riIn its position as arguably the most politically powerful talk show on the planet, Fox & Friends undoubtedly faces enormous pressure to uphold right-wing narratives that satisfy not only its core viewership but also its biggest fan, President Donald Trump.
On Monday, that ceaseless need to coddle Fox viewers with news and opinions that comport with their pro-Trump, conservative beliefs ended in embarrassment when Fox & Friends First booked the wrong guest.
The show thought it booked Democratic congressional candidate Ann Kirkpatrick to talk about how she was booed during an Arizona primary debate for offering unqualified support for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement. The segment came as part of Fox’s seemingly endless stream of stories scaring viewers about the liberal activists and politicians who call for the abolition or scaling back of the controversial and often abusive government agency.
Instead of Kirkpatrick, however, the Fox & Friends early show spoke with Barbara L’Italien, a Massachusetts lawmaker running for Congress who delivered an anti-Trump sermon before the hosts awkwardly ended the interview after realizing she was, in fact, not Ann Kirkpatrick.
The show’s executive producer claimed the Friends had been the victims of a stunt by a L’Italien and her campaign publicist. It remains a mystery, though, how no one in the Fox control room noticed, before going to air, that Kirkpatrick was not the woman seated in front of a remote camera.
But Monday morning wasn’t the most embarrassing example of Fox & Friends getting punked in its haste to force a decidedly conservative political narrative.
Shortly before the 2012 presidential election—which Fox & Friends’ nemesis Barack Obama handily won—the show sought an unemployed, college-age individual who’d once believed in Obama’s “hope and change” but then decided to support the Republicans’ Romney-Ryan ticket.
That preordained script for a guest was a ripe opportunity for pranksters, and so aspiring comedian and former University of Texas student Max Rice ended up on the show.
“They were so happy that I fit the mold and that I was Caucasian,” Rice told RawStory after the disastrous interview. “They were just casting a part in a show. They were so stupid... I’m a kid messing around.”
For two excruciatingly awkward minutes—punctuated by cringe-inducing moments of silence—Rice confused and enraged host Gretchen Carlson as he made a mockery of the show’s pre-scripted narrative that jobless college kids hated Obama. “’Sup!” he exclaimed upon being introduced before offering non sequitur responses about his supposed conversion to conservative politics.
“It sounds like you’re not being very serious,” Carlson said after Rice claimed his newfound support for Romney came after losing a basketball game to a friend. “Are you being serious about this interview?” she asked as Rice goofed off on-camera, remarking about how “cool” it was to be on TV, eyes darting around the room, taking sips of water from a paper cup.
“I’m not sure that you’re ready for prime time yet,” Carlson said before cutting off the interview altogether.
Then, as now, the show’s need to fulfill a specific narrative took precedence over proper guest vetting. “[Fox producers] had 10 days to ask for my driver’s license,” Rice explained. “They saw my commencement speech video, but they’re too stupid to realize that if I graduated in 2010, I wouldn’t graduate college until 2014. That’s why I was so awkward in the interview. I wasn’t going to lie.”
Another aspiring comedian similarly pranked the show in 2008, when the show booked Alan Corey, the author of get-rich-quick book A Million Bucks by 30. Corey sent stand-up comic Andrew Wright in his stead.
Wright impersonated Corey for an entire three-minute segment and was never found out. He offered up (with a cheshire cat grin—red flag!) silly responses to prompts based on the book’s sage financial wisdom. “I believe we all become our own grandfathers someday. It’s an old Navajo American-Indian saying. But I believe that’s what happens to us spiritually, so what I do is I carry a change purse,” he hilariously claimed at one point.
The comedian later admitted online that he had not read Corey’s book at all.
More recently, in August 2017, the show got pranked during one edition of “Breakfast With Friends,” a recurring segment in which a roving correspondent makes hokey chatter with middle American diner patrons espousing decidedly Fox-friendly views.
While at a restaurant in Jefferson County, Kentucky, correspondent Todd Piro turned to a “Make America Great Again” hat-wearing patron to give his thoughts on Trump policies, and an elderly man appeared from the background with a piece of paper reading “FOX LIES.”
“You got a Democrat right here,” the man said, perhaps sensing he was not among the likely on-camera guests, adding, “This is fake news!” The show quickly cut to commercial and, as The Daily Beast’s Matt Wilstein noted at the time, Fox News found out the hard way that “even in a Kentucky diner, among the real American folks, there exist people who really hate Fox News.”
And even just last month, Fox & Friends got punked. Except, this time, the prank was artful and subtle—almost too subtle for the average viewer to realize.
When the show sent “Proud American correspondent” Anna Kooiman to colonial Williamsburg to interview “Thomas Jefferson,” the professional Jefferson impersonator took a few moments to read from the Declaration of Independence.
Because the storied document is 1,300-plus words in length, “Jefferson” read aloud a series of hand-selected excerpts that resembled a clear but understated jab at Trump via 1770s-era grievances with the authoritarian impulses of King George III.
“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands,” the impersonator read of immigration policy before transitioning: “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.”
There was a nod to the ongoing Russian collusion allegations: “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws.”
An eerily prescient nod to Trump’s protectionist trade policies: “For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.”
And what could only be interpreted as a comment on Trump’s fitness to lead: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
A spokesperson for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which employs the impersonator, winkingly made it clear to The Washington Post that Jefferson was aiming squarely at Fox & Friends’ biggest fan:
“All of our work at Colonial Williamsburg highlights that the events and ideas of our nation’s founding are as relevant today as they were 242 years ago. (Relevance is one of our core values.)”