President Donald Trump is accustomed to receiving support, flattery, and ass-kissing from Fox News’ conservative opinion hosts.
But following Wednesday morning’s release of a transcript showing Trump pushing Ukraine to probe former Vice President Joe Biden, the president also found boosters among the network’s self-described “straight news” anchors and reporters.
Instead of focusing on how the transcript confirmed the president prodded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr on a Biden probe, a number of Fox’s most visible news reporters fixated more on claims made by the media, House Democrats, and the Bidens.
In fact, much of what these reporters focused on echoed a substantial portion of the White House’s talking points on the unfolding scandal—at the expense of focusing on the actual news at hand.
Chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge and chief political anchor Bret Baier both spent time quibbling with how early reports on the July call counted more Trump mentions of Biden than are found in the actual transcript, in effect dismissing the seriousness of the president’s requests to Zelensky.
“The key thing from the initial reading of this transcript is that there are not multiple references, as widely reported, to the former vice president and his son,” Herridge said. “Based on our count, there’s a key reference and then some follow-up references. There’s a handful, approximately three.”
A little bit later, Baier reiterated Herridge’s point, adding, “I don’t see eight times Joe Biden being mentioned. I count three, tangentially. So some of the early reporting may have been something different.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the White House’s own talking points distributed to allies (and inadvertently some Democrats) claimed it was a “myth” that Trump “urged President Zelensky to work with Rudy Giuliani to investigate Biden’s involvement in securing the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor eight times,” instead emphasizing that the president “referred to Biden in only one exchange.”
That wasn’t the only Trump talking point that Baier seemed to repeatedly echo.
A common refrain among the president and his allies has been that the transcript never explicitly spells out a quid pro quo expectation on Trump’s part.
“To the president’s point, you don’t see a direct quid pro quo in the language tying this to that,” the Special Report anchor at one point declared. Trump, in turn, approvingly tweeted Baier’s exact words as part of his ongoing social-media campaign to downplay the seriousness of the allegations related to Ukraine.
Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts echoed the same talking points as Baier on the absence of a direct quid pro quo, claiming “that language, or even that suggestion, exists nowhere in this document." Similarly pleased with Roberts’ assessment, the president tweeted video of his on-air comments.
Other ostensibly “straight-news” anchors seemed to run interference for the president by using interviews to raise claims attacking Democrats while downplaying the actual controversies at hand.
Daytime news anchor Harris Faulkner, meanwhile, interviewed Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel. Instead of asking any questions about the transcript, Faulkner floated questions about an RNC anti-impeachment fundraising initiative and asked McDaniel to respond to an opinion column by Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen. The column deflected from the ongoing scandal by arguing that Democrats are guilty of a “double standard” on Ukraine—shockingly, both agreed with his assessment.
In kicking off an interview with Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), America’s Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer dismissively claimed that it was just “the left” that were “suggesting the transcript is not a complete transcript, it’s a bunch of notes put together, that’s what the allegations are.”
But the memo itself, however, specifically states that the transcript is “not a verbatim transcript” and is based on the notes and recollections of officials assigned to listen to the call.
And at Trump’s Wednesday press conference in New York, Fox Business Network reporter Kristina Partsinevelos helped the president deflect from the mounting scandal by asking about how “markets reacted positively” to his comments on China, further proclaiming, “I want to talk about markets because I’ll leave it to everybody else to talk about impeachment.”
And even prior to Wednesday’s release of the memo, Fox News reporter Ed Henry (the network’s former chief White House correspondent) uncritically provided a hefty dose of pre-emptive spin from the White House itself.
While hosting The Daily Briefing last week, Henry began a panel discussion by revealing “new reporting” on the whistleblower complaint that was ultimately just the airing of anonymous and vague spin from the White House.
“I just got off the phone, before the show, with a senior administration official who reached out and said the following,” he reported. “First thing, ‘the media needs to—better be careful with this,’ this official told me. Saying ‘there is no there there’ in terms of the substance of an alleged deal the president cut with the Ukrainian president.”
Appearing on Hannity several nights later, Henry once again credited a “senior administration official” as relaying to him the news that the whistleblower at the center of the Ukraine scandal has a “political bias in favor of a rival political candidate of President Trump.”
The Fox hard-news reporter declared that the call’s transcript would reveal no “smoking gun” and be “nowhere near as inflammatory as some in the media have suggested.” adding that the senior official did warn that a “few words in the transcript that will raise eyebrows and political headaches for the White House.”
There were, however, a handful of Fox News anchors who offered more laser-focused coverage of the president’s request for a foreign power to tip the scales of a U.S. election.
On Tuesday, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith seemed to criticize some of his pro-Trump Fox News colleagues who have pushed the misleading counter-narrative that Biden sought the ouster of a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor because he was probing a company the ex-veep’s son was involved with.
Later in the day, Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace asserted on-air that there is “some meat on the bones” of an impeachment inquiry, both “in terms of what the president said to the Ukrainian president and the actions that he had taken to stop aid before he made that call.”
And later that evening, Martha MacCallum grilled White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley about the timeline of aid to Ukraine and why Trump would bother to ask another country to assist with undermining an election rival immediately after the conclusion of the Mueller probe on 2016 election interference.
“Why, one day after the Mueller albatross is lifted off the president’s back and he’s free to move on with the rest of his presidency, does he get on the phone with the president of Ukraine and start talking about Biden and the next election?” MacCallum asked.
“Why would he do that? It just seems to fly in the face of any good sense whatsoever.”