Fox News doesn’t have, or doesn’t enforce, standards the way a normal news outlet does. Its hosts frequently buck the network’s purported ban on participating in campaign events, its efforts to limit abject on-air bigotry only highlights the horrific commentary it is willing to let slide, and its much touted wall between “news” and “opinion” divisions is extremely permeable.
And so when CNN reported on Wednesday that Fox hosts and personalities had been ordered not to identify the whistleblower whose complaint is at the heart of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s abuse of power, the question was not whether that edict would be violated, but when.
The restriction didn’t last another 24 hours. On Thursday, a conservative Fox guest identified as the whistleblower the same person named in an October report from the right-wing website Real Clear Investigations.
Conservatives have used that reporting to suggest that the whistleblower is a partisan whose story should not be believed, even though his complaint has subsequently been bolstered by “documents, firsthand witness accounts and even statements by Trump himself.”
Attorneys for the whistleblower have refused to confirm or deny the name of their client, saying that “identifying any suspected name" would “place that individual and their family at risk of serious harm” and “undermines the integrity of the whistleblower system and will deter any future whistleblowers.”
With those risks in mind, Media Matters is not identifying the guest who purported to name the whistleblower or even the program on which this occurred.
Other media outlets that have a policy of not attempting to out the whistleblower have successfully followed it. But Fox’s business model is built on hosting an array of right-wing bomb throwers and conspiracy theorists whose careers revolve around making wildly offensive and abhorrent comments. That makes trying to enforce such a ban all but impossible.
Not that the network seems to be trying too hard anyway. On Thursday, Fox’s anchor did not react to the guest naming the person they believed to be the whistleblower. And the network’s hosts have been trying to evade the ban since the RCI story’s publication, even though Fox has been unable to confirm that story’s reporting.
When anchor Harris Faulkner explained the network’s policy on Wednesday’s Outnumbered, for example, Fox Business host Charles Payne replied by letting viewers know that they could easily find out the person RCI reported as the whistleblower.
“News organizations aren't going to do it, but anybody who wants it -- it's one of the fastest Google searches you can do today if you're interested in who that name is floating out there," he said.
Host Tucker Carlson, in a transparent attempt to get his guest to confirm the story, asked Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Wednesday, “Do you think that the person being described in some news stories and all over Twitter, is that the so-called whistleblower? Because if it is, that guy's a serious partisan.”
Other Fox personalities have, without repeating the name reported by RCI, attributed to the whistleblower details included in that story.
And at one point, Fox host Sean Hannity even effectively endorsed that report, claiming he could “confirm to you after making numerous calls in the last hour, this is the individual that has been most talked about in Washington as the whistleblower.”
Whatever Fox is doing in order to enforce its supposed ban, it isn’t getting the job done.
But then, the primary goal of Fox’s coverage since the whistleblower story first broke in September has been to run damage control for the president by any means necessary, including by smearing the person who first brought it to light. And so it’s no surprise that its personalities would adhere to that essential aim, rather than sticking to the network’s supposed journalistic standards.