Fox News really doesn’t care about voluminous evidence of Trump-Russia malfeasance
Fox News has already moved on from the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning new report dissecting the Kremlin’s effort to help President Donald Trump win the 2016 election and the direct links between his associates and Russian intelligence.
The president’s propagandists have spent the years since his election developing a complex alternate reality in which claims of Russian election interference or corrupt ties between Russia and Trump and his associates are a hoax promulgated by the duplicitous anti-Trump media and the “deep state.” In their telling, the real story is malfeasance related to the investigations into Trump associates' Russian meddling by special counsel Robert Mueller and other law enforcement officials.
In the year leading up to the report’s publication, Fox’s weekday prime-time shows alone produced more than 600 segments chewing over every possible data point to make that case, according to Media Matters’ internal database.
By contrast, the network has already dropped the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Tuesday report down the memory chute. Fox ran a handful of segments covering the story on Tuesday and early Wednesday morning -- but has not mentioned it since the 5 a.m. EDT hour.
It’s not like there’s nothing to cover. Over nearly 1,000 pages, the report outlined “a wide range of Russian efforts to influence the Trump Campaign and the 2016 election,” providing a wealth of new details that are devastating to the Fox narrative and putting a bipartisan sheen on the old ones, including:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin “directed the hack-and-leak campaign,” in which Russian intelligence targeted Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election and released them through WikiLeaks and other outlets. This was part of a wide-ranging Russian effort to “damage the Clinton Campaign and tarnish what it expected might be a Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and generally undermine the U.S. democratic process.”
- Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign’s one-time chair, was a “grave counterintelligence threat” whose role and proximity to Trump “created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign.” Notably, Konstantin Kilimnik, a close business associate to Manafort, is identified as “a Russian intelligence officer” with whom Manafort was sharing campaign details and who “likely served as a channel to Manafort for Russian intelligence services.” The committee also “obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected” to the hack-and-leak operation.
- Trump and his campaign tasked his longtime political adviser Roger Stone to “obtain advance information about WikiLeaks's planned releases” of Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian intelligence, and they believed he had succeeded in doing so. The committee also assessed that Trump spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks on “multiple occasions”; the report notes that the president had claimed in written statements to the special counsel’s office that he did not recall any such conversations.
- George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, repeatedly tried to set up a personal meeting between Trump and Putin. The people he worked with to try to do that indicated that he “was not a witting cooptee of the Russian intelligence services, but nonetheless presented a prime intelligence target and potential vector for malign Russian influence.” The committee also assessed that Papadopolous learned about the Russian hacking campaign from an individual with Russian ties “well before any public awareness,” and that it is “implausible” that he did not tell the campaign about that information.
- Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, were among the participants in a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower in New York City with Donald Trump Jr. and senior campaign officials, who intended to “receive derogatory information that would be of benefit to the Campaign from a source known, at least by Trump Jr., to have connections to the Russian government.” The committee assessed that Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin “have significant connections to the Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services,” that were “far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”
The report also detailed a host of steps that key players, including Manafort, Kilimnik, and Stone, took to conceal their communications, raising the probability that the full extent of cooperation between the campaign and the Russian effort may never be fully known.
Fox’s minimal coverage of the report frequently sought to use it to prop up Trump’s long-stated claim that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, at times presenting it as a vindication for the president.
Sean Hannity, the network’s star and the prime mover of its alternate Russia conspiracy theory, claimed on his show Tuesday that the report was “confirming -- we’ve been telling you for over three years -- there was no Trump-Russia collusion ever.” That’s a lie -- the report itself did not address the issue of collusion. The committee’s Republicans claimed in an addendum that the investigation “found no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government in its efforts to meddle in the election,” a far narrower and yet still dubious claim that requires pretending the voluminous evidence they assembled -- and the questions they couldn’t answer due to deliberate efforts to conceal -- doesn’t exist.
Purported “straight news” shows were a little better. The network’s flagship broadcast Special Report devoted less than a minute to the news, with anchor Bret Baier reading committee Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) statement claiming that they had found no evidence of collusion rather than putting it in his own words, like Hannity would.
Unmentioned by Baier was the conclusion the panel’s Democrats drew from the fact that the Trump campaign’s chairman had been secretly communicating with a Russian intelligence asset while Russian intelligence was trying to assist Trump’s campaign: “This is what collusion looks like.”