Within 10 minutes of Chris Wallace clarifying that Attorney General Bill Barr had walked back his claim of FBI spying on the Trump campaign, Fox News anchors Sandra Smith and Bill Hemmer both continued to push the claim that Barr said, “quote, 'there was spying on the Trump campaign.'” Smith and Hemmer are the anchors of America's Newsroom, one of the programs in Fox's ostensibly straight news division.
Barr was testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee about the Mueller report on April 10 when, citing no evidence, he repeated the claim that the FBI conducted “spying” -- a term “typically associated with unlawful surveillance” (emphasis added) -- on the Trump campaign in 2016. Later in his testimony, Barr walked the statement back, saying: “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying that I am concerned about it and I’m looking into it.”
On the April 12 edition of America’s Newsroom, Smith asked Wallace about the reaction to Barr’s testimony. Wallace responded that “we knew it was going to be highly charged politically” and explained why it was wrong to characterize Barr’s comments as him affirming claims of spying on the Trump campaign:
CHRIS WALLACE (FOX NEWS SUNDAY ANCHOR): The word spy is charged. And I think that Barr realized that because at the end of his congressional hearing, he said, look, after reviewing all of the -- as he put it -- the colloquies I have had with various members of the Senate, maybe I should say surveillance and whether or not it was proper or not.
There is an absolutely legitimate question, and a legitimate investigation in fact is already going on by the inspector general as to whether or not the surveillance of the Trump campaign, members of that campaign, was legitimate -- was based on reasonable concerns. The use of the word spy, that was charged. I mean, think of it. If you were going to talk about the Justice Department surveilling organized crime figures, would you call that spying? No, you’d call it surveillance. [CROSSTALK] And Barr was saying -- no, if I may just finish, inasmuch as Barr is saying “look, I'm going to investigate whether it was legitimate surveillance or not,” maybe use of the word spying, he got ahead of himself.
Yet, shortly after the segment, Hemmer and Smith both stripped out the context, making the story mesh better with the Fox News party line. Hemmer teased an upcoming segment by saying: “Also, the Attorney General Bill Barr telling Congress he believes there was spying on the Trump campaign.” Smith then opened another segment minutes later, saying: “Reaction now to Attorney General Wallace Barr saying there was, quote, ‘spying on the Trump campaign.’”
One Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, is known to have been the subject of a surveillance warrant. As the Associated Press noted (emphasis added), “The warrant was obtained after Page had left the campaign and was renewed several times.” Additionally, an informant was sent to speak to two advisers to the Trump campaign, but as The New York Times explained, the move was “a typical investigative step” that came only “after agents uncovered evidence that both had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign.”