Ed Henry | Media Matters for America

Ed Henry

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  • Fox & Friends coverage of Unite The Right protests ignores white supremacists, instead fearmongers about antifa

    While happy to complain about antifa, Fox & Friends completely ignores that white supremacists are planning on gathering again

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Fox & Friends Sunday’s only coverage of the August 12 white supremacist rally in Washington D.C. mentioned only that “tense protests” were expected in Washington, and focused largely on an alleged “antifa mob” in Charlottesville, VA. August 12 marks the one year anniversary of a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, during which an attendee with white supremacist and neo-Nazi ties allegedly drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one woman, Heather Heyer. White nationalists have planned to mark the occasion with a rally in Washington, organized by the same white supremacist responsible for Charlottesville.

    Fox & Friends Sunday failed to inform their viewers about the assemblage of neo-Nazis in D.C., however. While the show did note that August 12 is the “one year anniversary of a deadly white supremacist rally,” during four nearly identical short reports, the program only explained that “tense protests are expected today.” Ignoring that those protests were again in response to the presence of white supremacists, the show fearmongered about an “anti-police bash led by an antifa mob.”

    The only other mention of the Charlottesville rally during the show came when Fox host Martha Maccallum previewed what Fox News Sunday would cover -- she also failed to mention that white supremacists were rallying in D.C. this weekend.  

    Fox’s decision to castigate anti-racist protesters without mentioning that white supremacists are once again rallying on our streets comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with the network’s coverage of the violence in Charlottesville. Following last year’s rally, Fox & Friends Sunday defended white supremacist protesters, with host Pete Hegseth arguing,  “there’s a reason those people were out there.” A Fox contributor, Charles Hurt, contended that, “there are those instigators on both sides of this fight that was going on in Charlottesville.” President Donald Trump's remarks defending neo-Nazis after Charlottesville were even full of right-wing media talking points.

    In fact, Fox’s coverage of neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville was infinitely more sympathetic than their coverage of protesters rallying for gun control or sports players kneeling in protest of racial inequality.

  • Fox & Friends papers over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s extremely conservative record

    Pete Hegseth: “The fact that they’re going to resist him is just a reflection of the fact that they hate Trump, so they hate anything he does”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News is already running defense for President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that opponents to D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination simply “hate Trump, so they hate anything he does.” But a closer look at Kavanaugh’s judicial record shows a nominee who is “more to the right than the man he would replace,” and a judge “whose lack of any direct paper trail on cases involving abortion rights will make it easier for pro-choice Republican senators ... to maintain the fiction that the future of Roe v. Wade is uncertain if not secure.” Right-wing propagandists have fantasized for years about getting a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade, a possibility they began discussing literally minutes after Kennedy announced his retirement.

    Moreover, beyond being described as “a forceful partisan,” Kavanaugh has taken the position that sitting presidents should be granted “a temporary deferral of civil suits and of criminal prosecutions and investigations,” a position a president who could potentially be served with a subpoena from federal investigators would be deeply invested in.

    From the July 10 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    ED HENRY (GUEST CO-HOST): It’s interesting, because The New York Times opinion page has, in their print edition, “Mr. Trump Courts the Right,” and it’s blasting everything about [Judge Brett] Kavanaugh, ignoring these credentials that even Alan Dershowitz, from the left a moment ago, said are many. But, if you go online, The New York Times opinion page, they don't put it in the paper today, has an op-ed from Akhil Amar, a professor at Yale Law School, who says he voted for Hillary Clinton and yet, basically says that, when the president said that this is a man with impeccable credentials, great intellect and all of that, “I agree.” So basically this professor, Akhil Amar at Yale Law School, says, I voted for Hillary Clinton. I supported every one of the Obama Supreme Court nominees, and this is a home run.

    PETE HEGSETH (GUEST CO-HOST): That’s the reality. Ultimately, as we’ve said, elections have consequences. If Hillary Clinton had won, we’d get more Sonia Sotomayors and Elena Kagans. But if you get President Trump, you get [Samuel] Alitos and [Antonin] Scalias.

    HENRY: Kagen, by the way, confirmed in the middle of a midterm election in 2010 for Barack Obama. She got through.

    HEGSETH: Of course, so like, the reality is is you get what you get when you vote for someone, and President Trump was the most transparent of anyone, saying, here’s the 25 I’m going to pick, he stayed faithful to that list, Brett Kavanaugh was one of them.

    HENRY: [Neil] Gorsuch was on the list, Kavanaugh was on the list.

    HEGSETH: And here you go, and the fact that they’re going to resist him is just a reflection of the fact that they hate Trump, so they hate anything he does.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • Key Fox shows are ignoring the network’s damning interview with Scott Pruitt

    Ed Henry’s interview received more coverage on MSNBC prime time than Fox News prime time

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Seeking to recover from a storm of ethical scandals with a tour of conservative news outlets, embattled Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt sat down with Fox News’ Ed Henry for an interview yesterday afternoon. Pruitt was surely hoping for the same softballs he has regularly received on the right-wing network. But to his credit, Henry grilled the EPA director, pushing back on Pruitt’s defenses of his conduct. Journalists from other outlets have rightfully praised the interview, with MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle commenting, “Ed Henry, good on you,” after airing a portion of it this morning.

    Observers have largely been struck by the dog-bites-man quality of a Fox reporter savaging one of President Donald Trump’s top appointees. But a review of Fox’s coverage of the interview demonstrates that the story is a bit more complicated. A network that pulls off a widely praised, newsy interview generally trumpets it in every hour of its coverage. The Henry-Pruitt sit-down, however, has been either completely ignored or significantly downplayed on several of Fox’s most-watched broadcasts.

    In fact, during prime-time hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, MSNBC’s liberal hosts devoted more time to discussing Fox’s interview (roughly 14 minutes) than did Fox’s conservative ones (about nine minutes), according to a Media Matters review. Pruitt’s corruption just doesn’t fit the narrative of many of the network’s hosts, even when their own colleague is the one advancing that story.

    Ethical misdeeds have trailed Pruitt throughout his tenure at the EPA. The major recent allegations revolve around him racking up substantial costs to the taxpayer on first-class flights, paying below-market rent for a condo that is co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, and exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to raise the salaries of two top aides by tens of thousands of dollars against the wishes of the White House. Conservatives who appreciate that Pruitt has shredded important environmental regulations at EPA have rallied around him, even as Democrats and Republican members of Congress have called for his resignation.

    Pruitt defended his actions with regard to all the allegations under often-withering questioning from Henry.

    Portions of the interview first aired yesterday afternoon on Fox’s The Daily Briefing, and it also garnered substantial coverage that day on Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Shannon Bream’s Fox News @ Night.

    But the network’s two highest-rated programs, Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight, completely ignored the Pruitt interview, with the hosts instead devoting their programs to their usual paeans to President Donald Trump and attacks on “Big Tech,” Hillary Clinton, and the “fake news” media. Other Fox programs like Your World with Neil Cavuto and the panel show The Five also did not make time to talk about Pruitt.

    Meanwhile, over on MSNBC, Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow extensively discussed the Pruitt story, with each airing substantial portions of the Henry interview that his own colleagues had not mentioned.

    The third Fox prime-time show, The Ingraham Angle, did give Pruitt substantial airtime, with guest host Brian Kilmeade airing a chunk of Henry’s interview, discussing it with Henry, and leading a debate between conservative commentator Mollie Hemingway and Democratic operative Richard Goodstein about the story’s ramifications.

    But Kilmeade’s handling of the story nonetheless demonstrates the way the network’s right-wing hosts twist coverage to benefit conservatives. He introduced the story by claiming that the EPA director was “fighting back big time” after becoming “the latest Trump administration member targeted by the left and the mainstream media” and disparaging the “bizarre” criticism against him.

    The next day, on Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite morning cable news show, Pruitt coverage was limited to two airings of a 40-odd-second news brief* featuring a portion of the Henry interview. The program, which the president regularly watches, and which provides a hagiographic look at his presidency, often relegates damaging stories about the Trump administration to the news briefs segments.

    There’s no ideological reason for conservatives to support government bureaucrats using loopholes to funnel raises to their aides, or living large on the taxpayer’s dime, or getting cut-rate housing arrangements -- indeed, it’s easy to imagine the same Fox personalities savaging the same behavior under a Democratic administration.

    But with Trump in the White House, many of Fox’s hosts are willing to provide cover, even when their own network has the scoop driving the story.

    Shelby Jamerson provided additional research.

    CORRECTION: This piece originally stated that the Fox & Friends news brief aired only once. Media Matters regrets the error.​

  • Fox & Friends attacks March For Our Lives protesters as over-emotional and ignorant

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News’ Fox & Friends and its weekend edition, Fox & Friends Sunday, repeatedly attacked the March for Our Lives protests, which took place in Washington, D.C., and over 800 other locations worldwide. Fox hosts and guests claimed the marchers had a “lack of appreciation and understanding of the Second Amendment” and let their “emotion” serve as “a terrible substitute for truth.”

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: “It goes against logic” for survivors to want comprehensive gun control instead of somebody “shooting back for me.”

    NRATV contributor Dan Bongino treated the protest as an attack against him personally. Bongino complained that the marchers ignored “viable, workable solutions” to school shootings in order to “take away firearms from people like me who didn't do a damn thing wrong. What did I do wrong?”

    Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth donated to the NRA the day after the march. Hegseth further said of Martin Luther King, Jr's granddaughter, who spoke at the DC march: “Forgive me if I don’t want to watch a 9-year-old tell me that her dream is a world without guns. My world, I want a world without Islamists. I wish that was true too. It’s just not the case.”

    Campus Reform media director Cabot Phillips chided the marchers for their “lack of appreciation and understanding of the Second Amendment.” Phillips also lectured the attendees about needing to be “ready for a debate” if they want to have opinions.

    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told the marchers that “they’ve been used” and “emotion is a terrible substitute for truth.” Fox News’ Ed Henry added, “Truth over emotion -- we don’t hear that on a lot of other channels.”

    Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry said student activist David Hogg claimed a clear backpack rule at his school “violates his First Amendment rights,” “ forgetting about our Second Amendment.”

    Henry later complained that the marchers didn’t follow “the process” of seeking a constitutional amendment.

    Pastor Robert Jeffress Jr.: “Only the gospel of Christ” can “deal with the root problem” and eradicate gun violence.

  • Fox publishes senator's leaked text messages less than two weeks after Julian Assange promised “news about Warner” to Hannity

    Assange promised "news about Warner” to a fake Sean Hannity account via "other channels" just weeks ago

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Less than two weeks after The Daily Beast reported WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange contacted a fake Sean Hannity account on Twitter discussing “other channels” for Assange to send information about Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Fox News hyped “brand new text messages” that revealed “questionable relationship between [Warner] and a lobbyist representing a Russian oligarch.”

    On January 29, The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins reported that, after Fox News host Sean Hannity’s Twitter account briefly “disappeared,” Julian Assange unknowingly messaged an account posing as Hannity, presumably under the impression that the account was authentic. In the direct messages, Assange suggested the parody Hannity account send messages “on other channels” because, according to a screenshot of the conversation, Assange had “some news about Warner” to discuss with Hannity.

    On the February 8 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, host Martha MacCallum reported “brand new text messages” from Sen. Warner that were “obtained exclusively by Fox News” from, according to Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry, “a Republican source.” MacCallum claimed the text messages “puts a little bit of a wrinkle in” the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. Soon after MacCallum’s exclusive report, Hannity promoted Henry’s report about the leaked Warner texts. President Trump weighed in as well, writing, "Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch."

    MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): We have some breaking news for you this evening on The Story. There are brand new text messages obtained exclusively by Fox News that reveal a questionable relationship between the top Democrat in the Senate's Russia investigation and a lobbyist representing a Russian oligarch. Good evening, everybody, I'm Martha MacCallum and this is The Story for tonight. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who held numerous press conferences over the past year promising a fair and bipartisan investigation into President Trump's supposed ties to Russia, was apparently trying to gain access through the Russians to Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier. Writing in part in these text messages that are just being revealed for the first time, "we have so much to discuss. You need to be careful, but we can help our country."

    [...]

    It's potentially at least a stream to follow up on that the Russians, perhaps, were trying to lay groundwork on both sides of the fence here.

    ED HENRY (FOX NEWS CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): No doubt about it.

    [..]

    The bottom line is Democrats have spent a lot of time talking about the president's ties to Russians, what kind of conversations he and his aides have had. Now these text messages that I got from a Republican source close to the committee is clearly an attempt by Republicans to say hang on a second, the top Democrat on this committee also had some questionable conversations about trying to keep some of this secret. And again, I want to stress, Warner’s office was very direct with me in saying they realize that this doesn’t look good out of context, as they say, but they insist the Republican chairman was in the loop.

    [...]

    MACCALLUM: Both sides have sort of pointed fingers at each other from the House side and Senate side that the House Intel Committee has all this friction between the Republicans and the Democrats and that on the Senate side, the gentlemen are working everything out with no problems. This sort of puts a little bit of a wrinkle in that.

    Soon after the report, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) acknowledged that “Sen.Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago,” adding that this disclosure, “has had zero impact on our work." 

    Fox News has waged a months-long campaign attempting to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. 

  • The life of a made-up Fox News ‘scandal’: Obama FBI texts edition

    Fox has nearly perfected the art of moving the goalposts after its so-called bombshells have been debunked. (They’ve had a lot of practice.)

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    It started out as a “bombshell” alert. Text messages, according to Fox News, showed then-President Barack Obama might have been improperly involved in the Clinton email investigation. By midday, it had been debunked (the texts weren’t about the Clinton email investigation at all), but it morphed into a sad charade by the network to pretend that Obama being briefed about Russian interference into the election was somehow a scandal of its own.

    Relentlessly pushing pseudo-scandals is Fox News’ bread and butter. The network essentially throws anything at the wall to see what sticks, and the Obama-FBI text message “scandal” is just the latest example. Here’s a breakdown of how Fox News messed up and is now trying to move the goalposts on its fraudulent claims.

    Background

    At 6:00 a.m. on February 7, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee published an interim report titled “The Clinton Email Scandal And The FBI’s Investigation Of It,” prepared by committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). The report pointed to a text FBI lawyer Lisa Page sent to FBI Agent Peter Strzok about preparing talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey that read “Potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” The report claimed this text “raises additional questions about the type and extent of President [Barack] Obama's personal involvement in the [then-Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it."

    Setting the stage: The Fox & Friends hype

    From the moment Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends started on February 7, it was clear there was a new “scandal” emerging in the network’s ecosystem. Co-host Steve Doocy opened the show with a “Fox News alert and a bombshell exclusive.” The bombshell: “New messages” that referenced Obama “now raising even more questions” about the Clinton investigation.

    Doocy noted Johnson’s report and questioned, “Are they talking about Barack Obama? Does that mean he was involved in whatever they were doing? That's a bombshell.”

    A bombshell it was not. But here’s how the story progressed on Fox News’ flagship morning show:

    6:30 a.m.

    Brian Kilmeade: “There’s a story here at the very least, don’t you agree.” 

    7:03 a.m.

    Doocy: “New messages now raising even more questions about what the FBI and former President Obama knew about the Clinton investigation and when.”

    [...]

    Griff Jenkins: “We’re taking a look at this, and it is raising a lot of questions. And it’s shocking. … Investigators telling Fox News this now raises questions about President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation.”

    8:30 a.m.

    Doocy (again): “Those text messages now raising even more questions about the FBI and perhaps President Obama’s involvement during the Clinton investigation of her email server.”

    And on, and on.

    “Straight-news” coverage: Text messages “might suggest undue presidential interest and/or influence,” and “now we know it goes to the top.”

    Fox’s so-called “straight news” shows didn’t fare much better.

    During America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Guy Benson claimed the text message “might suggest undue presidential interest and/or influence.” Anchor Bill Hemmer responded, “Boy, that opens up a whole new can of worms, Guy.”

    During the next show, Happening Now, Fox contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy stated that the text referring to POTUS “looks like it was about the Hillary Clinton investigation,” adding, “President Obama clearly had a stake in her being exonerated and Trump not winning the election.” She went on to say, “This is just like a mystery. It keeps unfolding and unfolding, and it gets dirtier and dirtier. And now we know it goes to the top.”

    The debunk(s)

    The debunks of Fox’s most recent “bombshell” began to roll out around noon. ThinkProgress, focusing on the timeline of events, called it “a total fraud.” Vox’s headline: “Trump says new FBI texts are a ‘bombshell.’ They’re not.” Even the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal poured cold water on the narrative being shouted on Fox News all day; according to the Journal, the text messages Fox used to suggest Obama had been “meddling” in the Clinton email investigation actually referred to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. CNN came to the same conclusion.

    Running with a broken narrative: “There was some speculation” that the texts were about the Clinton email investigation, but that “is still up for debate.”

    When the narrative that Fox News helped spearhead started to fall apart, the network’s hosts, guests, and anchors ran through a couple different plays. At first, they attempted to erase the network’s role in hyping and fueling the “bombshell report.”

    On Special Report, guest host Shannon Bream brought up Obama and the FBI officials’ texts, noting, “There was some speculation that was about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but now there’s talk that that was about the Russia potential collusion investigation, A.B. But it's now raising more questions and more criticism.” Panelist Mollie Hemingway also noted, “Initially, some people thought it had to do with the old Hillary Clinton email investigation.”

    Note that neither of them mentioned it was the very network they were on that had invented the “speculation.”

    Perhaps there is no better example of these acrobatics than Sandra Smith’s reporting on consecutive days. On Wednesday, Smith hyped “bombshell text messages” that were “rocking the FBI, revealing additional evidence of anti-Trump bias, and raising new questions about President Obama’s personal involvement in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.” On Thursday, she vaguely alluded to “a lot of conclusions drawn that these were exchanges about Obama wanting to know everything when it came to the Hillary Clinton email investigation which was closed at the time,” noting the Journal’s debunk that it was actually about Russian meddling. 

    Another tactic Fox tried was to claim that the details were “still up for debate.” During the 7:00 p.m. hour -- after the story had already fallen apart -- host Martha MacCallum introduced a segment on the topic, asking, “What was [Obama] keeping tabs on? That part of the story is still up for debate.” And correspondent Ed Henry noted the Journal’s debunk, but also argued that what the text message really referred to was “up for debate.”

    Shifting the goalposts: A new, morphed scandal emerges from the debunked scandal

    Lastly, Fox personalities shifted the goalposts. The initial scandal, that Obama supposedly was caught interfering in the Clinton email investigation, morphed into a different, supposed scandal, but one with the same cast of characters. Fox began arguing that, even if the text was referring to the investigation into Russian interference, that constituted a scandal on its own. Henry tried to make this case, saying, “Nonetheless, we should note that in April 2016, Obama insisted to our own Chris Wallace he never spoke to the attorney general or the FBI director about any pending investigations at all.” Hemingway used a similar tactic, stating “learning that it’s in fact about the Trump-Russia meddling election is far more interesting,” adding, “This is just, again, just a tiny part of a much larger scandal.” 

    Several of these tactics were also used on Sean Hannity’s show that night. Introducing the story with Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton, Hannity noted, “Wall Street Journal says it was not about the email investigation, but from earlier comments I saw that you made, you have your doubts about that.” Fitton responded, “Pick your poison in terms of presidential involvement in these sensitive criminal investigations,” essentially arguing that, whether the text message was about Obama wanting to know about Clinton or Russia, it was bad either way.

    By the following morning, the network had coalesced around this new narrative. Now, the scandal wasn’t that Obama was being informed about the Clinton email investigation; the scandal, somehow, was that Obama, the U.S. president and commander in chief, was being informed about the investigation into foreign interference in the upcoming U.S. election. Fox & Friends repeatedly used that argument during its February 8 edition, even bringing on Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, to make the same (but new) argument. America’s Newsroom continued on with the new charade of pretending that Obama being briefed on the investigation into Russian interference was somehow a problem. 

    And so it continues. 

    It’s hard to keep track of all the pseudo-scandals that Fox News runs through in a given week. The network, especially on Fox & Friends and Hannity, puts out wild trial balloons to see what sticks. Sometimes, as with their fixation about the “secret society” scandal (which, incidentally, was started on Fox, also in part by Sen. Johnson), it blows up in their face. But as with any other good propaganda outlet, they don’t stop blurring the facts and insisting that there are still new “questions,” “concerns,” and “allegations” that need to be investigated -- even if the so-called scandal was already debunked.