Fox News virtually ignored Trump refusal to enact election-related Russia sanctions

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Fox News virtually ignored the Trump administration’s refusal to enact sanctions on Russia for its 2016 election interference; by contrast, CNN and MSNBC each covered the story on nearly every one of their shows.

In July 2017, Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) with bipartisan, veto-proof support. The bill mandated “new measures targeting key Russian officials in retaliation for that country’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.” Though Trump signed the bill into law, he was vocal in opposing it and called it “seriously flawed.”

The deadline for the Treasury Department to issue sanctions against entities doing business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors was January 29. But the Trump administration announced that it will not be implementing any new sanctions, claiming that “the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.” But Washington Post senior reporter Aaron Blake noted the problems with that explanation:

There are a few problems with this.

The first is that the legislation was meant as a punishment, not a deterrent. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act explicitly says at the top that it is “to provide congressional review and to counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea, and for other purposes.” The law says it's about “countering” something, rather than preventing something.

The second problem is that, mere hours before the State Department issued this statement ahead of the deadline for imposing sanctions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo suggested that what Russia was being punished for is likely to repeat itself in the 2018 midterm elections.

The Treasury Department did publish a list of senior Russian political figures and wealthy oligarchs, which was also required by CAATSA, but “underlined that those named aren’t being targeted for new sanctions.” After questioning by BuzzFeed News, a Treasury official admitted that the list “was derived from Forbes’ ranking of the ‘200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017.’” According to Bloomberg, Putin reacted to the report by “joking that it was ‘offensive’ that he wasn’t included,” and saying that “Russia will ‘refrain for the moment’ from implementing serious retaliatory measures it has prepared.”

A Media Matters search of SnapStream found that Fox News only mentioned the story twice between 6:00 am and 5:00 pm on January 30. Fox & Friends, which Trump regularly live tweets and praises, didn’t mention the story at all. By contrast, CNN and MSNBC mentioned the Trump administration’s refusal to enact sanctions on nearly every program throughout the day. Fox’s first mention of the story was near the end of the 11:00 am hour, more than five hours after CNN and MSNBC first mentioned it.

Fox’s failure to adequately cover the Trump administration’s refusal to hold Russia responsible for its interference in the 2016 election comes amid a growing campaign by Fox News figures to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign worked with Russia.