Sean Hannity | Media Matters for America

Sean Hannity

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  • Fox’s Seth Rich conspiracy theorists: Where are they now?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the fourth in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, and our timeline of events.

    No one has been held accountable for Fox News’ promotion of conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Fox News’ publication of a dubiously thin, hastily edited article pushing the debunked claim that Rich had provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. After the story crashed and burned, Fox retracted it and promised to investigate what happened.

    With no explanation forthcoming and no punishments announced two months after the story’s retraction, some Fox staffers voiced their displeasure to CNN’s Oliver Darcy. One Fox staffer told CNN that “people need to start getting canned” over the story.

    But another senior Fox News employee quoted in the story was more resigned about the situation, arguing that the lack of transparency and accountability was unsurprising for the network: “No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true.”

    The more cynical Fox staffer was correct.

    Two years later, no one involved in producing or pushing the retracted Rich story has been publicly disciplined, and several have actually been promoted.

    It’s clear, as the anonymous senior Fox employee indicated, that the network has no interest in journalistic integrity or employee accountability. The purported “investigation” was a scam intended to make it look like Fox was taking its responsibilities seriously until the anger over its actions dissipated.

    Here is what has become of the network’s conspiracy theorists:

    Malia Zimmerman is the investigative reporter who wrote the original FoxNews.com story that the network later retracted. She still apparently works at the network but has not published a new story since August 2017, soon after she and the network were sued over the story.

    Greg Wilson, then deputy managing editor of FoxNews.com, reportedly edited Zimmerman’s story, rushing to publish it in spite of its flaws because a rival story on the subject was going viral. One month after the story’s publication, Fox promoted him to managing editor of FoxNews.com.

    Sean Hannity, one of the network’s star prime-time hosts, championed the Rich conspiracy theory on Fox long after the story had collapsed. Some Fox employees told The Daily Beast they were embarrassed by his antics and network executives reportedly directed him to stop talking about Seth Rich after he lost advertisers and jeopardized a major acquisition deal in the U.K. But he has retained his show, which moved to the more coveted 9 p.m. timeslot later that year, continued to show disregard for anything resembling journalistic ethics and pushed conspiracy theories about how WikiLeaks obtained the DNC emails as recently as this April.

    Porter Berry, the executive producer of Hannity’s Fox show at the time, was the recipient of a letter from Rich’s brother Aaron who urged him to find “decency and kindness” and stop promoting the conspiracy theories. In August 2018, Fox promoted him to vice president and editor-in-chief of Fox News Digital, a role in which he oversees all of the network’s digital content, including FoxNews.com, FoxBusiness.com, and the Fox News apps.

    Laura Ingraham, then a Fox contributor, suggested on-air that the Rich family was covering up his death for partisan gain. In September 2017, Fox announced that she would host her own prime-time show for the network.

    Newt Gingrich, a Fox contributor, claimed on-air that Rich had been “assassinated” for giving WikiLeaks DNC emails. He has repeatedly refused to retract his despicable comments. He still has his Fox platform.

    Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins, the hosts of Fox & Friends and Fox & Friends First, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano were among the on-air network personalities who pushed the conspiracy theories. None appear to have been disciplined in any way.

  • Jay Sekulow parroted Seth Rich conspiracy theories on Hannity’s Fox show -- then became the president’s lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the fourth in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part five, and our timeline of events.

    Just a few weeks before he became President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to express support for the vicious conspiracy theory that the July 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich had been in retaliation for Rich leaking internal emails to WikiLeaks.

    In May 2017, after Fox published a story on the subject that it eventually had to retract, Hannity became the most prominent champion of this vile conspiracy theory. Long after the story fell apart, the volatile Fox star was using his Twitter feed and his national radio and cable news shows to promote it as part of his partisan defense of Trump from allegations of Russian collusion. Day after day, as Rich’s family begged him to stop, Hannity argued that if the DNC staffer had given WikiLeaks the emails that the group released during the 2016 presidential campaign, it would debunk the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian hackers were behind the DNC email hack and undermine its broader contention that Russia had been trying to secure Trump’s election.

    Sekulow, a conservative attorney and talk radio host with deep ties to the religious right and a fixture on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, was one of the guests Hannity leaned on most in the spring and summer of 2017 as the host sought to minimize the Trump-Russia reporting. In two May 2017 segments, their discussion turned to the Rich’s death, with Sekulow eagerly agreeing with Hannity’s adoption of the conspiracy theory.

    May 16, 2017, was a big day for the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. FoxNews.com published its dubiously thin, hastily edited story that morning alleging that Rich had been in contact with and given tens of thousands of DNC emails to a WikiLeaks operative, and that his murder had subsequently been covered up. Over the course of the day other news outlets debunked its various claims, the Rich family and the Washington, D.C., police issued denials, and the story’s only named source started walking back his claims. By the time Hannity began his Fox show at 10 p.m. EST, the story was in shambles.

    That didn’t stop Hannity from devoting a substantial portion of his opening monologue to the “massive breaking news story” or hosting Sekulow to tease out the story’s implications. Hannity asked the right-wing lawyer whether, based on the story, it is “possible that this whole Russia narrative was -- and the leaks really came from a DNC staffer and that the media's been wrong for almost a year.”

    “Well, Sean, the media has not been right yet,” Sekulow replied. “So the -- you know, the presumption should be that the media is wrong with where they're laying the blame on the leaks that are going on now.”

    Sekulow called the timeline of Rich’s death “troubling, to say the least,” adding, “It raises a serious issue and a serious concern that our national security is being jeopardized in ways we don't fully understand.”

    Two nights later, every other Fox program had stopped talking about the story and the Rich family had demanded a retraction and apology from the network for “damaging the legacy of their son.” But Hannity, with Sekulow’s help, was still pushing the conspiracy theory on his Fox show.

    This time, Sekulow speculated that some aspects of Rich’s death suggested that he had been targeted for death rather than being the victim of a botched robbery, as law enforcement had surmised. Sekulow, whose specialty is First Amendment law, claimed to be “familiar with this area.”

    “It does not fit the classic definition of robbery because the deceased -- nothing was taken,” he said. “So that means it really wasn't a robbery based on what we know but rather a murder. And there's a fundamental difference both to the criminality of that and to the way in which it would proceed through investigation.”

    “It sounds like murder one,” he added. “It sounds like premeditated murder; they targeted this individual.” He then raised questions about whether law enforcement was covering up what happened, saying, “The unfortunate situation is that it's been classified. I guess the police are classifying it as a robbery, the detectives.” Sekulow went on to speculate that Rich’s death was linked to his job at the DNC, saying, “There’s a lot more to this, I would suspect. I mean, you can’t ignore the fact that it was a DNC staff member.”

    Picking up on that thread, Hannity questioned whether the WikiLeaks emails had been leaked by someone “disgruntled at how they cheated Bernie Sanders. … Couldn't you see somebody seeing that gross injustice, saying this is outrageous, and wanting it exposed, the truth told?”

    “That happens all the time inside of a political campaign, so that's not unusual,” Sekulow replied. “The tragic aspect of it here is of course the media continuing to harp on the Russia source of the leaks which [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange pretty much denies, pretty unequivocally. ... That begs the question, and it's an unfortunate question to have to address, and that is there's a dead 27-year-old in Washington, D.C., who happened to be a DNC employee, and Julian Assange is at least making statements that it could be this individual.” (Special counsel Robert Mueller would later indict 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking the DNC and other Democrats and conclude that Assange and WikiLeaks had made “a number of statements about Seth Rich,” which “implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails.”)

    “I think this whole Russian argument, Sean, is such subterfuge from reality,” Sekulow concluded.

    Sekulow and Hannity had laid out the entire conspiracy theory, based on little more than Assange’s claims and speculation. They didn’t want to believe that the Russians had given emails to WikiLeaks, because that could implicate Trump and prove the media correct. So instead they wove a story that suggested that Rich was an embittered employee who gave the organization the documents, then was mysteriously murdered in retaliation, with the police covering up the crime.

    Over the next few weeks, Rich’s grieving parents and brother would plead with conservative news outlets and Hannity in particular to find “decency and kindness” and stop their “unspeakably cruel” coverage. Hannity would continue to promote the conspiracy theory, even as advertisers fled his show.

    And Sekulow would be hired by Trump because the Fox-obsessed president reportedly thought he did “a good job defending him on TV."

  • With the Mueller investigation over, conservative media declare it’s time to investigate the investigators

    Right-wing media, predominantly Fox News figures, use the end of the Mueller investigation to call yet again for investigations into Hillary Clinton, President Obama, the FBI, and more

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Thursday, April 18, the Department of Justice released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference. Since then, several right-wing media figures, including hosts, anchors, and guests of President Donald Trump’s favorite TV channels Fox News and Fox Business, have declared that now is the time to investigate the investigators. (Republican National Committee spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington has also joined the chorus.)

    • New York Post’s Michael Goodwin: “The whole thing about the Russian dossier, the use of it by the FBI, [former FBI Director] James Comey, [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, [former CIA Director John] Brennan, [former national security adviser] Susan Rice, on and on. All of their actions are subject, we hope, to a true investigation.”

    • The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman: “How did this begin? How did this use of surveillance tools against the party out of power get started? And that's really what we haven't learned. ... Now I think we'll learn more about how the government came to spy on a political opposition.”

    • Fox Business host Stuart Varney: “I would simply like to know what did President Obama know about an ongoing spying operation into a competitor's political presidential campaign? … Will we find out what Hillary was doing?”

    • Fox contributor John Sununu: “When Lindsey Graham starts his investigation on the Clinton side of the issue, [Democrats] will have a difficult time with dealing that. And the more and more they get into the weeds, the more and more the American public is going to understand how political they are rather than trying to get legislation passed.”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk on The Story: “I actually believe you cannot allow the people from the internal, high levels of the FBI to get away with what they did here. ... There’s a lot of information, a lot of questions that still needs to be answered because this should never be allowed to happen to any other president again.”

    • Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier: Baier falsely gave credence to the idea that investigators need to be investigated, saying, “We don't yet know about the origins of the investigation, the [inspector general] may shed some light on this, as other investigations in the early stages.”

    • Fox contributor Katherine Timpf on Outnumbered: “We already have evidence that there were some people who were involved in this investigation who were politically motivated. They wanted to get the president. That's not something we wondering about, it's something we know. So knowing that, why wouldn’t you want to know more?”

    • Outnumbered co-host Lisa Boothe: “I would love to know at what point Mueller knew there was no collusion and why the investigation went past that point. I question the origins of the investigation to begin with. ... I question all of it, and I sincerely think we need to get to the bottom of it.”

    • Fox Business’ David Asman on Fox's Outnumbered: “It’s probably one reason why they are attacking [Attorney General William] Barr now is because they are afraid of what he might dig up as a result of investigating all this.”

    • Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: “If there is a possibility that the deep state exists and it is so politicized, and at the president's disposal, shouldn't all of the people running for president as Democrats want an investigation to make sure what happened in 2016 doesn't happen in 2020?”

    • Breitbart’s Alana Mastrangelo responded to a Trump tweet about the Mueller report with “Now let’s investigate the investigators.”

    • Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce on Varney & Co.: “We aren't fatigued with justice. We want it, and I think that especially in this case we know this investigation was based on something that didn't occur.”

    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Will we ever see these underlying documents? We've got transparency from the Trump team, … and we still don't really know, do we, what happened with Comey and the edits and why he came out into a press conference?”

    • Ingraham: “Every effort should be made to investigate the origins and motivations of this Mueller investigation.”

    • Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy on Fox's The Story: “I would think everybody would want to know was there sufficient factual predicate for the launching -- the initiating of this investigation? … What you will see is Republicans going to investigate the origins.”

    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “Everyone involved, the Dems who funded it, the Christopher Steeles and the law firms, that aided and abetted in this farcical attempt to overthrow a president … should be in orange jumpsuits.”

    • Dobbs: Barr is “the first attorney general I've seen in decades who, I believe, has the capacity and the talent and the integrity to … clean up this mess that is the leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”

    • Lou Dobbs Tonight guest Harmeet Dhillon: “We are going to see more leadership changes [at DOJ] I hope, and that Bill Barr is able to be given all the rope and the ammunition that he needs to go forward.”

    • Fox regular Joe diGenova: “It is now abundantly clear that in order to restore the integrity of DOJ and FBI, there has to be a full-scale federal grand jury of the Obama DOJ and FBI, CIA, and director of national intelligence."

    • The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway on Fox's Special Report: “The country was basically held hostage by a collusion theory -- a theory that the president of the United States was a foreign agent. … It was a very negative thing. There needs to be accountability; we are being given indications that there will be accountability for this.”

    • Hemingway on Fox & Friends: “We should continue to investigate, but what we should investigate is how [the media and Democrats] were able to get away with saying [that there was collusion] for so many years without evidence, and how it was that our own law enforcement and intelligence agencies were taken over by this.”

    • Fox host Jesse Watters: “They used false information to spy on the Trump campaign, so that needs to be investigated. … Why aren't reporters at Chappaqua [NY] right now, waiting for Hillary?”

    • Fox Nation personalities Diamond & Silk: “The government officials that participated, that masterminded, that orchestrated all of this here collusion mess -- they need to be brought to justice. It’s time to investigate the investigators.”

    • Fox guest Francey Hakes: “How did this entire investigation get started, and did the US government actually run an asset at George Papadopoulos to plant information that was then later used as the basis of the entire investigation? … Public corruption must be examined.”

    • A Hannity panel comprising Fox’s Gregg Jarrett, right-wing journalist Sara Carter, and former independent counsel Ken Starr agreed that the investigators need to be investigated. Jarrett: “If I were James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Brennan Clapper, I wouldn't be sleeping very well tonight or many nights to come.”

    • Fox host Sean Hannity: “If any of this started before July 31, the alleged beginning of the FBI's collusion investigation, we need to know when it started. And finally, we need to know this big question: What did he know? What did President Obama know? And when did he know it?”

    • Hannity on his radio show: “Is Robert Mueller going to be reappointed and maybe he’ll hire only Republican donors? … Maybe they'll hire Sean Hannity. ... This is now the beginning of the real investigation into the investigators.”

    • Trump attorney Jay Sekulow on Hannity: “For the country’s sake, we don’t let this happen again -- ever again. When a situation like this -- that’s why you got to find out how you started. I think the attorney general is going to do the right thing.”

  • It’s been 700 days since Fox said it would investigate its Seth Rich reporting. We’re still waiting.

    Robert Mueller's entire investigation lasted only 674 days

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Monday marked the 700th day since Fox News promised to investigate how it had come to propagate fact-free conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and to “provide updates as warranted." As of yet, the network has not revealed why it put Rich’s family through hell by pushing a vicious smear dredged from the right-wing fever swamps, and it probably never will.

    In May 2017, Fox’s nonexistent editorial standards and unhinged prime-time personalities plunged the network into crisis. For nearly a year, right-wing online conspiracy theorists had postulated that Rich had provided thousands of stolen DNC emails that WikiLeaks published during the 2016 presidential campaign. With several ghoulish on-air segments and a credulous online report that quickly collapsed, Fox pushed that discredited hypothesis into the mainstream.

    Fox was engaged in a cynical, partisan effort to undermine the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had hacked the DNC and leaked the emails through WikiLeaks to aid Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. But the effort backfired almost immediately as the network faced widespread public condemnations, internal dissent from embarrassed network staffers, and pleas from Rich’s anguished family. (“With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us,” his parents wrote in The Washington Post.) The incident sent a clear signal to the rest of the press that the network had become a propaganda arm of Trump’s White House, putting the network’s brand in jeopardy.

    Fox executives took what was, for the network, an unheard-of stab toward accountability in response. They retracted the original FoxNews.com and replaced it with a promise that Fox would review how it had published materials that didn’t meet the network’s standards and "provide updates as warranted." But it quickly became apparent that Fox’s actions weren’t on the level. Two months later, as confused network employees questioned why no results had been forthcoming, a top Fox executive told CNN the investigation was ongoing but provided no sense of when it might conclude.

    No one at Fox has faced consequences for Rich commentary

    That internal probe has now lasted longer than special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. To date, Fox has provided no public accounting of what went wrong, and it has announced no disciplinary action against anyone involved with promoting the conspiracy theory.

    The author of the initial FoxNews.com story apparently still works at the network (though she hasn't published a story since August 2017), its editor has been promoted, and on-air commentators who pushed the conspiracy theory such as Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and Steve Doocy are still comfortably ensconced at Fox.

    The subsequent years have provided more evidence that Fox’s Rich reporting was bogus. But as Mueller indicted Russian intelligence officers for the hack of the DNC, Attorney General William Barr publicly acknowledged that Mueller’s probe had found that Russians were responsible for the hacked emails, and the likes of the conservative Washington Times and prominent birther Jerome Corsi retracted and apologized for some of their own flawed Rich stories, the network has kept its internal probe under wraps.

    Fox served as a vehicle for WikiLeaks’ reported disinformation

    Last week brought a new opportunity for Fox to explain what went wrong. The Mueller report explicitly cleared Rich of providing the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, finding that the group had received them from their real source, Russian hackers, after Rich’s death. The report also criticized WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, for misleading the public by suggesting that Rich had been their source. “WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently designed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing,” the report states.

    Fox provided a willing venue for this misinformation campaign. Assange repeatedly and unequivocally told Hannity that the Russian government was not his source during a January 2017 interview, a claim that the Fox host accepted both at the time and over the intervening years because it bolstered his talking point that Russia hadn’t tried to help Trump’s campaign. During the interview, Hannity asked Assange about a report that WikiLeaks had received documents from a “disgruntled Democrat,” whom Hannity later noted on his radio show may have been Rich (Assange demurred).

    At a normal media outlet, news that the network had been used as part of a deliberate disinformation campaign might trigger an outraged response. But at Fox, producing propaganda that helps conservatives is simply the business model. The network’s PR team is still refusing to answer questions about how its Rich reporting went wrong, its reporters have not addressed the Mueller report’s revelations about Rich in detail on-air, and Hannity himself has been lashing out at other media outlets while ignoring his own failures.

    Fox’s Seth Rich internal report seems like a sham

    It’s probably safe to assume that we will never see the results of Fox’s internal investigation. Fox rarely has an actual interest in ensuring its personnel are meeting the basic ethical standards accepted at other newsrooms.

    But the network is deeply concerned with its brand, and that’s the best way to think of this probe -- as the sort of PR gambit that its executives try in order to reduce public pressure until the media moved on.

    In a Friday statement, Rich’s brother Aaron Rich responded to the release of the Mueller report last week by saying it provides “hard facts that demonstrate this conspiracy is false.” He continued:

    I hope that the people who pushed, fueled, spread, ran headlines, articles, interviews, talk and opinion shows, or in any way used my family’s tragedy to advance their political agendas — despite our pleas that what they were saying was not based on any facts — will take responsibility for the unimaginable pain they have caused us.

    But people like Hannity aren’t going to apologize for what they did to the Rich family, and Fox hasn’t done anything about the network’s Rich reporting because its executives don’t really care about them either.

    Fox is a propaganda outlet geared toward ensuring the continued dominance of Trump and his movement.

    The pain of Rich’s family is simply the cost of doing business.

  • Here's how Fox News is spinning the Mueller report

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On April 18, the Department of Justice released a 448-page redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Since the report’s release, Fox News has been spinning its findings to appear favorable to President Donald Trump.

    Although Mueller didn’t officially charge Trump, the report is still widely seen as “a “brutal indictment of his campaign and his presidency.” According to NBC News, the first volume of the report “details how Trump and his allies solicited, encouraged, accepted and benefited from the assistance provided by America's most storied foreign adversary as part of a multi-front assault on American democracy.” The second volume “lays out comprehensive evidence that the president may have obstructed justice through what Mueller described as a ‘pattern of conduct’ that included firing FBI Director Jim Comey, trying to remove Mueller, publicly praising and condemning witnesses, and seeking to limit the scope of the probe.” In short, the report tells a story of “a president who used nearly every power vested in his office and his persona … to cover up ties between his campaign and Russia so that he could spare himself the public humiliation of having won an election that wasn't entirely on the level.” As NBC notes, critics argue that the report’s findings “rattle the very foundations of the American system of governance.”

    However, Fox News is still working hard to keep the president in a favorable light. Fox figures have argued that Trump’s actions were justifiable because he was frustrated; have deflected from the report’s findings by pivoting to the perceived reporting errors of the media; and have falsely claimed that one can’t obstruct justice without an underlying crime. Fox figures have also continued to call for an investigation of the investigators and of the origins of the probe, and they have defended Attorney General William Barr’s questionable and highly partisan actions.

    Narrative 1: Trump was cooperative and his actions were justified because he was frustrated

    Fox figures are suggesting that the fact that Trump didn’t use executive privilege is evidence that he cooperated with the Mueller investigation. Fox is also arguing that Trump’s reaction when he found out about the special counsel investigation could not be perceived as guilt because it came out of frustration that it would slow down his agenda. (Barr advanced this argument of Trump’s frustration in his April 18 press conference.) Fox is also pointing to an expletive Trump used as proof that he was just worried people would see him as an illegitimate president.

    Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed Trump said “I’m doomed” only because he had “been told that any time there's a special counsel, it goes on and on and on for years.”

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Yeah, the president sat down at his desk and said, basically, I'm doomed. I have been told that any time there's a special counsel, it goes on and on and on for years. And he said this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my life. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/18]

    Fox’s Dana Perino claimed that Trump “was actually quite cooperative” with the special counsel’s investigation.

    DANA PERINO (HOST): I do want to ask Martha [MacCallum] about this idea about cooperation. And if we can pull up sound bite number 15, because I want to have you listen to this. And it's interesting to me that there's these calls about obstruction, and yet the president was actually quite cooperative -- didn't ask for executive privilege on any of the documents, allowed people to go and be interviewed. [Fox News, Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, 4/18/19]

    Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich claimed that Trump didn’t say a “bad word … in the sense that he was guilty” but “in the sense that special counsel investigations or special investigations, independent counsels slow down your agendas.”

    KATIE PAVLICH (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): You know, there's been this out-of-context quote from the Mueller report that reporters have been talking about as a result of the release, saying that the president said he was -- a bad word. He was -- essentially, his presidency was over as a result of the special counsel getting launched. But he didn't say it in the sense that he was guilty. He said it in the sense that special counsel investigations or special investigations, independent counsels slow down your agendas. [Fox News, Outnumbered Overtime, 4/18/19]

    Narrative 2: The media were wrong in their reporting on the Mueller report

    Fox figures are arguing that the Mueller report vindicated their accusations that the mainstream media was wrong in their reporting of the investigation, even though much of what mainstream media reported on was ultimately seen as corroborated by the final report. Various Fox figures demanded that media outlets apologize to Trump and others. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway echoed this narrative when she appeared on Fox, saying, “We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.”

    Fox & Friends guest Buck Sexton criticized other media outlets for not apologizing for "the insanity that they have been reporting" about the Mueller investigation.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Buck, you have said this is a reminder of the media getting it wrong for the last two years. Do you think the media will realize -- or has realized that and will make it right or apologize? I think I know the answer.

    BUCK SEXTON (TALK RADIO HOST): I'm quite sure that the media is not going to apologize and, in fact, I think what you’re seeing today Ainsley is a lot of people doubling down. There was certainly a bit of humiliation that was doled out to them when we knew that there would no charges, either on obstruction or on collusion, conspiracy once that came out. But now you are going to see a lot of media outlets that are desperate to find something in this report to justify the insanity that they have been reporting on for two years. They are going to work very hard at a kind of special interpretive analysis here to say, “Well, there weren't charges, but look at this thing.” They are also going to dig deep into the redactions and suggest that that's where the real collusion happened or that’s where you’ll find -- I mean, it's all nonsense and it’s all politics for them. And speaking of politics, the Democrats are going to try to use obstruction. There will be some -- I don't know if the whole party will go in this direction to create a narrative that there needs to be at least investigations going toward or hearings going toward impeachment based on the obstruction evidence but not charges that will be in this report. I think that's pretty likely. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/19]

    On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume said media reporting on the Mueller investigation was “dog doo.”

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): [The Mueller report] comes out. How can the rest of us act like our assumptions for the past two years -- or their assumptions for the last two years -- were ratified, were right. I mean why doesn’t the entire city of Washington stop and ask itself, “How were we so wrong?”

    BRIT HUME (FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST): Well, that can be attributed to the partisan divide that you see across the country and very much in Washington. There are some of us, such as those of us here at Fox News, who don't have any of this collusion dog doo all over our shoes and never did. And so we look at this and we think to ourselves, "Well, yeah, I guess we sort of sized that up properly." We didn't buy into that. We didn't make a hero out of Michael Avenatti and having him on our air a couple of hundred times and talk about what a serious presidential candidate he was. We didn't spin every story that came along to suggest that it pointed in the direction of the collusion that was talked about endlessly. We didn't do any of that. So there's a big segment of us -- there’s a big segment of our audience that didn't buy into that stuff either. So none of us tonight has anything but regrets that this took up as much of our time and as much of our political air as it did as you point out. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 4/18/19]

    On his show, Carlson said, “The Mueller report is probably the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House press corps."

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): These are hysterical children. They should not be in journalism, but they are. In fact, they run journalism, and they have no plans on giving up their power. The Mueller report is probably the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House press corps in the history of this country. So, how did reporters in Washington respond today when it finally came out? Well, they did what they do best; they celebrated themselves. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 4/18/19]

    Fox’s Mark Levin claimed that “it's now a matter of the American people versus the press," adding, “I would call them the unfree press.” Levin also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the report, saying that “you have no idea” if "the report is truthful” and that it’s a “200-page op-ed” that Mueller “should never have written.”

    MARK LEVIN (FOX HOST): This is political document that he should never have written. A political document that is 200 pages long that the press keeps focusing on. That's why he and Weissmann and the others wrote it, because he knew you all -- he knew CNN would be obsessed with it. He knew that MSNBC would be obsessed with it. This is an op-ed. This is a 200-page op-ed. That's all this is.

    LEVIN: This is a hack job. Now, where are we here? Where are we here? From my perspective, it's now a matter of the American people versus the press. Or how I would call them, the unfree press. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/18]

    Narrative 3: The report found "no obstruction"

    A growing Fox narrative asserts that there’s no obstruction of justice unless there’s an underlying crime. Attorney General Barr also suggested this idea, which, according to The Washington Post, is wrong: “It’s black letter law that a defendant can satisfy the corrupt intent criterion for obstruction even if the defendant himself committed no underlying crime.” That hasn’t stopped Fox from using this talking point -- Trump even tweeted a paraphrased quote from Fox host Martha MacCallum, writing, “When there is not an underlying crime with regard to Collusion (in fact, the whole thing was a made up fraud), it is difficult to say that someone is obstructing something. There was no underlying crime.”

    On Fox & Friends, former independent counsel Ken Starr said that “not only was there no obstruction, there was cooperation.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt accused the left of “shifting the narrative yet again” to obstruction.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): We heard Russia, Russia, Russia. Then we heard no collusion. And now we're hearing obstruction, obstruction, obstruction. The left is shifting the narrative yet again. Are you surprised?

    KEN STARR (FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL): Well, I'm not. I'm disappointed, but here's the bottom line: Not only was there no obstruction, there was cooperation. Did the president want to cooperate? No. Did he like Bob Mueller and the whole thing? He hated it. Well, guess what? Bill Clinton hated me and hated the investigation. Ulysses S. Grant fired the special counsel. Harry Truman's attorney general fired the special counsel. Famously, Richard Nixon fired the special counsel and the special prosecutor. You know there's a difference between having thoughts and this is another dimension that really did surprise me: how open and frank the conversations are with the president of the United States that then become disclosed and they are now in the public domain. We used to call that executive privilege. Talk about cooperation: cooperation in all caps. Not a single, as far as we know, invocation of executive privilege when these were such private, confidential conversations that are now, obviously, embarrassing to the president and being seized upon for political purposes. But there was no obstruction here. The 10 obstructive acts just don't add up to being an obstruction of justice in the criminal sense.[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/19]

    Fox News correspondent Ed Henry falsely claimed, “You can't obstruct something if there is no underlying crime.”

    ED HENRY (GUEST CO-HOST): Think about what they have said in the run-up to this. Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow have said you can't obstruct something if there is no underlying crime. So if part one of the Mueller report says there was no collusion/conspiracy coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, then there is no underlying criminal activity by the president of the United States. So then how can you say, “Well, there is no crime but you obstructed justice even though you didn't commit a crime”? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/19]

    The following day, Henry again falsely claimed that there is “no obstruction there” because Trump’s aides “didn’t act on it.”

    ED HENRY (FOX NEWS CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): Well, on that incident that Brian [Kilmeade] was talking about with Don McGahn, who was White House counsel at the time, it basically talked about the president calling him up, and the report says that weekend, the president called McGahn and directed him to have the special counsel removed because of asserted conflicts of interest. McGahn did not carry out the instruction for fear of being seen as triggering another "Saturday Night Massacre" and instead prepared to resign himself. Now McGahn ultimately did not quit and the president did not follow up with McGahn on his request to have the special counsel removed. Important points there because in the end, embarrassing details for the president about how it all played out. But he didn't act on it. McGahn didn't act on it. So there was no removal of Robert Mueller. So no obstruction there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/19]

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade falsely asserted that Mueller found Trump wasn't trying to obstruct the investigation.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): One of the big controversies I guess from the White House perspective is there will be a mass of details, according to, I think, Jonathan Swan, a great reporter on Axios, of the president unloading on -- about Mueller, about [Jeff] Sessions, about Rod Rosenstein to, I guess, [former White House counsel] Don McGahn and others. I have news for you: We all heard it. We have seen it, we've interviewed him. We've read his Twitter feed. He's doing it non-stop in front of the public eye which might have made it challenging for Robert Mueller to figure out, “Is these the rantings of an innocent man or is somebody trying to manipulate me?” And Robert Mueller's answer is obviously no one is manipulating him. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/19]

    Narrative 4: The investigators and origin of the Mueller investigation need to be investigated

    For weeks, Fox personalities have been demanding that the origins of the investigation, Hillary Clinton, and the Obama administration be investigated. The narrative made its way to Barr’s press briefing, where Fox White House correspondent Catherine Herridge asked Barr if he will investigate the “genesis of the Russia investigation.” This right-wing narrative questions the legitimacy of the starting point of the investigation, even though the details of the investigation’s origins are public.

    Speaking to Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, Fox host Sean Hannity questioned the origin of the report, asking, “Are we really to believe the origins of this as they claim?”

    SEAN HANNITY: Attorney General Barr said the other day, and there was a media freakout over it, that yes, the Trump campaign was spied upon. Now it happened in a number of ways. It happened vis-a-vis the FISA warrant full of the Hillary-bought-and-paid-for, of all things Russian lies as the bulk of information, according to the Grassley-Graham memo. … Are we really to believe the origins of this as they claim was George Papadopoulos and a drink set-up? Do you believe that origin? Because that would not warrant what has just happened to this country. [Fox News, Hannity, 4/18/19]

    Fox Nation host Lynette Hardaway of the Diamond and Silk duo said, “The government officials that participated … need to be brought to justice,” later adding that it's "time to investigate the investigators.”

    LYNETTE HARDAWAY (DIAMOND, FOX NATION PERSONALITY): You have to understand also that the media is trying to divert attention away from what really happened.

    ROCHELLE RICHARDSON (SILK, FOX NATION PERSONALITY): Mhm.

    HARDAWAY: The government officials that participated, that masterminded, that orchestrated all of this here collusion mess -- they need to be brought to justice.

    RICHARDSON: That's right.

    HARDAWAY: It's time to investigate the investigators. They don't want the issue to get out. And that's why they are trying to divert our attention away for, and trying to push this obstruction of justice mess when there was no obstruction of justice. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/19]

    Narrative 5: Barr was transparent and technically didn’t need to release anything at all

    Some mainstream reporters have disagreed with premature reporting describing the report as "lightly redacted," but Fox figures have repeated that phrase, with some arguing that Barr didn’t need to release a report at all and praising his transparency.

    Fox anchor Shannon Bream defended Barr, saying he didn't have to release Mueller's report. Host Dana Perino agreed that “the attorney general didn’t have to do this at all.”

    DANA PERINO (HOST): Shannon Bream, I did want to ask you about this. It's very lightly redacted. I worked at the Justice Department for a while. I know redactions are very frustrating to people. I think we have a full screen that we can pull up that shows that they did try to provide the American people as much as they possibly could in this report. But also to your point, earlier, and we'll repeat it here, the attorney general didn't have to do this at all.

    SHANNON BREAM (FOX NEWS ANCHOR): Yeah, there's nothing in the statute of the regulations that require him to do this. I mean, the way that it works is that the attorney, or the special counsel has to report to the attorney general on his findings. It simply says that the attorney general has to report on those things to Congress. It could have been one page. It could have been the four-page letter he sent a couple of weeks ago. He wasn't obligated to release this publicly or to Congress. So for people who were worried about his transparency, which he pledged to do, I would hope that many of them would look at this today, and they may still have their concerns on the issue of collusion, but each redaction is spelled out perfectly.

    But what people were really wanting to dig into was obstruction, so on that volume, too, hundreds of pages there of material that is both flattering and unflattering to the president has been revealed. Barr promised when he was asked by Sen. [Jeanne] Shaheen on the Hill that he would not withhold information that could be damaging to the president. So it looks like he's made the effort here. We'll see if it's enough for Congress, because as we've talked about, House Judiciary has already approved subpoenas and they say they'll use them if they need to. [Fox News, The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, 4/19/19]

    Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed that Barr “erred on the side of transparency.” Fox host Martha MacCallum agreed, saying that “by most standards” the report is “lightly redacted.”

    MARTHA MACCALLUM: With regard to the report itself, we have a kind of cool graphic that The Wall Street Journal did that is an overview photograph of all of the pages, and you can see where the redactions are. It is, I think by most standards, fairly lightly redacted.

    ANDREW NAPOLITANO (FOX SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST): Yes, I quite -- I was wrong. I sat right here and I said half of it was going to be redacted and the more redactions, the less credibility it will have. I was very wrong. They were -- erred on the side of transparency in the redactions. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 4/19/19]

    Fox’s Catherine Herridge said that the report is “lightly redacted.”

    CATHERINE HERRIDGE (FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT): I've been able to peel through it. It is lightly redacted and where there are redactions there is actually a statement justifying the redactions. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 4/18/19]

    Narrative 6: Fox defended Barr against accusations that he acted unprofessionally and in a partisan manner

    Since the release of the Mueller report, Barr’s actions have been called into question due to his oversimplification of the report in a four-page summary he initially released. According to The Guardian, Barr “was responsible for the decision not to prosecute Trump, despite the preponderance of evidence gathered by Mueller.” Barr’s Thursday morning press conference, held before anyone in media had seen the report, was seen as an effort to spin the report's findings ahead of its release, raising questions about his credibility and ability to act in a nonpartisan capacity. Still, Fox figures are defending Barr, brushing off criticisms of his actions as merely stemming from Democrats’ disappointment in the results of the report.

    On Outnumbered, the panelists defended Barr. Co-host Dagen McDowell called criticisms of Barr "unbridled outrage," while co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery dismissed them as "clearly a Democratic talking point."

    DAGEN MCDOWELL (CO-HOST): What do you make of just the unbridled outrage toward Attorney General Bill Barr that we certainly saw in the media yesterday? Because I was talking to Robert Ray, who worked on the Whitewater investigation after Ken Starr did. And he said the argument that the attorney general varied from fair characterization of what Bob Mueller did, that notion is completely ridiculous. He knew the whole report was going to come out. And he said people are going to remember that the way this man is being disparaged, because you would be disciplined if you attacked a federal judge this way.

    LISA KENNEDY MONTGOMERY (CO-HOST): And it was so clearly a Democrat talking point that was issued, and that's why all the presidential candidates parroted it. And it's -- I don't understand -- the only thing that you can say is they were looking for something very clear and demonstrative to hang their hats on in order to impeach or at least reputationally tar the president beyond repair. And when they didn't have that one big thing, the next thing was to go after the AG. But I don't think that's going to stick, either. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 4/19/19]

    America's Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer said that it's "clear" that "so many Democrats have turned their fire on Bill Barr." His guest Tom Dupree agreed, claiming that Barr is a "target" for Democrats "who were hoping that the report would have reached a different conclusion."

    BILL HEMMER: What was clear watching the coverage yesterday is that so many Democrats have turned their fire on Bill Barr. Is that fair to say now, Tom?

    TOM DUPREE (FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL): I think that is fair to say. Look, I think that there were a lot of Democrats who were hoping that the report would have reached a different conclusion, as to the underlying collusion or nonexistence of collusion with Russia. And when they didn't get that, I think they said well, what can we do now? And I think Barr presents a target. I mean, his press conference yesterday, he explained the reasons why he reached a conclusion he did around obstruction. I think it opened him up to charges from some quarters that he was acting more as the president's personal lawyer then rather as an impartial, neutral arbiter of the law. So, I think they see Barr as a more vulnerable target at this point, frankly, than the president. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 4/19/19]