Murdoch outlets contradict each other on Trump’s apparent lie about Iran

Some on Fox said the defense secretary disputed Trump’s claim that four embassies were under threat from Soleimani, while others claimed he backed Trump up

President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper

Citation Ceci Freed / Media Matters | Gage Skidmore and Sgt. B. Nicole Mejia via Creative Commons

Late last week, President Donald Trump introduced another apparent lie to justify his assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, saying Soleimani was plotting to attack four U.S. embassies. When Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he didn’t see any intelligence that four embassies were being targeted, some in the Rupert Murdoch right-wing media empire claimed Esper had backed up Trump’s claim, while others noted that he was contradicting the president.

The Trump administration had already been facing questions over its dubious claim that the U.S. killed Soleimani because he was plotting an “imminent” attack against the U.S. Members of Congress had also derided the administration for the briefing it gave to justify the assassination, with lawmakers saying officials provided no evidence. And then later last week, Trump first claimed that Soleimani was plotting to attack one American embassy, then embellished his statement to claim multiple embassies were under threat, before finally telling Fox News on Friday: “I can reveal I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies.” 

On Sunday, Esper clearly contradicted Trump’s claim when he appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation. When asked if there wasn’t any specific piece of evidence to indicate four embassies were under threat, he said, “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies.” On CNN, Esper said, “There was intelligence that there was an intent to target the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” Despite Esper’s admission that there was no intelligence to support Trump’s claim, he said during both appearances that Trump “believed” four embassies were under threat and that he shared the president’s assumption.

Murdoch-owned outlets couldn’t agree on what Esper did.

Despite Esper’s contradiction, the New York Post and Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt emphasized that the defense secretary had backed Trump up:

New York Post: Defense Secretary Esper backs Trump's claim that Iranians targeted four US embassies
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Citation From the January 14, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): The Defense Department said that they knew he was about to attack again. They’re saving hundreds of lives by not allowing him to blow up four more embassies.

Meanwhile, Fox senior White House correspondent John Roberts and Fox’s Kat Timpf, focused on Esper’s specific statement about intelligence, noting that it contradicted the president.

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Citation From the January 13, 2020, edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier

JOHN ROBERTS (FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT): The White House today denied there was any daylight between members of the president’s national security team, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared to dispute the president's claim that there were intelligence reports Qassem Soleimani had imminent plans to blow up as many as four U.S. embassies.

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Citation From the January 13, 2020, edition of Fox Business' Kennedy

KAT TIMPF (GUEST HOST): Well, impeachment is just one of the battles between Trump and Pelosi right now, as they're also fighting over the president’s order to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The president has argued there was an imminent threat that justified the killing, but said today, quote, “It doesn't really matter because of his horrible past.” His latest contention is that Soleimani was planning attacks against four U.S. embassies, but even his own defense secretary said that he hasn’t seen specific intelligence indicating that.

The Wall Street Journal presented Esper's quotes within a piece about the administration defending killing Soleimani.

Fox News, meanwhile, has also been covering for Trump on this issue in other ways, from repeating a debunked administration talking point to moving the goalposts on justifying the strike on Soleimani.