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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.

  • Fox News reported that a border patrol agent was murdered. It turns out they were wrong.

    Fox ran with the rumor that Rogelio Martinez was killed by undocumented immigrants. The FBI has ruled out that possibility.

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In November, Fox News zealously and repeatedly reported that Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez’s death was a murder committed by undocumented immigrants along the US-Mexico border, despite the fact that a local sheriff said that “evidence gathered at the scene does not suggest an assault.” Yesterday, the FBI also announced that it has found no evidence of an attack.

    Officials from the National Border Patrol Council labor union, many of whom have made their anti-immigrant views quite clear, told reporters that Martinez and his partner were ambushed by immigrants along the border, a claim that contradicted medical evidence and other accounts of the incident that suggested it was an accident. Fox News took the union officials’ account as fact, reporting that the “vicious attack” vindicated President Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policies. Fox co-host Sandra Smith reported the incident as an "apparent ambush," and host Tucker Carlson claimed that Martinez was “attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way." At one point, Smith briefly acknowledged the possibility that Martinez’s death was the result of a deadly accident, but others on the network continued to report that it was a homicide, with Happening Now co-host Julie Banderas claiming, "a killer killed" and beat Martinez "by rocks."

    In the past, Fox has covered stories involving immigrants in ways that depict them as criminals without reporting all of the facts. Then, when more facts are revealed that refute the network’s reporting, the full context is only mentioned in a brief whisper, if at all. In Martinez’s case, The Washington Post reported that the FBI has released its findings and “has found no evidence of a homicide, despite mobilizing significant resources involving 37 field offices to investigate Martinez’s death.” Predictably, only Smith briefly mentioned the news on February 8; the network has not yet issued a correction for its deceptive reporting:

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): New questions surrounding the November death of a U.S. Border agent. The FBI now says there's no evidence suggesting the agent and his partner were attacked. Rogelio Martinez died from severe head wounds hours after the two men were discovered lying in a drain near the Texas-Mexico border. The agents had been responding to reports of unknown activity. Martinez's partner suffered head injuries and says he can't remember what happened. The FBI says it will continue to investigate.

  • Fox News happily helps Trump administration in a highly misleading effort to blame immigrants for terrorism

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On January 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report in concert with the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that, among other things, “three out of every four, or 402, individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2016 were foreign-born.” Fox News immediately promoted the study over criticism from homeland security experts, and then went silent about the report’s integrity after it was revealed that the administration had sidestepped DHS experts and statistics to produce it.

    Reporting on the study on the day of its release, The New York Times noted that “the 11-page report, parts of which were confusing and in some respects misleading, highlighted cases in which immigrants were linked to terrorism plots.” MSNBC security analyst Matthew Miller was one of the first to point out that the report “includes people who committed terrorist acts overseas, were arrested overseas and brought here to face trial” and explained that “it also doesn’t count incidents of domestic terrorism,” meaning terrorists who are American citizens and who perpetrated attacks on U.S. soil were excluded.

    Essentially, the report focused on international terrorism, but the way it was presented suggested that immigrants were disproportionately responsible for domestic terrorism, particularly because it was published amid immigration policy negotiations. Adding to the confusion, President Donald Trump tweeted a deceptive summary of the report, excluding the word “international”:

    As criticism around the study mounted, Fox reported on its findings by uncritically parroting the Trump administration line. Fox’s Bret Baier commented that the report includes “some amazing statistics, and scary ones.” Sandra Smith also promoted the misleading study without mentioning its many flaws. Peter Doocy pointed to the study as justification for why “the White House is not budging on immigration talks.” Fox host Julie Banderas used the report to fearmonger about “convicted terrorists in this country who have come over as young adults, if not children, and their families brought them over here, and they went ahead and killed Americans,” even though U.S. vetting procedures make the possibility of that happening incredibly rare. Tucker Carlson, who regularly uses his platform for anti-immigrant misinformation, also gladly hyped the details of the report, declaring, “According to federal numbers released today, America's terror threat is clearly, among other things, an immigration issue”:

    But yesterday, the Daily Beast revealed that career experts at DHS told DOJ officials that DHS does “not track or correlate international terrorism data by citizenship or country of origin, and have warned the Trump administration that doing so risks a misleading portrait of both terrorism and immigration.” As explained by Spencer Ackerman, “The result was that the document released last week did not include the contributions of those career DHS officials tasked with providing professional and objective analysis. They were not asked to participate, and so the document did not reflect their input.” In short, on top of the flawed methodology and cherry-picked statistics, the Trump administration willfully sidestepped homeland security experts to produce a report that would vindicate the president’s insistence on linking immigration to crime and terrorism.

    Fox News is ignoring this glaring problem with the report, demonstrating once again that the network prioritizes its anti-immigration agenda over honesty in reporting.

  • Following Fox's lead, GOP congressman suggests the FBI "hatched a scheme to deprive Donald Trump the presidency"

    Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL): Actions of senior FBI officials “pose[] a clear and present danger to our democracy”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Following FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s December 19 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) took to Fox News to complain that “the FBI [has] been infected with an intractable bias” that favors Hillary Clinton and is out to get President Donald Trump.

    Gaetz’s comments come as Fox News figures have attempted to muddy the waters of the investigation by attacking the FBI, baselessly alleging conflicts of interest in the investigation, and even going so far as to outright advocate for the Trump administration to remove Mueller. Now, following Fox host Jesse Watters suggesting that Mueller’s probe could be “a coup in America” and Fox contributor Kevin Jackson floating a conspiracy theory that the FBI might have planned to assassinate Trump, it appears as though Gaetz has followed Fox’s lead in the effort to smear Mueller and the FBI. In a December 20 interview on Fox News, Gaetz stated that “the senior levels of the FBI have been infected with an intractable bias that seems to favor Hillary Clinton and work against Donald Trump.” Gaetz went on to accuse “the FBI's senior leadership” of “hatch[ing] a scheme to deprive Donald Trump the presidency both before and after his election.” From the December 20 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now:

    JON SCOTT (CO-HOST): You’re not very happy with the FBI’s behavior in all of this lead up to the announcement of Bob Mueller’s investigation, and so forth.

    REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Well, the senior levels of the FBI have been infected with an intractable bias that seems to favor Hillary Clinton and work against President Donald Trump. Andrew McCabe gave testimony yesterday behind closed doors, but we’re calling for open sworn testimony under oath so the American people can see the truth about what’s going on. Andrew McCabe was present when the FBI’s senior leadership hatched a scheme to deprive Donald Trump the presidency both before and after his election. That is totally unacceptable and it poses a clear and present danger to our democracy. That’s why we’ve got to expose the truth.

    SCOTT: Are you referring to the ‘meeting in Andy’s office’ that is contained in those Peter Strzok texts to his mistress?

    GAETZ: Absolutely. That’s right, Peter Strzok was texting his mistress that he praised her for the plan that she hatched in Andy’s office. So, the current deputy director of the FBI is a key witness in a potential scheme to deprive President Trump his ascension to the office he was elected to serve in. It’s absolutely outrageous.

  • Fox mimics its irresponsible reporting on Steinle case in coverage of Border Patrol agent's death

    Fox distorted facts of Steinle's case to criminalize undocumented immigrants. It's applying the same failed logic to Rogelio Martinez's case.

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News' reporting on undocumented immigrants was discredited not once, but twice this week. On Wednesday, new reporting suggested that the death of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez -- which Fox had immediately declared “a vicious attack” by undocumented immigrants before any investigation had taken place -- may have been the result of a traffic accident. And on Thursday, a jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant who Fox had dedicated significant airtime to accusing of cold-blooded murder, not guilty of the murder charge. The revelations demonstrate Fox's habit of jumping to conclusions and distorting facts in order to hype crime committed by undocumented immigrants for political purposes.

    On November 18, Martinez and another Border Patrol agent were discovered badly injured in a ravine area along the southern border, where they were responding to a sensor that had been triggered that signaled movement along the border. Border Patrol union officials claimed the agents were attacked with rocks by a group of undocumented immigrants. However, a local sheriff told Dallas Morning News that “the evidence is not obvious as to what happened out there” and that “the injuries to [Martinez], after talking to his doctors, were consistent with a fall.” On November 29, Dallas Morning News reported more updates, writing, “Evidence gathered at the scene does not suggest an assault, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the investigation say. The possibility that Rogelio Martinez and his partner were sideswiped by a tractor trailer’s side mirror on a moonless night is growing theory, they said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.”

    Nonetheless, Fox was quick to report the union officials’ account as fact. Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed that Martinez was “attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way,” asking, “Will this change any minds about addressing illegal immigration and securing the border once and for all?” Host Laura Ingraham described the incident as “a vicious attack” and used it to justify Trump’s call for a border wall. Sandra Smith reported it as an “apparent ambush.” Even after Fox finally acknowledged Tuesday morning that “investigators also say they have not ruled out an accident” and that the sheriff was “cautioning people not to jump to conclusions just yet” because “there is some discussion that these agents fell … by accident,”  Fox anchor Julie Banderas used the incident as a way to misleadingly sow fears about immigration and sanctuary cities:

    Fox's coverage of Martinez's death is reminiscent of how the network covered the death of Kate Steinle, who was accidentally shot by an undocumented immigrant in 2015. For years, Fox has pointed to Steinle as justification for cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, exploited her death to paint immigrants as criminals, and even proposed anti-immigrant legislation based on a distorted view of the case. As it turned out, the defendant in the Steinle case was acquitted on charges of murder, manslaughter, and assault with a deadly weapon, and was convicted only of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

    Similary, Tucker Carlson repeatedly had touted a case out of Rockville, MD, in which two undocumented immigrants were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “Carlson demagogued a rape case involving immigrants. Then they were cleared.”

    It may turn out, once the investigation has been completed and the facts established, that Martinez was in fact murdered. Fatal on-duty attacks on Border Patrol agents are extremely rare, but they happen. But as the investigation continues and the evidence points toward an accident, it is eminently clear that Fox has little interest in waiting for the facts of the case and instead prefers to once again exploit a tragedy to criminalize all immigrants and push for their anti-immigrant policy agenda.

  • CNN and MSNBC highlighted Trump's selective outrage about sexual assault while Fox News defended him

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    During the 11 a.m. hour of news shows on CNN and MSNBC, hosts highlighted President Donald Trump’s selective outrage about recent reports of sexual assault by politicians amid long-standing accusations against him. Meanwhile, Fox News used the same hour to defend Trump’s failure to comment on accusations against Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, despite the president’s statements about Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who is also facing a report of sexual harassment.

    After a report came out Thursday in which a woman said Franken sexually assaulted her and showed photographic proof, Trump was quick to condemn the Democrat, calling the photo of Franken groping the accuser “really bad” on Twitter. But both Trump and his press secretary have avoided commenting on the allegations against Moore, even though the White House has said Trump supports the Republican National Committee’s decision to pull financial support from Moore.

    While Fox News defended Trump’s silence on Moore, CNN and MSNBC, in particular, reminded their viewers of Trump’s own past reported behavior by detailing the numerous sexual assault reports that he faces, his repeated denial of the allegations, and his attacks on the women who have come forward. 

    From the November 17 edition of MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle:

    STEPHANIE RUHLE (CO-HOST): Now let's look back at some of the women who have come forward with allegations against President Trump leading up to the election. We'll start with former Miss Finland, Ninni Laaksonen, who told a Finnish newspaper that Trump groped her before an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman back in 2006. Then there's Jessica Drake. She said Trump invited her to his hotel room and tried to kiss her and her friends without permission. She claims he later offered her 10,000 bucks and a chance to use his private jet if she went to dinner with him. Karen Virginia said Trump walked up, grabbed her arm, and then touched the inside of her breast at the 1998 U.S. Open. Cathy Heller told The Guardian some 20 years ago Trump grabbed her, tried to kiss her, and grew angry when she twisted away. Summer Zervos claimed Trump groped her in 2007. She brought a defamation suit against him after he called her and other accusers "liars." Kristin Anderson described an incident to The Washington Post where a finger slid under her miniskirt, moved up her inner thigh, and touched her vagina through her underwear at a crowded Manhattan night spot in the '90s. She fled the area and turned to take a look at the man who did it. Anderson said she recognized him. It was Donald Trump. Jessica Leeds told The New York Times she was on a plane with Trump in the early '80s when he grabbed her breasts and reached his hand up her skirt. Rachel Crooks told The New York Times she was assaulted by Trump in an elevator in Trump Tower in 2005. Mindy McGillivray told The Palm Beach Post Trump groped her while she was attending a concert at Mar-a-Lago in 2003. Natasha Stoynoff wrote in People magazine that Trump pushed her against a wall and jammed his tongue down her throat at Mar-a-Lago in what is now seeming a busy 2005. Jennifer Murphy, another contestant on The Apprentice, told a fashion magazine Trump kissed her on the lips after a job interview in 2005. Yahoo News reported Cassandra Searles wrote in a Facebook comment that Trump grabbed her butt and invited her to his hotel room. Former Miss Utah Temple Taggart told The New York Times Trump kissed her directly on the lips the first time she met him back in '97. Jill Harth alleged in The New York Times Trump pushed her against a wall, tried to kiss her, put his hands up her skirt, and touched her crotch at a dinner one night.

    And, finally -- and I need to take a drink on this one, I'm so tired from all of these -- the multiple reports from beauty pageant contestants in a BuzzFeed article, including -- wait for it -- teen beauty pageant contestants -- alleging that Donald Trump had walked in on them while he was changing -- they were changing, excuse me. So how did the president respond to all of these allegations? Let's remember. All of them, a huge amount of allegations. He called some of them, quote, "vicious claims and totally and absolutely false" at a rally one month before the 2016 election. 

    From the November 17 edition of CNN's At This Hour with Kate Bolduan:

    KATE BOLDUAN (HOST): So can we get real for a moment? This is no longer a ‘Can you believe the president said that?’ kind of a moment. This has officially become a ‘The president doesn't get to do this’ moment. He doesn't get to question [Sen.] Al Franken [(D-MN)] and stay silent on Roy Moore. And no one should allow it. It's playing politics with a discussion that should rise above that. So no, Mr. President, join the full conversation going on around you, or don't -- you don't get to be part of any of it. Is the concern over there really about being dragged into the topic of sexual assault and harassment once again? Too bad. That should have been considered in how you responded to your accusers during the campaign. And that should have been considered before your campaign brought Bill Clinton's accusers to one of the presidential debates. So, too bad. You don't get to pick and choose when this issue matters and when it doesn't. You don't.

    From the November 17 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:

    JULIE BANDERAS (CO-HOST): OK, but, Katie, let's not forget, President Trump originally did support [Sen.] Luther Strange [(R-AL)] in the special election, while [Breitbart chairman] Steve Bannon backed [Republican Senate candidate Roy] Moore. And so far President Trump has refused to comment on Moore. But you have to understand that politics are going to play a role here. I mean, maybe he's waiting for, perhaps, the local GOP in Alabama to come up with another candidate. Could that be the reason why President Trump is trying to stay out of this? Because a lot is riding on the GOP not to screw it up in Alabama.

  • Fox News' exclusive reporting on Iran nuclear deal echoes pretext for Iraq War

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Fox News / Screengrab

    Fox News is promoting a report from an Iranian exile organization that the government in Tehran has restarted nuclear weapons development in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. President Donald Trump is expected to decertify the deal in coming days, and given his penchant for watching Fox News, it’s possible he will use this report as part of his justification. Fox’s rush to promote the exile group’s claims echoes moves made in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, when “bogus intelligence” provided by politically motivated Iraqi exiles set the pretext for a U.S. invasion.

    An October 10 exclusive article published by FoxNews.com detailed a new report by the exile group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which “asserts that the country’s nuclear weapons program has far from halted.” According to FoxNews.com, “The Iranian Resistance has identified four major sites that ‘with high degrees of certainty’ have been involved in various aspects of the allegedly ongoing nuclear weapons project.” Fox & Friends further promoted the NCRI report during its October 11 episode. Fox contributor Newt Gingrich vouched for the group as “the best source of information inside Iran” and claimed its allegations were “probably right.” Gingrich then used the report as justification for Trump to decertify Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear regulatory framework brokered by the Obama administration and five other nations:

    During a later segment, Fox’s Jillian Mele highlighted the report, claiming “it appears [Iran’s] weapons program is fully operational,” adding that the report “shows at least four nuclear development sites have secretly been constructed and used to avoid international inspectors”:

    Fox continued promoting the NCRI report during Happening Now, with co-host Melissa Francis claiming that an “explosive report” demonstrated Iran “already [has] the weapon” and is in violation of its commitments. Conservative national security analyst Michael Singh of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy cautioned that the report had yet to be verified and “is at odds with the findings of our intelligence community,” noting that “you have to take it with a bit of a grain of salt.”

    If true, these allegations from NCRI would demonstrate that the Iranian government is no longer in full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the “Iran nuclear deal,” negotiated between China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Iran to limit the latter’s nuclear weapons capabilities. The report could provide justification for the Trump administration to decertify the Iran nuclear framework, which is widely expected to happen after the president, in a speech at the United Nations last month, called the deal “an embarrassment” to the United States and international community.

    However, there are multiple reasons to question NCRI’s conclusions.

    None of the other nations involved in JCPOA negotiations and enforcement believe Iran is in violation of compliance standards. Indeed, on the same day Fox News published NCRI’s conclusions, British Prime Minister Theresa May personally urged Trump to remain in the deal, which she argued was “vitally important for regional security.” And just one day before that, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reiterated that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA framework, stating "the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran ... are being implemented." In recent weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pointed to the Iran deal as a workable framework for solving the North Korean nuclear standoff, and her government has reasserted its commitment to preserving international nuclear cooperation on Iran.

    NCRI’s motivations also need to be scrutinized. The group calls itself a “parliament in exile” and was founded in 1981 after losing a power struggle for control of Iran. It acts as an umbrella organization for numerous Iranian dissident and exile groups that stand to benefit from American action against the Iranian government -- including the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), which had previously been designated a terrorist organization.

    Additionally, in many ways, NCRI resembles the Iraqi National Congress (INC) under Ahmed Chalabi, which was formed with the explicit mandate of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. Chalabi and the INC supplied the U.S. government with exaggerated and fabricated intelligence in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and its leader was richly rewarded after the U.S.-led invasion created a power vacuum in Baghdad for his group to exploit.

    Right-wing media outlets, led by Fox News, always opposed Obama-era diplomatic overtures to Iran and have long advocated that the Iran nuclear deal be dismantled regardless of the facts on the ground. Conservative outlets and personalities have spread lies about the negotiations and enforcement of the deal and now, they may be supplying Trump with the questionable intelligence he needs to formally abandon American diplomatic commitments in Iran.

    This piece was updated with additional information​