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Ed Henry’s interview received more coverage on MSNBC prime time than Fox News prime time
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 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.
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Assange promised "news about Warner” to a fake Sean Hannity account via "other channels" just weeks ago
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.
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.)
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.
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."
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:
Brian Kilmeade: “There’s a story here at the very least, don’t you agree.”
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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Right-wing and fringe media are claiming yet again that President Donald Trump was correct when he accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping in Trump Tower, now arguing that a legal wiretap targeted at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is proof of Trump’s claim. However, said wiretap was pursuant to a warrant and targeted at Manafort, not Trump. This is at least the fifth time in six months right-wing media has attempted to validate Trump’s lie.
Right-wing media have been quick to praise President Donald Trump for his response to Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath, lauding his tweets as well as pictures released of him in meetings, claiming that “symbolism matters as well as the execution,” and attacking critics who have pointed out that Trump has done several highly political things during the hurricane that was downgraded to a tropical storm. The current tone of the conservative media sphere is a radical departure from the tone during disasters under former President Barack Obama’s tenure, when they claimed he was just doing “photo-ops,” said he was ineffective, and lambasted him for not visiting disaster areas immediately despite local officials asking him not to come so that resources could be spent helping victims.