The jury is still out on whether Team Trump colluded with Russian operatives during last year’s presidential campaign—the subject of an extensive FBI investigation.
But the evidence is overwhelming that the Trump White House is colluding every day with the Fox News Channel, with Donald Trump himself acting as the right-leaning cable network’s cheerleader-in-chief and No.1 assignment editor.
The latest example is Fox News’s relentless promotion—abetted by the president’s Twitter feed and Monday’s installment of Fox & Friends—of a story that Los Angeles correspondent Adam Housely first told on Friday’s edition of Outnumbered, a noon weekday program in which four women on a couch and “one lucky guy” seated in the middle flirt and banter about the news of the day.
Appearing remotely from Los Angeles, Housely reported that unnamed U.S. intelligence agencies, acting on orders from an unnamed Obama intelligence official, had improperly “unmasked” the identities of Team Trump members and associates who were caught up last year in surveillance operations; Housely also claimed that top Obama administration officials used the information for political gain.
The assertion, so far uncorroborated by other news outlets with the exception of Bloomberg's Eli Lake, offered aid and comfort to Trump, who has been under intense media and congressional scrutiny for his alleged Russian connections ever since he tweeted on March 4 that President Obama—a “Bad (or sick) guy”—had ordered the “wiretapping” of Trump Tower.
“The person who did the unmasking, I’m told, is very high up, very well known, very senior in the intelligence world, and is not in the FBI,” Housely added, describing the basis of his report as ”a number of sources...who have direct knowledge of what took place” and “folks who were in these agencies and frustrated at the politics that is taking place in these agencies.”
Housely also asserted that the beleaguered chairman of House Intelligence Committee, former Trump transition team member Rep. Devin Nunes of California, had actually learned of the alleged unmasking in January from a source independent of the Trump inner circle, and made his notorious visit to the White House grounds simply to peruse classified material that intelligence agencies had been ”stonewalling” him from viewing.
On Monday’s Fox & Friends, Housely said Nunes—another beneficiary of his exclusive—is not one of his sources. “The congressman didn’t want to speak to us about this—which is his right and his prerogative,” Housely said.
Fox News didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s request to interview Housely about his exclusive.
This past weekend and Monday morning, when not performing presidential duties and golfing with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at the Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Virginia, Trump was spending his time triumphantly tweeting about Fox News’s exclusive—which he celebrated at 6:15 a.m. Monday as “Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. ‘Spied on before nomination.’ The real story.”
On Saturday morning, as Housely’s scoop went all but ignored except on Fox, the president posted in two separate tweets: “Wow, @FoxNews just reporting big news. Source: ‘Official behind unmasking is high up. Known intel official is responsible. Some unmasked not associated with Russia. Trump team spied on before he was nominated.’ If this is true, does not get much bigger. Would be sad for U.S.”
And on Sunday, Trump tweeted: “The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and Leaking! Find the leakers.”
Fox News has eagerly obliged, parroting Trump’s journalistic judgment with wall to wall coverage since Housely’s initial report.
Housely—a former minor league baseball player who joined Fox News in 2001 and has recently presented such stories as “Alec Baldwin talks sibling rivalry, ‘Boss Baby,” “13 Killed in Texas Church Bus Accident,” and “Jussie Smollet on going from TV fan to ‘Empire’ Star”—was introduced on Friday by Outnumbered anchor Harris Faulkner, complete with a soundtrack of portentous chimes, for a “FOX NEWS ALERT.”
“We’re told that the main issue here is not only the unmasking of the names, but the spreading of names for political purposes that have nothing to do with national security and everything to do with hurting and embarrassing the Trump transition and his team,” Housely declared.
On Monday’s Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Abby Huntsman (former Obama administration ambassador and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman’s daughter, who has gone hard-right and pro-Trump since her liberal-Republican days on MSNBC’s defunct show The Cycle)—repeatedly touted Housely’s story.
This was done in between segments on Tina Fey’s “war on women,” how somebody burned an American flag in a Marine veteran’s driveway in Arizona (“Disgusting!” Huntsman opined), how it was the rich who supported Hillary Clinton, and whether former Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch will be shouted down by politically correct students during her scheduled speech at Harvard. (Spoiler alert: Not likely.)
And Housely, again appearing from Fox’s L.A. bureau, speculated that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice was the unmasker, although he slyly interjected, “I’m not gonna say it’s Susan Rice.” An hour later, Bloomberg’s Lake reported that Trump national security official Ezra Cohen-Watnick discovered in February—the month after Nunes’s supposed discovery—that Rice “requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign.”
Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin followed Housely on the air, declaring Housely’s exclusive a “bombshell…and there’s nothing the liberal propaganda and media monopoly can do to block the truth from coming out.”
Indeed, throughout the three-hour morning show, Fox & Friends’ Doocy repeatedly referred to a couple of on-screen graphics illustrating that the other cable and broadcast networks had paid zero attention to Housely's report while devoting many minutes to allegations that Trump’s campaign and transition officials had been associating with various Russians.
Left unmentioned was the fact that the Fox Television Network’s Washington public affairs show, Fox News Sunday, also gave a miss to Housely’s scoop, instead focusing its discussions on the alleged Russian connection. An email seeking guidance from Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, a longtime Washington journalist with a serious track record, didn’t get a response.