The Washington Post and ABC News reported on Wednesday about a new whistleblower complaint filed by Brian Murphy, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that top Trump administration officials pressured him to “censor or manipulate” intelligence analysis on Russia’s ongoing interference in American elections — and to instead build up a separate narrative that aligned with the president’s political messages.
While Fox News has mostly been busy in the past 24 hours defending President Donald Trump’s deliberate misleading of the public on the seriousness of the coronavirus — and by extension, the network’s own key role in that campaign — it has also dedicated a sliver of airtime to ridiculing and downplaying this latest report.
Fox’s coverage also contains an important lie of omission: It has centered on Murphy’s allegations that he was instructed to minimize discussion of Russian interference, and to instead point the finger at China and Iran as threats — with no mention of a crucial other section, in which Murphy discussed an effort to fabricate a narrative of leftist violence as a public threat in the government’s official intelligence assessments.
For its part, Fox News has excused and justified right-wing militia violence, while also denying that such violence exists and that anybody would support it. At the same time, the network has obsessively spread a narrative of violence and chaos by the left, supposedly set to overtake the entire country, and described Black Lives Matter protesters as an armed militia and as terrorists similar to Al Qaeda.
The whistleblower complaint explains:
In May 2020 and June 2020, Mr. Murphy had several meetings with Mr. Cuccinelli regarding the status of the HTA [Homeland Threat Assessment]. Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent “left-wing” groups. Mr. Murphy declined to make the requested modifications, and informed Mr. Cuccinelli that it would constitute censorship of analysis and the improper administration of an intelligence program.
As an example, Murphy alleges that Trump’s acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf — who, along with acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, is also serving illegally in his office, according to government watchdog offices — wished to insert information on the ongoing civil unrest in Portland, Oregon.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explains:
That is simply remarkable — both in its downplaying of the right wing extremist threat and in its hyping of a leftist one.
Now remember that many of Trump’s top national security officials — including Attorney General William P. Barr, national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and acting Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan — have made public statements hyping the notion of a left-wing domestic terror threat.
New York Times opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie tweeted in response to Sargent’s observations, “It's like the run-up to the Iraq War, except the ‘enemy’ are American citizens who have run afoul of the administration's political interests.”
And indeed, Fox News has been a major part of this two-pronged approach to building a fraudulent narrative of domestic terror.
And so Fox’s coverage of the new complaint has focused on the Russia angle, both in order to stick to the network’s usual script of dismissing Russian election interference as an issue — and to avoid cluing in its viewers on the con game that is being played domestically.
On Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, guest anchor John Roberts remarked, “Here we go again,” after reading a statement by House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Fox's Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, accused Schiff of having turned his committee, “normally a quiet, studious bipartisan committee, into the permanent committee on impeachment,” and claimed there’s “a new cottage industry in Washington — it’s called whistleblower complaints.” And for his final point, Fleischer offered up: “We’ve heard so much about election interference by Russia from this administration, it’s hard to see how it was suppressed.”
On Special Report with Bret Baier, the eponymous anchor asked national security adviser Robert O’Brien about the report, but only at the very end of their interview, with no follow-up questions in response to O’Brien’s denial.
On that evening’s edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, the supposed “news”-side anchor had a lengthy discussion with former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in which the two ridiculed the entire Mueller investigation over Russian interference in the 2016 election; MacCallum presented the latest report as just another example.
Fox News @ Night anchor Shannon Bream asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the report, but only at the end of an interview, and in the context of a question in which Bream highlighted the Trump administration’s purported toughness on the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Thursday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends first included the story in a brief overview of the latest headlines, carrying the official DHS denial. The show followed up later on during an interview with State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, who reiterated Pompeo’s insistence that the administration has been tough on Russia and that she has personally seen Pompeo “hold no punches” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
And on America’s Newsroom, Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts again concluded to co-anchor Trace Gallagher, “Basically, on Capitol Hill, here we go again.”
Roberts did mention the whistleblower’s report that he was asked to play down white supremacist groups, but he did not reference the alleged effort to play up supposed left-wing threats.
The closest Roberts came to that latter point was to mention that Murphy had worked in “compiling and disseminating what were open-source intelligence reports about protesters and journalists covering the Trump administration response to the protests in Portland” — which touches on the topic without contradicting the network and Trump’s continuing narrative that the protests present some kind of national threat.