Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ
Fox News is laying down cover fire for Jared Kushner in the wake of the bombshell report that the top aide and son-in-law to President Donald Trump had asked Russia’s ambassador in December if Trump’s transition team could use Russian diplomatic facilities to communicate with the Kremlin in order to shield their discussions from U.S. intelligence agencies.
Former leading intelligence officials who served both parties were quick to savage Kushner’s actions when they were first reported by The Washington Post, saying that the aide had displayed shocking ignorance and poor judgment at best and had engaged in espionage at worst. Follow-up reports highlighted the “crisis” into which Kushner had plunged the president, and suggested that the story could lead to him leaving the administration.
The president’s son-in-law returned to Washington from Trump’s trip abroad deeply wounded. But in a new online report on Monday, Fox News suggested that the Post had botched the story and in fact, Kushner had done nothing wrong. From FoxNews.com:
During the meeting the Russians broached the idea of using a secure line between the Trump administration and Russia, not Kushner, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News. That follows a recent report from The Washington Post alleging that Kushner wanted to develop a secure, private line with Russia.
The idea of a permanent back channel was never discussed, according to the source. Instead, only a one-off for a call about Syria was raised in the conversation.
In addition, the source told Fox News the December meeting focused on Russia's contention that the Obama administration's policy on Syria was deeply flawed.
In short, Fox is claiming that the Post’s reporting on the meeting was completely wrong and that the events as they really occurred were no big deal. For such an extraordinary claim -- one for which the president himself quickly signaled approval -- one would expect extraordinary evidence.
But Fox’s story rests entirely on a single anonymous “source familiar with the matter” who does not even provide a direct quote for the article; the unbylined report was based on reporting from Catherine Herridge, whose anonymously sourced stories have often failed to withstand scrutiny. There’s no reason for readers to accept the story at face value, but it’s worth interrogating -- as Fox does not -- who might want to be pushing this version of the Kushner meeting into the news cycle.
Who benefits from this story? Kushner. And so it seems likely that Kushner or one of his cronies -- perhaps the communications aide he hired to handle his operations -- is the source.
Indeed, according to Post National Editor Scott Wilson, Kushner allies have been offering spin about the December meeting, without allowing themselves to be identified as such. By being willing to aid them, reporters allow their audiences to view the sources as “disinterested parties” and make it harder to track any lies back to their origin.
By this morning, the hosts of Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite morning news show, had weaponized their network’s report to attack the “mainstream media” for their “feeding frenzy.”
“So there was contact, and the Russians did want a back channel contact and that's why he responded,” Brian Kilmeade explained. “A lot different than, ‘Hey, I have an idea. Meet you in the embassy. Let's make private phone calls from there before my father-in-law gets in office.’” “You want to turn to the The Washington Post and the failing New York Times and say, ‘Can I have my edition back? Can I have my news back?’” added Pete Hegseth. “There's no sourcing. It's all innuendo. It's all rumor.”
An anonymously sourced account that seems to put the best possible face forward for a close aide to the president -- and that is wielded as a weapon against the rest of the press and championed by the president himself? This sure looks like propaganda.
Fox frequently cites the purported “firewall” between its “straight news” and right-wing “opinion” sides, and its “straight news” reporters are quick to disassociate themselves when, for example, Sean Hannity dives into the fever swamps. Yet the network’s “straight news” hours often promote the same right-wing bugaboos as the network’s evening commentary hosts do, and the conservative opinions of many of its “straight news” anchors tend to bleed into their coverage.
And the “firewall” argument also ignores the reality that, as in the case of the Kushner report, the network’s “straight news” reporting seems to exist largely to provide ammunition for the “opinion” hosts. They know what their audience wants -- news and commentary that supports the president -- and from the newsroom to prime time, they eagerly provide it.