Fox News is spinning a potentially massive scandal about intelligence failures by the Trump administration into merely another feud between President Donald Trump, the media, and Democratic critics.
The New York Times first reported on Friday that American intelligence officials had determined “that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops.”
Furthermore, the Times reported that the White House knew about it:
The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.
However, Fox News’ Sunday programming and flagship Monday morning news show portrayed the story purely as a dispute between Trump and The New York Times, as well as Democrats using the story to attack Trump.
Meanwhile, one of Fox’s own corporate sister publications, The Wall Street Journal, also reported the story in an article published Saturday — though the Journal only confirmed the core allegation that American intelligence had claimed Russia was paying the bounties. The Journal’s story also carried a denial from the White House that Trump had ever been briefed on this claim, but one source said the intelligence assessment “was delivered to the White House earlier this spring.”
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted an absolute denial that he had ever been briefed on the alleged Russian bounties:
Fox’s online content about the bombshell report over the weekend focused on elements such as Trump pushing back against the Times, or public figures such as former national security adviser John Bolton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticizing Trump over it, as well as congressional Republicans wanting answers. These stories each mentioned that The Wall Street Journal and other outlets had also reported on the claims, but Fox’s focus remained squarely on a political fight over the story rather than on the Russian bounties themselves and Trump’s seeming inaction about the situation.
On Sunday’s MediaBuzz, Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway tied this story to other negative reports about Trump as a means of discrediting it: “And I kind of question why people keep believing The New York Times when it claims anonymous intel sources about anything. This is the same paper, and in some cases, the very same reporters who published the completely false and ridiculous Russia collusion hoax for many years.”
“In this case, you've got intelligence that you collect and then you have to analyze it,” Hemingway also said. “And you really have to come to a high degree of confirmation. You might remember how our intel community really believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” (This is a remarkable objection to make, considering the degree to which Fox News hosts and contributors promoted the Iraq War.)
On the Sunday afternoon edition of Fox’s America’s News Headquarters, the story’s focus was on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s attacks on Trump over the bounty claims:
In coverage of the story on Fox Report with Jon Scott, the focus was also on Democratic responses, as well as questions from Republicans such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Trump’s attacks on the Times — but not on the core allegation about the bounties.
Trump tweeted another message Sunday night:
In the opening block of Monday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, correspondent Todd Piro continued the network’s focus on Trump’s denials and the political fights around the story rather than on the bounty claims themselves. Co-host Brian Kilmeade seemed to think the real problem here is that the intelligence community is leaking against the president.
“What I find extremely disturbing, no matter how this turns out, is that somebody in intelligence is telling The New York Times — maybe out of frustration, or to upend and make the administration look bad. Bottom line is, there’s a schism between the intelligence community and the administration, which should be disturbing to everybody.”
And after another segment running the Trump administration’s denials claiming that the raw intelligence about Russian bounties had not been sufficiently confirmed to merit being included in a presidential brief, co-host Steve Doocy cited American casualties in a peculiar segue to the next segment on the ongoing Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) zone in Seattle, which has been a recurring subject of Fox News fearmongering.
“By the way, while there have been a number of service personnel killed in Afghanistan, it is unclear whether or not this bounty program, if it exists, actually resulted in any loss of American lives,” Doocy said. “There were, however, two people injured, shot, in Seattle overnight. Near that CHOP zone, once again.”
Contrary to Doocy’s statement Monday morning, The Washington Post reported Sunday night: “Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.”