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  • 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.

  • Right-wing media figures have led Trump's purge of Department of Justice officials they perceive as threatening

    Here’s who they have left

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & GRACE BENNETT

    Right-wing media have consistently lined up behind Donald Trump to defend him against any and all allegations regarding Russian interference in the presidential election. Led primarily by Fox News and primetime host Sean Hannity, right-wing media figures have denounced, undermined, or maligned Department of Justice and FBI officials involved in the broader Russia investigation since it began. 

  • Fox & Friends ignored three bombshells related to the Russia investigation

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Three significant developments related to the Russia investigation broke on the evening of January 31. Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite show, predictably ignored all three stories. 

    On the evening of January 31, CNN reported that FBI agent Peter Strzok co-drafted the letter sent to Congress days before the 2016 election “announcing the bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails.” CNN also reported that President Donald Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he was “on my team” in December when Rosenstein went to the White House seeking Trump’s support in a dispute over a documents request from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). And The New York Times reported that, according to a former spokesperson for Trump’s legal team, White House communications director Hope Hicks told the president on a conference call that Donald Trump, Jr.’s emails about dirt on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “‘will never get out’ because only a few people had access to them.” Hicks' statement, according to the report, left the former spokesperson with “concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice,” and he resigned shortly after. 

    While the three stories got airtime on both CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fox News’ Fox & Friends gave all three stories zero coverage. Fox’s morning show did mention Strzok, but only to use him to attack former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Notably, Fox & Friends for weeks has attacked Strzok as pro-Clinton and anti-Trump, an accusation that’s increasingly discredited after the CNN story. Fox & Friends is the president’s safe space, showering him in effusive praise and effectively insulating him from reporting that makes him look bad by spinning, downplaying, or simply ignoring it. 

    Fox & Friends did, however, find time to cover some interesting stories, such as:

    A Democratic congressperson playing a game on their phone during the State of the Union:

    White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “sounds off on anti-military teacher”:

    David Bossie’s selfie with Tucker Carlson, Corey Lewandowski, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, and Dan Bongino:

    A brief ride malfunction at an Australian amusement park:

    “[Congressional] Black Caucus members remain seated at SOTU”:

  • Fox & Friends follows Infowars in running with right-wing video attacking college students

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News’ Fox & Friends and far-right conspiracy theory website Infowars both ran with the conservative activist group Campus Reform’s latest selectively edited hit piece against college students. Fox & Friends further edited the video and showed students' responses without giving much context to the nature of the questions that were posed to them. 

    Campus Reform is a discredited conservative group funded by right-wing dark money networks that takes students and professors out of context to fearmonger about perceived instances of liberal bias on college campuses. In its latest video, Campus Reform Media Director Cabot Phillips lied to students at New York University (NYU), telling them that President Donald Trump had already delivered his State of the Union address (the speech will take place January 30).

    Phillips gave the students fabricated information about what Trump said in the speech and asked for their thoughts. The video on Campus Reform's website features some of those questions. But on Fox & Friends, the hosts and Philips didn't always mention what he specifically asked the students, airing only the responses to his deceptive questions. For example, in the video posted on Campus Reform, Philips told some students: "One of the craziest moments [was] when he started a 'build the wall' chant with all the Republicans that were there. People on social media were accusing him of basically using the State of the Union as a campaign event." Fox deceptively aired only a response to this statement in which a woman said, "The fact that he started a chant, he's big on those."

    Alex Jones’ conspiracy theorist site Infowars and Fox & Friends have both given credence to the video. Fox’s flagship morning show aired parts of the video and hosted Phillips for an interview where they proceeded to mock the students.

    From the January 29 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): President Trump set to give his first State of the Union address tomorrow. So what happens when college students are asked about the speech before it actually takes place? Campus Reform went to NYU to find out. Watch.

    [BEGIN VIDEO]

    CABOT PHILLIPS (CAMPUS REFORM): What was your reaction to everything that was said?

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I didn’t watch it because I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Quite racist at the very least, if not up there with most racist.

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hopefully everything that he’s outlined can be overturned by the public opinion.

    [END CLIP]

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Yes. Exactly. It’s called voting. Here now to discuss is CampusReform.org correspondent Cabot Phillips. So, Cabot, welcome back. So the premise was, let’s ask people about a speech that hasn’t happened yet.

    PHILLIPS: Exactly.

    KILMEADE: And what was the NYU reaction?

    PHILLIPS: The reaction was overwhelming disapproval of this speech, which should be encouraging for President Trump because there’s nowhere but up from here because they haven't actually heard any speech. It hasn't happened. But we’ve been hearing so long how the left has shut down anything that has to do with President Trump, with conservatism. And most conservatives assume it's not based on facts. It's based on rhetoric. It’s based on feelings, and this kind of proves that. And isn't it ironic, too, that these are supposed to be the most open-minded segment of society, the left. But, yet, they’re not coming in with an open mind to Trump's presidency or to conservatism at all. They shut down completely without actually knowing the facts.

    EARHARDT: Did you have anyone, one or two at least, that said this speech hasn't happened yet?

    PHILLIPS: Not one person was able to tell me the speech did not happen.

    EARHARDT: Really?

    PHILLIPS: There were a few that said I don't want to go on the record. I'm not entirely sure what was said. But one thing that -- every college campus I go to with Campus Reform, there's always one thing in common, and it's that there is an overwhelming pressure and bias to hate President Trump at all costs, even if there are no facts there.

  • How Fox & Friends (barely) covered reports that Trump tried to fire Mueller

    It didn't happen, but if it did happen it's fine

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The revelation that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June only to reverse course when the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out that order is currently dominating the news cycle. The story was first reported by The New York Times and has since been confirmed by several other outlets. But if you tuned in this morning to the president’s favorite news show, Fox News’ Fox & Friends, you may have missed the news.

    The program barely mentioned the story this morning, giving it a total of six minutes and 16 seconds of discussion* over the course of three hours. Co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Pete Hegseth regularly shill for the president on matters large and small, but -- like some of their colleagues -- seemed baffled as to how to spin the Mueller report in Trump's favor. They alternated between suggesting that everyone should take the president at his word that the story is “fake news,” claiming that even if it did happen it was no big deal, and saying that no one cares about it. Notably, the hosts largely avoided discussing the portion of the story in which White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign rather than ask the Justice Department to dismiss Mueller.

    Fox & Friends opened its 6 a.m. hour by mocking the Times’ story and highlighting the president’s response.

    In rapid succession, Hegseth said the report was “typical New York Times” because it was based on anonymous sources, claimed that it “screams of a leak from the special counsel,” and suggested it was old news because reporting at the time indicated that “the president wasn't happy with Bob Mueller” before concluding that the Times provided “some new details that may or may not actually be true.”

    Earhardt then promptly moved on, saying: “All right, well, the president says it's fake news. That happened last June. Do you -- it's something we have to tell you have about because it is a headline on The New York Times. What do you think about that? Do you even care? Something you probably do care about is immigration.” The hosts did not reference Fox chief national correspondent Ed Henry’s report last night confirming that the White House counsel and other aides had talked Trump out of firing Mueller.

    And that one-minute 13-second discussion was basically it for the program’s coverage of the story in the first hour (aside from a passing mention in an unrelated segment and an insipid tease of the second hour). While MSNBC and CNN covered the news far more extensively, Fox & Friends quickly moved on to stories more promising for its audience, including segments on “downfalls of the single-payer system” and how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “wants free college for Dreamers.”

    The second hour of Fox & Friends brought another brief discussion of the story, as Fox chief White House correspondent John Roberts, who is with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said the president had been “dealing with” the story that day and confirmed that the president had discussed firing Mueller last summer. With that, Doocy changed tacts, asking Roberts, “Doesn't the president of the United States have the authority to fire anybody in the administration he wants to?” Roberts replied that the president could ask Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, but could not do it directly.

    Hegseth then again mentioned that the president had called the story “fake news,” before saying that even if it is true, it’s not worthy of the level of attention it has gotten from the “fake news, so-called mainstream media.” According to Hegseth, “It's a huge difference between talking and taking action,” and because the president hadn’t actually fired Mueller, “we didn’t learn anything new” from the Times report.

    “He says it's fake news,” added Earhardt. “So let's move on to talk about something that you all care about. That's the wall. And that's keeping America safe.” And move on they did, with second-hour segments focusing on how “FBI texts revealed pro-Clinton bias” and how former President Barack Obama had taken undue credit for economic growth in the U.S.

    Then around 7:30 a.m., the hosts turned to someone else who is paid to defend the president, White House senior communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp, to briefly discuss the story. Doocy introduced the interview by claiming that the story said that Trump had asked McGahn to fire Mueller and McGahn had replied, “You know what, I’m not going to do that, it would be bad politically,” presenting it as a simple dispute rather than, as the Times reported, McGahn threatening to quit rather than carry out Trump’s order and the president backing down.

    Here are Doocy’s “questions” on the subject to Schlapp, who admitted she hadn’t actually talked to the president about the incident:

    • “So the president says The New York Times story ain’t true.”
    • “You know the interesting thing though, Mercedes, about this story is, had the president actually done it, that would be a big story. But ultimately doesn’t the president talk to a bunch of his advisers and say, ‘should we do this, should we do that.’ He never did it!”

    And that was basically it on the subject. The rest of the hour featured important stories like a report that John Kerry is considering a 2020 presidential run. And the 8 a.m. hour was largely consumed by the hosts previewing, airing live, and then praising the president’s remarks at Davos.

    *Figure does not include brief video teaser montages at the top of the 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. hours or passing mentions in unrelated segments.