Fox News ran with an unsubstantiated allegation that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was censoring the network’s coverage of the border by forcing Fox to stop flying a camera drone over migrants waiting to be processed at a Texas bridge. Fox made this allegation without reaching out to the FAA press office, according to an agency spokesperson, who said the limit was put in place for safety and security reasons at the request of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
On the morning of September 16, a Fox News correspondent tweeted that the network’s drone was flying over the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, and included images that appear to show migrants waiting to be processed. Nearly 12 hours later, that same correspondent tweeted that the FAA had implemented a temporary flight restriction over the International Bridge and implied that the government agency was preventing Fox from reporting on the border.
The FAA did issue a two-week temporary restriction on all unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over Del Rio, Texas, because of “special security reasons.” The flight restriction is for the airspace up to 1,000 feet above the ground, and will be in place from September 16-30. It does not include manned aircraft like news helicopters, and makes exceptions for issues of national security, law enforcement, and commercial UAS provided a “valid statement of work.”
The Fox correspondent claimed to have reached out to the FAA for clarification on the reason for the flight restriction. However, the FAA directly contradicted Fox News’ story.
An FAA spokesperson told Media Matters, “FOX News never reached out to the FAA’s press office yesterday at any point. The first contact between FOX News and the FAA was after the FAA press office saw the report. A statement was sent about an hour after the report aired.”
Nevertheless, Fox immediately began weaving a conspiracy theory that the FAA is “trying to keep Fox News from covering what is happening” at the Texas bridge:
- On his September 16 show, host Tucker Carlson framed the issue as “the FAA is trying to keep Fox News from covering what is happening there,” adding, “This is shutting down press coverage to hide your crimes.”
- Fox News host Sean Hannity accused the FAA of corruption on his September 16 show, saying, “The FAA is being used to cover up for Biden's failures.” After his interview with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on the FAA ruling, Hannity claimed, “Now we’re gonna weaponize the FAA.”
- Fox News reporter Bill Melugin appeared on the September 16 edition of The Ingraham Angle and said, “I can tell you it was not our Fox drones interfering with law enforcement activities,” as the chyron below him read, in part, “Biden doesn’t want you to see the reality at border.”
- On September 17, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said, “And now we’re learning that Fox can no longer fly our drones over the bridge. We got all these images with the drone. And they are saying for safety reasons you can't fly your drones anymore, media.” Co-host Steve Doocy chimed in, saying, “They're not saying media; they’re just saying Fox because we’re the only ones.”
- Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie commented on the situation during an appearance on the September 17 Fox & Friends, saying, “We think that unsafe in the FAA means, you know, people's safety. They are talking about the political safety of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. That's what they're protecting.” Doocy agreed, saying, “It's all about control. They want to control the pictures. They don't want us to show those pictures.”
- Responding to the FAA’s comments that the drone poses a risk, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hesgeth asked Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) during the September 17 edition, “Was it the drones interfering with law enforcement or is it interfering with the coverage of how the Biden administration wants the border?”
- On the September 17 edition of America Reports, Melugin claimed that “the feds are clipping our wings a bit.” He continued, “We are being kept so far away with our drone we can no longer even see where the bridge is.”
- Outnumbered co-host Emily Compagno said the “FAA shutting down drone coverage” is a sign that the Biden administration thinks “clearly there should be no media access.”
According to the FAA spokesperson, “unidentified drones pose a risk to law enforcement on the ground and to aircraft flying in the area,” and the agency issued the restriction at the request of Border Patrol. In the statement that it provided to Fox News after the network began airing its claims, the FAA mentioned that the media can apply to safely operate in the restricted area. The spokesperson said the agency followed up on the morning of September 17 and provided Fox with all the information needed to apply for permission.
Following all the network's allegations of supposed censorship by the U.S. government, Fox formally applied and has now been granted permission to use the restricted airspace.