Fox News downplays report that White House knew about domestic abuse allegations against top Trump aide Rob Porter
Fox news mentioned the report hours after other cable networks
Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT
Fox News waited eight hours on February 9 before mentioning a new report that the Trump White House first learned a year ago that “staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance.” In contrast, CNN and MSNBC reported on the development multiple times, beginning with their early morning shows.
Porter resigned from his position in the White House on February 7 as media organizations began detailing reports of years of domestic abuse, including physical violence, from his two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, and a former girlfriend. After the Daily Mail first reported the story earlier this week, CNN interviewed both Holderness and Willoughby, who described years of physical and emotional abuse in their respective marriages over a 10-year period, including Porter punching and choking them and throwing fits of rage.
The Trump White House initially defended Porter. Chief of staff John Kelly told the Daily Mail, “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.” Press secretary Sarah Sanders likewise told the Daily Mail, "I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character." As CBS News’ timeline showed, the administration only began backing away from Porter after the Daily Mail posted an article on February 7 containing an image of one of Porter’s wives with a black eye. On the night of February 8, The Washington Post reported new information about when the White House first learned about Porter’s abusive pattern:
White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew one year ago that staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance but allowed him to serve as an influential gatekeeper and aide to President Trump without investigating the accusations, according to people familiar with the matter.
In January 2017, when McGahn learned of the allegations, he wanted Porter to stay put because he saw the Harvard Law-trained Capitol Hill veteran as a steadying, professional voice in the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. His view didn’t change in June when the FBI flagged some of its findings to the White House. Nor did he act in September when he learned that the domestic violence claims were delaying Porter’s security clearance, or in November when Porter’s former girlfriend contacted him about the allegations, according to these people.
A White House spokesman said that McGahn — who had access to the FBI’s background investigation file conducted for Porter’s security clearance — and Kelly feel misled by Porter, saying he downplayed his ex-wives’ accusations in conversations with them.
In a late phone call Thursday, McGahn said Porter did not tell him one year ago that his ex-wives accused him of domestic violence.
A White House official said McGahn was only aware that ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him but did not ask what the accusations were because Porter said they were not true.
A Media Matters search of the SnapStream video database found that Fox News ignored this new development all morning, instead replaying the White House’s defense from yesterday of the way the administration handled the initial reporting about Porter. In a desperate attempt to defend the Trump administration, Fox even turned to former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski -- who himself was charged with battery of a female reporter during the 2016 election cycle -- for comment. In contrast, CNN and MSNBC both reported the new information from the Post multiple times, beginning during the 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. hours, respectively, and continuing through the morning. Fox’s Outnumbered finally mentioned the Post story during the 12 p.m. hour.
When the media started reporting on the story and Porter’s subsequent resignation on February 7, Fox was late in covering the news and “discussed [it] a handful of times on-air.” Its prime-time shows that evening failed to mention Porter, and the next morning Fox & Friends also completely ignored the story.
Fox has demonstrated a persistent pattern of delaying stories that reflect poorly on the Trump administration and going easy on Trump officials when the coverage finally happens. The network was similarly late to cover the Trump administration’s refusal to enact election-related sanctions against Russia, and when the channel finally did report that news, it devoted a paltry nine minutes and change to the story over a nine-day period while CNN and MSNBC covered it for a combined total of more than three hours.