In a damning report by The Daily Beast, emails revealed that top-rated Fox News morning show Fox & Friends had provided scripts for interviews to then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt and allowed him to choose topics for his appearances while providing questions in advance.
While F&F has long been a safe space for President Trump and his allies and is known for its over-the-top boosterism of the president and his agenda, spoon-feeding questions and giving the embattled ex-Cabinet member script approval revealed a new ethical boundary that the show was willing to ignore in the quest to push Trumpist propaganda. And the network obviously knew it was a red line that shouldn’t have been crossed based on the statement given to the Beast for its story.
“This is not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved,” a Fox News spokesperson told reporter Maxwell Tani.
The thing is, we’ve heard this many times before. And if history is any indication, nothing will come of Fox News’ addressing of the matter.
Take, for instance, Fox News’ biggest star and so-called White House shadow chief of staff Sean Hannity. The conservative firebrand and longtime primetime fixture has repeatedly brushed off questions surrounding conflicts of interest and flouted ethics rules and standards, all while the network seemingly delivers no real punishment and allows its highly-paid host to do whatever he wants.
Just in the Age of Trump, Hannity was outed as the secret client of one-time Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Hannity passionately defended Cohen on the air while failing to disclose that he was Cohen’s client. While this would have normally been a death knell at any other network, Fox News stood by Hannity, saying they were “unaware of Sean Hannity’s informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court” but “reviewed the matter” and talked to Hannity about it.
After Hannity appeared in a campaign ad for Trump during the 2016 election, Fox News said it wouldn’t happen again, but the network never publicly reprimanded or punished him for it. Fast forward to this month and Hannity taking the stage at a Trump campaign rally — and calling his own colleagues “fake news.” Hannity claimed the stage appearance was not planned — though the Trump campaign had advertised him as a special guest — and a Fox News spokesperson released a statement saying they do “not condone any talent” participating in campaign events and that it was “an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”
In other words, nothing happened to Sean. And the same has occurred with other Fox News personalities after they’ve placed the network in embarrassing situations with ethically questionable actions. Washington Post’s Erik Wemple put together an incomplete list of other instances where the network said it was addressing the issue:
That PR formulation — we’re addressing the matter — makes periodic appearances in Fox News crisis archives. Like when Hannity appeared onstage with Trump at rally (“This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”); or when it was revealed that Fox News anchor Bret Baier had played a round of golf with Trump (“addressed the matter”); or when Andrew Napolitano made evidence-free claims about the alleged wiretapping of Trump (“the matter was addressed internally.”); or when “Fox & Friends” ran a four-minute video slamming President Barack Obama (“We’ve addressed the video with the producers and are not going to discuss the internal workings of our programming any further.”); and when the network had to admit a “breakdown” in covering the story of Shirley Sherrod (“will be addressed internally”).
And let us not forget about one prime example of Fox News promising it was internally investigating a matter but never came forward with the results — the Seth Rich conspiracy theory article. In May 2017, after publishing a report pushing baseless theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich — and Hannity others at Fox running with the story for nearly a week — Fox News retracted the article after it unraveled and the network was taken to task by other media outlets. It then promised to investigate the situation — and have gone radio silent on the matter since, refusing to answer reporters’ inquiries on the investigation.
So when Fox News says it is addressing the matter regarding Fox & Friends colluding with a Cabinet member to assure a friendly and non-confrontational on-air chat, take that with a grain of salt.