Fox News reporters saw Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte attack Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in Montana, but you wouldn’t know it from watching Fox & Friends.
The proudly conservative morning gabfest—known to be a favorite of President Trump’s— dedicated less than a minute to the incident currently leading at most news outlets, and conveniently disregarded its network’s own reporting from the scene.
Jacobs had entered a room where Gianforte was awaiting an interview with Fox News on Wednesday and began asking him about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the GOP’s latest health-care bill when Gianforte slammed Jacobs to the ground. The violent encounter resulted in misdemeanor assault charges for the congressional hopeful.
A spokesman for Gianforte claimed the incident stemmed from “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist,” but the Fox News reporters in the room swiftly contradicted that spin.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Fox’s Denver-based reporter Alicia Acuna reported, in an article posted Wednesday evening. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.” Effectively nullifying Gianforte’s claim that it was Jacobs who was aggressive, Acuna added: “At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
The following morning, Fox & Friends newsreader Jillian Mele described the incident this way: “Hours before the polls open in the Montana special election, a GOP congressional candidate is charged with assault. Greg Gianforte defending himself after he's accused of body-slamming a Guardian reporter. The candidate says that reporter tried to push a phone in his face before this happened.”
She continued after a brief snippet of the audio recording: “Quite a scene. Gianforte's campaign says the men both fell.”
There was no mention of Fox’s own reporting until co-host Brian Kilmeade half-heartedly inserted: “By the way, on that body-slam, that Montana situation, Alicia Acuna was right there, eyewitnessed it.”
Rather than actually describe her reporting or explain how it contradicts the Gianforte campaign claims, Kilmeade told viewers: “She has a great column on FoxNews.com.”
When sent a transcript of the Fox & Friends segment, one current Fox News reporter simply replied: “OF COURSE,” later adding: “What else do you expect?”
While unsurprising, given Fox & Friends’ status as the morning half of Fox’s right-wing agitprop programming, bookending with its decidedly right-wing primetime lineup, it highlights the widening divide between Fox’s “hard-news” reporting and its commentary wing.
Noticeably, any mention of the Gianforte incident from the network’s news reporters has included a thorough explanation of what Acuna witnessed.
During a 1 a.m. re-air of Hannity, breaking-news anchor Jackie Ibañez explained the story: “Witnesses, including Fox correspondent Alicia Acuna, said Gianforte body-slammed Ben Jacobs… and then punched him. Jacobs was trying to question Gianforte about the GOP American Health Care Act.” During the 5 a.m., pre-Fox & Friends hour, reporter Griff Jenkins spent a few minutes on the story, noting that Acuna reported that “Gianforte did, indeed, grab Jacobs by the neck.”
Only several minutes after Fox & Friends ended, Acuna herself appeared on America’s Newsroom to recount the situation: “I saw the whole thing when [Gianforte] grabbed [Jacobs] by the neck with both hands, slid him to the side, body-slammed him, and got on top of him and started punching and yelling at him.”
This is only the latest example of there existing a stark divide between Fox’s news and opinion programming.
Earlier this week, nearly a dozen Fox News reporters and staffers expressed their disgust and embarrassment at right-wing prime-time star Sean Hannity’s obsessive coverage of an unfounded conspiracy theory alleging the DNC murdered its staffer Seth Rich because of the (evidence-free) claim he was in contact with WikiLeaks. Hannity persisted with the theory—both on his TV show and on social media—despite pleas from Rich’s family to stop.
“ARE WE STILL AIRING THAT SHIT?!” one Fox News political reporter told The Daily Beast. “The other reporters I’ve talked to [about this] are similarly pissed about the whole thing,” another Fox reporter said. “Some find it embarrassing, others downright heartless.”