Fox News devoted more than two hours of live coverage over one day of programming to Fox News anchor Bret Baier’s anonymously-sourced reporting that included explosive claims about both the FBI’s investigation into a “pay-for-play” relationship between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s office as secretary of state and their investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Three other networks have debunked and disputed the claims Baier made based on their own sources.
Fox News Anchor Bret Baier Manufactures Anonymously Sourced Bombshell Report
During the opening segment of the November 2 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier cited unconfirmed allegations from “two separate sources with intimate knowledge of the FBI investigations into the Clinton emails and the Clinton Foundation” to claim that “agents are actively and aggressively pursuing” the bureau's investigation into whether Clinton, in her position as secretary of state, engaged in “possible pay-for-play” behavior in accepting donations for the Clinton Foundation. Baier claimed his sources said the FBI “had collected a great deal of evidence” that suggested Clinton acted criminally, but Baier did not cite any information that would verify such claims.
Baier later claimed that the same anonymous sources told him FBI officials are claiming with “99 percent accuracy” that Clinton’s private email server was breached “by at least five foreign intelligence agencies” and that the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server “will continue to likely an indictment.”
Overnight, Baier’s anonymously sourced and unconfirmed information was parroted by other Fox hosts, prominent right-wing blogs, and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The next day, on America’s Newsroom, Baier was forced to walk back his explosive claim of a “likely” Clinton indictment, acknowledging that he “inartfully answered” Fox host Brit Hume’s question on that topic and because of that, his reporting “got picked up everywhere.”
Fox News Hypes Baier’s Report With Hours Of Airtime
Despite the flaws in Baier’s report, Fox News peddled the claim for at least two hours and eight minutes of coverage over a 24-hour period -- about 12 percent of the network’s total live airtime. Based on MediaPost’s calculated average of 16 minutes and 52 seconds of commercial time per hour on Fox News, at least 16.6 percent -- one-sixth -- of Fox News’ live programming was dedicated to Baier’s report.
Baier's report was brought up in at least 41 segments and 11 teasers during a 24-hour period of Fox News’ live coverage. Fox News invited more than 20 commentators, including Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Eric Trump, and Newt Gingrich, to speculate about the consequences of the report and legitimize the anonymously sourced claims.
On November 2, Baier’s report was hyped most heavily during Special Report with Bret Baier and Hannity. Hannity dedicated at least 22 minutes and 37 seconds to discussing Baier’s report -- more than half of his total airtime, excluding commercials. On November 3, Your World with Neil Cavuto mentioned the report five times, America’s Newsroom noted it at least seven times during its two-hour program, and Fox & Friends cited it at least 12 times during its three-hour program.
Networks Debunk Claims Made In Baier’s Report
On November 3, ABC News and NBC News disputed Baier’s “inaccurate” claim that the FBI is conducting a “very high priority” investigation into the Clinton Foundation that has produced a “great deal of evidence.” Both networks reported that the investigations Baier’s anonymous sources spoke about produced little evidence of impropriety, and NBC reported that that law enforcement officials told the network “there have been no developments” in the Clinton Foundation case “for several months.”
On MSNBC, reporter Pete Williams reported that according to FBI officials he spoke with, “this idea that there are indictments near or something like that” is “just not true” and that “there's been virtually no movement” on the Clinton Foundation investigation “for the last several months.” Williams added that Baier’s report that the FBI believed Clinton’s server was likely hacked was also false.
On November 4, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter criticized Baier’s attempt to walk back his claim that an indictment of Clinton was “likely.” Stelter argued that Baier’s claim was “more than just inartful language,” it was “wrong,” adding that according to other networks’ independent reporting, there was “no evidence that any of the Fox stuff is true. That there is nothing close to an indictment.” Stelter said Baier “can't walk back something like that because the damage is already done.”
Even Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, acknowledged that Baier’s indictment terminology was inaccurate, but she also claimed that “the damage is done” and that debunking the report “doesn't change what's in voters' minds right now.”
Despite the report’s sourcing problem and other networks’ debunking, Baier and other Fox hosts have continued to push his unsubstantiated claims about the FBI’s investigation. And this isn’t a new thing: Fox News reporters have habitually leaned on unconfirmed anonymous sources to create bombshell reports that spread misinformation about Clinton and other Democrats.
Media Matters searched Fox News’ live programs, excluding re-runs, on SnapStream between November 2 at 6 p.m. and November 3 at 6 p.m. for mentions of Bret Baier’s report using the terms: “Clinton,” “Foundation,” “FBI,” and all variations of “investigate.” Time was recorded for segments that featured or cited information originating from Baier’s reporting and data was recorded for number guests, time, and whether the mention was featured in a segment or teaser.