Let’s be perfectly clear at the start: It makes no difference who the whistleblower is. That stopped even being a potential issue weeks ago once the intelligence inspector general validated the report about President Donald Trump’s call with the new president of Ukraine.
The only reason we’re still talking about this at all is because right-wing media are hoping to use the person’s identity as a silver bullet to kill the entire Trump-Ukraine scandal that has led to an official impeachment inquiry.
And it’s no surprise that at the forefront of this bogus campaign lies Fox News.
Conspiracy theories are nothing new to Fox News, but with a potential impeachment on the horizon, the president’s favorite network is going full speed ahead in efforts to defend its most important audience. In its latest attempt to discredit the impeachment investigation, Fox recently picked up a razor-thin piece from Real Clear Investigations (RCI) that claims to identify the whistleblower by name. Unfortunately for Fox, RCI’s reporting is just another desperate attempt by right-wing media to distract from Trump’s abuse of power.
The identity of the whistleblower is far beside the point of the impeachment investigation. They could be a longtime right-wing operative, a committed left-wing activist (probably not), or someone in between: It wouldn’t change the cornucopia of evidence confirming that the president abused the powers of his office. Not only has the intelligence community inspector general debunked the lies pushed by Trump and his right-wing media allies, but damning testimony from the ongoing House investigation and reports from multiple whistleblowers have revealed that the president engaged in quid pro quo with a foreign leader to gain political advantage over an opposition candidate.
The RCI piece supposedly naming the whistleblower was written by far-right reporter Paul Sperry, the former Washington bureau chief for fake news outlet WorldNetDaily (now known as WND). Sperry’s journalism career had largely consisted of spreading anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, including writing a book on the Muslim Mafia. He’s also been at the center of pushing the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is running a “shadow government” aimed at undermining the Trump administration.
RCI has already walked back the article’s headline multiple times to soften its claims. Additionally, the individual named in Sperry’s “report” has been the target of far-right conspiracy theorists for years and was reportedly driven out of his White House post after receiving death threats.
This hasn’t stopped both Fox’s “straight news” and opinion sides from leaning into Sperry’s reporting. On day two of this manufactured distraction, anchor Martha MacCallum hosted a panel in which boy genius Charlie Kirk called the whistleblower a “highly politically motivated individual.” The previous day Brit Hume and MacCallum discussed the story without repeating the name reported by RCI, including a chyron that read: “Brit Hume on Whistleblower Being Named.” MacCallum suggested that the whistleblower’s identity “might reveal motivations, might reveal relationships, might reveal bias” against the president, echoing a line of attack from the network’s opinion side. Hume added that the whistleblower’s identity “would be embarrassing to House Democrats who are trying to mount an impeachment inquiry if it turns out that they, in some respects, had helped to trigger the whole thing.”
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Jeanine Pirro, who is always, as they say, “on one,” called the whistleblower a “Brennan acolyte” and“someone who loves Susan Rice,” claimed he or she colluded with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and lamented the unlikelihood that we will “see people go out in cuffs.” Carlson emphasized that he doesn’t know who the whistleblower is but the person identified in the RCI report “appears to be” him. He also called the whistleblower a “nakedly partisan political actor” in his opening monologue.
Frequent Tucker Carlson Tonight guest Ned Ryun inaccurately stated that The Washington Examiner and The Federalist had their own reports on the identity of the whistleblower when in reality the outlets had simply aggregated the original story from RCI. The conspiracy theory was also elevated across multiple other Fox personalities in the last two days, including Greg Gutfeld and Mark Levin.
When it comes to right-wing conspiracy theories, Sean Hannity reigns supreme. He opened his Halloween night show by spooking his audience about the threat of the whistleblower: “We are now looking down the barrel of yet another national crisis, clearly orchestrated by the deep state” and vowed the “hit job” against Trump “will not go unchallenged.”
The day before, Hannity claimed that a “massive, huge mystery out of our nation’s capital” is “reaching a fever pitch.” Although he repeatedly emphasized that Fox News cannot independently confirm Sperry’s reporting, Hannity also underhandedly endorsed his story, saying, “I can confirm to you after making numerous calls in the last hour, this is the individual that has been most talked about in Washington as the whistleblower.” He added that Republican lawmakers “must demand to know if, in fact, the whistleblower was a deep state operative.”
This is the lesson Hannity and his colleagues at Fox have learned since the backlash to his disastrous Seth Rich coverage that wreaked havoc on a grieving family: push the far-right conspiracy theory du jour as hard as you can, but try to maintain enough plausible deniability to avoid a lawsuit.
But the top-rated cable news network engaging in public speculation about the whistleblower’s identity is wildly reckless, discourages others from coming forward, and could put lives in danger -- just this week we learned that there have been death threats made against the whistleblower’s legal team.
No one should be surprised that Fox News has stooped this low -- the network has no editorial standards, and the distinction between the “news division” and opinion side is nothing more than a fig leaf. Right-wing hacks are throwing whatever they can get their hands on at the wall out of desperation to see what will stick. It couldn’t be more important that credible media outlets do not fall for it.