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Fox News virtually ignored reporting that undermines a key accusation in Biden impeachment inquiry

An FBI agent's testimony, reported the same day House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry, undermines claims that Hunter Biden got “special treatment” from the administration

On September 12, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced his baseless impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, citing the supposed “special treatment” the president’s son Hunter received during the course of a criminal investigation as one reason for launching an impeachment investigation. That same day, multiple news organizations reported new testimony in the Republican-led House investigation of Hunter Biden that undermined McCarthy’s claim.

According to a Media Matters review of transcripts, Fox News barely mentioned the new testimony, covering it in one brief mention at the end of a correspondent report about the Republican-led impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden. The new testimony from the head of the FBI’s Baltimore field office, Thomas Sobocinski, contradicts that of IRS agent Gary Shapley. Shapley had made claims of political interference in the criminal case against Hunter Biden, which was mentioned numerous times on Fox during a comparable time period and many times since.

  • FBI agent Thomas Sobocinski rebutted Shapley’s claims of political interference in DOJ investigation of Hunter Biden

  • On September 12, the same day that McCarthy announced an impeachment inquiry targeting the president based in part on claims of political interference in the Department of Justice probe of Hunter, The New York Times reported that a new witness in the House probes of Hunter offered testimony that “undercuts claims of political interference” in the DOJ investigation. (Hunter was indicted on multiple gun charges on September 14 by a Delaware grand jury convened as a part of the DOJ's investigation.)

    According to the Times, FBI agent Thomas Sobocinski of the Baltimore Field Office contradicted testimony from Shapley about a meeting they had both attended with the prosecutor in charge of the DOJ’s criminal investigation. In earlier testimony, Shapley had accused DOJ officials of interference, claiming that the lead prosecutor made statements suggesting that his authority was being limited by others in the department. When asked about Shapley’s claims, the Times reported that Sobocinski refuted them, saying that he did not remember hearing what Shapley claimed the prosecutor had said.

  • Over the course of three days, Fox News mentioned Sobocinski’s testimony just once

    • Fox News’ Fox & Friends briefly mentioned Sobocinski’s testimony for 11 seconds during a segment on the impeachment inquiry. Fox reporter Lucas Tomlinson said during the segment, “According to our colleagues at Fox Digital, an FBI agent involved in the Hunter Biden probe told the House Judiciary Committee that he did not believe politics was involved in the decision-making in the federal investigation into the president's son.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/14/23]
    • Fox News made no other on-air mentions of Sobocinski’s testimony between September 12-14, according to a search of the SnapStream video database.
    • Fox News Digital also reported on Sobocinski’s testimony in one story. The story, however, did not identify Sobocinski by name, like the Fox & Friends segment. [FoxNews.com, 9/13/23]
  • In contrast, Fox covered Shapley’s testimony numerous times within three days of it becoming public, and hundreds of times since then

    • According to a review of transcripts for “Gary Shapley,” Fox News guests and personalities mentioned him at least 7 times during a comparable time period. According to the search, Shapley’s name appeared on at least 7 Fox programs between June 22-24, a similar time period from his testimony being publicly reported in comparison to Sobocinski’s testimony. 
    • Shapley was interviewed on Fox at least three times, according to Media Matters’ internal cable news guest database. Media Matters searched our internal database of all original weekday programming on Fox News Channel (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight) for segments that analysts determined to include Gary Shapley as a guest from August 1, 2017, through September 14, 2023. According to the database, Shapley was interviewed on Special Report on June 28, America’s Newsroom on August 1, and The Story on August 22. [Media Matters, 9/14/23]
    • Shapley was mentioned in more than 250 Fox programs since June 22, according to a search for Shapley’s name in the Kinetiq video database. 
    • Fox also covered Shapley’s claims numerous times on its website. [FoxNews.com, accessed 9/14/23]
  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “Sobocinski” (including misspellings), “Thomas,” or “agent” within close proximity of any of the terms “FBI,” “Federal Bureau of Investigation,” “Hunter,” “Biden,” “Weiss,” “House Judiciary Committee,” “Justice Department,” “Department of Justice,” “whistleblower,” “probe,” “IRS,” “Internal Revenue Service,” “Shapley,” “Baltimore,” or “Delaware” from September 12, 2023, when The New York Times and The Washington Post published quotes from transcripts of Sobocinski’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, through September 14, 2023.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when FBI agent Thomas Sobocinski’s testimony was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the testimony. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multi-topic segment discussed anything related to Sobocinski’s testimony with one another.

    We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment about any topic mentioned the testimony without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the host or anchor promoted a segment about the testimony scheduled to air later in the broadcast. 

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

    We also searched transcripts in the Kinetiq video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for the term “Gary Shapley” from June 22, 2023, when The Washington Post reported on testimony from IRS agent Gary Shapley before the Justice Department, through September 13, 2023. We counted each instance of the term as a single mention.

    Finally, we searched our internal database of all original, weekday programming on Fox News Channel, (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight) for segments that analysts determined to include Gary Shapley as a guest from August 1, 2017, through September 14, 2023.