Fox News downplays Scooter Libby's sentencing


News organizations began to scramble just before noon on June 5, when news broke that federal judge Reggie Walton had sentenced I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine on charges of lying during the CIA leak investigation. Libby was found guilty in March of obstructing justice and lying to FBI agents in connection to the Valerie Plame case. With the sentencing, Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, became the highest-ranking White House official to face a jail sentence since the Iran-Contra affair nearly two decades ago.

The development was treated as major news -- but not on Fox News.

Upon the announcement of Libby's sentence, cable news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC quickly broke into regular programming with extended reports about the details, while airing reaction from various experts. From the time the story broke at approximately 11:51 a.m. ET until 1 p.m., CNN spent 22 consecutive minutes on the Libby sentence story; MSNBC 16 minutes. Both networks returned to the story between noon and 1 p.m. ET, with CNN spending an additional four minutes on the story throughout that hour and MSNBC an additional six minutes.

Fox News, meanwhile, downplayed the Libby news. (According to the weblog TVNewser, Fox News claims to have been first to report Libby's sentencing, seven seconds before MSNBC and 90 seconds before CNN.) After the news broke, Fox News devoted just nine consecutive minutes to the story up to 1 p.m. Between noon and 1 p.m. ET, Fox News did not interview any legal or political experts and not return to the story after its original report.

Instead, between noon and 1 p.m., here is a list of some of the more pressing news stories that Fox News opted to cover instead of Libby's sentencing:

  • The abduction of a Kansas City teenager outside a Target discount store. (Fox News returned to this story several times within the hour.)
  • A plane crash into Lake Michigan.
  • Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) recent comments about faith in her life.
  • Casinos giving away gasoline in order to entice visitors.
  • Record producer Phil Spector's murder trial in Los Angeles.
  • Lightning striking a house in Oregon.
  • A tornado warning issued for western Connecticut.
  • News that the father of JonBenet Ramsey is dating the mother of missing teen Natalee Holloway.
  • R&B singer R. Kelly's legal woes.
  • An update on the JFK Airport terror plot.
  • Cuba state-run television airing a new interview with Fidel Castro.
  • Foreign policy tension between Russia and the United States.

At the top of the 3 p.m. ET hour, Libby's sentencing was slotted as the day's fourth most important story on Fox News' Studio B with Shepard Smith.

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