FOX & Friends | Media Matters for America

FOX & Friends

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  • Fox & Friends ignores newest indictment against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

    While Trump was watching, they found time to hype another attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends completely ignored a new indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. Instead, the show devoted time to a Republican effort to discredit the Mueller investigation.

    Manafort and Gates were indicted on February 22 for a combined 32 counts, for allegedly committing tax, financial, and bank fraud, with Manafort allegedly laundering up to $30 million with Gates’ help. These charges are in addition to the previous charges filed against them on October 30.

    On February 23, Fox & Friends failed to mention the new indictment, a Media Matters’ search of SnapStream closed captioning revealed. The show did, however, find time to give a platform to two pro-Trump Republican congressmen to promote “phase two of their investigation” attacking the Christopher Steele dossier -- an investigation which is widely seen as an effort to discredit Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign assisted Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

    Fox & Friends, which Trump habitually watches and engages with over Twitter (including today), has a recorded history of downplaying or simply ignoring negative stories about Trump and those close to him. On January 30, the show failed to cover Trump’s refusal to enact sanctions on Russia related to the country’s interference in U.S. elections (the deadline to do so was January 29). The show also ignored three separate breaking news stories about the Russia investigation on February 1, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s alleged history of domestic abuse on February 8, and that the Trump White House first learned of allegations against Porter a year prior to the media reports. Additionally, Fox & Friends covered the first October 30 indictment against Manafort and Gates far less than its CNN and MSNBC competitors.

  • An appearance by an anti-immigrant hate group on Fox & Friends inspired a Trump morning tweet

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump’s February 23 tweet about MS-13 came minutes after Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy spoke to Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant group that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its ties to white nationalists. Fox & Friends then reported on Trump’s tweet, hyping his misguided policies to combat the gang and demonstrating the disturbing feedback loop between the president and his favorite morning show.

    Vaughan appeared on Fox to tout her latest study that attempted to link the “resurgence” of MS-13 to U.S. immigration policies:

    Less than eight minutes after the interview ended, Trump tweeted, “MS-13 gang members are being removed by our Great ICE and Border Patrol Agents by the thousands, but these killers come back in from El Salvador, and through Mexico, like water. El Salvador just takes our money, and Mexico must help MORE with this problem. We need The Wall!”

    The Fox & Friends hosts then took the opportunity to reiterate their claims about MS-13 and undocumented immigrants and praise Trump’s policies, which co-host Pete Hegseth called “common sense.” But experts say the Trump administration policies are counterintuitive to combatting the gang.

  • Misinterpreting a judge’s order, right-wing media have convinced themselves that Michael Flynn is about to reverse his guilty plea

    The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.

    Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.

    That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”

    Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”

    In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.

    National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.

    Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.

    I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.

    Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.

    The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”

    Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”

    It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.

    As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.

    The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.

    Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.

    “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”

    That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.

    Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.

    van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.

  • After Florida school massacre, right-wing media call for more guns in schools (the school had armed security)

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    In the wake of a Florida school shooting that left at least 17 dead, right-wing media figures immediately blamed “gun-free zones” and argued that future shootings would be prevented if there were armed guards at schools, ignoring that the school did have “an armed police officer” on campus “in addition to security.”

  • The morning after Florida shooting, elected GOP officials appeared on only one show: Fox & Friends

    No elected GOP officials appeared on morning shows on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, or CBS. Chris Cuomo: Republicans "wouldn’t even come on the damn show.”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    The morning after yet another deadly school shooting in the United States, Republican elected officials avoided all but one morning news show: Fox & Friends.

    Yesterday, a shooting at a Florida school left at least 17 students and adults dead. It was the 18th shooting at a school in the U.S. just this year. Today, Republican elected officials avoided ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC’s morning shows, opting to exclusively appear on Fox & Friends. Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) all appeared on Fox to discuss the shooting. Cruz attempted to explain the shooting by saying, “Evil is, sadly, always present” and complained that “the reaction of Democrats to any tragedy to is try to politicize it.” Rubio referred to the shooting as “an isolated instance” that resulted from “a perfect storm of circumstances.” And Scott told the Fox & Friends hosts that he was “mad” and asked, “How can this be going on in our society?” Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson also appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss the shooting.

    Meanwhile, no Republican elected officials appeared on any other broadcast and major cable news channel. CNN host Chris Cuomo noted that it was not for lack of trying, saying that Republicans “wouldn’t even come on the damn show” to talk about the shooting in Florida:

    In the aftermath of past mass shootings, Fox News has provided a platform for Second Amendment advocates to push misinformation about firearms while repeatedly asserting that the aftermath of a mass shooting is “not the time” to talk about policy solutions to address gun violence.

  • Fox & Friends reported a detail from a 2015 NSA shooting as if it happened today

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox & Friends mistakenly reported that “two men dressed up as women” were involved in an incident this morning at the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, MD -- but that detail was actually from a similar incident in March 2015.

    Media outlets reported that one person was injured in a shooting that took place at a security vehicle entry gate at the NSA headquarters on February 14. NSA issued a statement, saying that “NSA police and local law enforcement are addressing” the incident” and that “the situation is under control.”

    Fox News first mentioned the incident at 8:01 a.m., with Fox & Friends First co-host Jillian Mele reporting: “At least three people have reportedly been shot at NSA headquarters. … There are reports claiming that two men dressed up as women tried to drive through the gate with a stolen SUV. That’s when the shots were fired.”

    But these details were not reported in any other national outlet's coverage.

    Fox & Friends appeared to have taken details from a 2015 incident at NSA headquarters and reported it as a fact in today’s incident. A FOX 5 report on today’s incident explains: “In 2015, two men dressed as women tried to ram a stolen car through the gate of the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. One of the two was killed when guards opened fire and the other was injured.”

    Later, at 8:39 a.m., Mele correctly stated that “a very similar incident happened at the NSA headquarters back in 2015, when two men dressed as women tried to ram the gate at the main entrance.” But Mele did not mention that she incorrectly attributed that detail from the 2015 incident in her first report about today’s shooting, and Fox & Friends never gave a correction to its initial report.

    Far-right website Zero Hedge, which has a history of pushing conspiracy theories, also incorrectly reported this detail several minutes after Mele did, embedding a now-deleted tweet from an account @BreakingNewzman which stated: “DEVELOPING - Two men dressed as women who attempted to enter a gate at the NSA's campus at Fort Meade, MD in a stolen Ford Escape this morning were shot by a security guard, Bloomberg reports.” Conspiracy theory website Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson tweeted the Zero Hedge article, adding: “Male intruders dressed as women shot while trying to ram NSA compound. One dead.”

  • 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.