and zeroed in on a few alleged examples, including reporting that Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “eight times” to investigate his potential 2020 campaign opponent, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Another White House talking point claimed, “Myth: The President offered a ‘quid pro quo.’” A third talking point outlined by the White House was that there was no “promise” made.
All three of those talking points were explicitly pushed by Fox News during its September 25 reporting following the release of the call memorandum, including using the White House’s suggested framing that questioned and cast doubt on earlier reports.
White House talking point: “Myth: The President urged President Zelenskyy ... to investigate Biden's involvement in securing the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor eight times.”
Fox hosts fixated throughout the morning’s reporting on the fact that former Vice President Biden wasn’t explicitly mentioned exactly eight times in the call summary released by the White House. It was the “key thing” immediately mentioned by Fox’s chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, and Fox News’ chief anchor Bret Baier echoed the same talking point when he noted: “I don’t see eight times Joe Biden being mentioned, I count three, tangentially. So some of the early reporting may have been something different.”
White House talking point: “Myth: The President offered a 'quid pro quo'”
Herridge also pushed a second talking point when she added, “I emphasize that because 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.”
White House talking point: “Myth: The President made a mysterious 'promise' to Zelenskyy”
And finally, Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts echoed the White House's talking point about a “promise” when he stated, “Initially, people were breathless saying the president promised something to Zelensky … and none of that exists in this transcript.”
The Trump administration and Fox News have effectively merged, this is merely the latest example.
Update (9/26): The White House circulated more talking points in response to the release of the whistleblower complaint on September 26. And Fox’s initial reporting on the released whistleblower complaint mirrored the White House’s talking points again by declaring that the complaint was “biased,” highlighting claims that the whistleblower had “no direct knowledge,” and noting that the report relied heavily on media reports.
White House talking point: “It is simply one person’s opinions and arguments … on a combination of second-hand accounts … and cobbled-together press stories.”
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade summarized the whistleblower complaint by focusing first on the fact that the allegations were secondhand, saying it was from “multiple sources, not directly.” He and co-host Ainsley Earhard latched on to allegations that the whistleblower has a political agenda, with Kilmeade stating, “It’s also important to point out that there’s a belief that the whistleblower has a political bias.” In response, Herridge, who was reporting while reading from the complaint, noted she wasn’t seeing any indication of that claim. But she then focused on the fact that the complaint “draws very heavily on … media reports to connect the dots to justify their case,” noting that it cited reporting from The Hill and The New York Times.
When Fox News’ coverage was passed to anchors Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith, Hemmer immediately brought up someone he had spoken to who noted that the whistleblower “did not see the transcript or hear the conversation.” Baier added that “the challenge here as you read this is that, you know, you will be reading it as if it's the Bible, not knowing that -- what the motivations are, not knowing the credibility of these people.” Later, Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz also made sure to point out that the report was secondhand, stating: “Let’s remember, this whistleblower report is purely hearsay. Purely hearsay. There is no firsthand account here.”
White House talking point: Trump was just “getting to the bottom of the origins of the Russian collusion hoax.”
While discussing parts of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, Hemmer pushed the White House talking point that Trump was simply trying to get “to the bottom of the origins of the Russian collusion hoax.” Hemmer stated that the “favor” Trump mentioned during that phone call “goes back to Russian conspiracy stuff,” adding that it was “connected directly toward the investigation, perhaps, of what Bill Barr has been trying to do in terms of getting to the bottom of it.”