On one level, Bret Baier, the host of Fox News’s “Special Report,” deserves credit. Just before noon today, he appeared on the “Happening Now” program with host Jon Scott and admitted to a “mistake” that occurred on Fox News air on Wednesday night.
As the transcript suggests, “mistake” minimizes the implications. In a chat with host Brit Hume on the Fox News program “On the Record,” Baier brought forth what he billed as a scoop. “The Clinton Foundation investigation is far more expansive than anybody has reported, I think, so far,” said Baier — an assertion that he based on “two separate sources with intimate knowledge of what’s going on with these FBI investigations.” Take note that Baier did not attribute the information to two actual “FBI sources.”
In any case, Baier apparently had enough confidence in these people to make quite a claim on their behalf. “The investigations will continue, there is a lot of evidence. And barring some obstruction in some way, they believe they will continue to, likely, an indictment.” Hume responded appropriately, “Wow, Bret Baier, thanks, buddy.”
In his talk with Hume, Baier cited two ongoing investigations. The key one relates to pay-to-play allegations surrounding the Clinton Foundation — namely, that big shots made donations to the charity in exchange for access or some considerations from Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Such is the thrust of the 2015 book “Clinton Cash” by Peter Schweizer, an author who partnered with news organizations to mine his findings. Back in April 2015, Fox News announced that it had secured the “television exclusive” to report on the book. Associated allegations — namely that the Clinton Foundation was a greedy gateway to Foggy Bottom — have crossed Fox News airwaves pretty regularly ever since.
In an interview yesterday with Fox News host Bill Hemmer, Schweizer said that the FBI started looking into pay-for-play just after his book’s spring 2015 release. The notion that this alleged FBI effort, however, would “likely” culminate in an indictment of some sort, however, has taken a beating in the past day or so. Yesterday afternoon, NBC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pete Williams said there was “an initial inquiry” into the Clinton Foundation based, in part, on “Clinton Cash.” “But FBI officials tell me there’s been virtually no movement on that case for the last several months. So this idea that indictments are near, I’m told, is just not true.” ABC News has also knocked down the Baier reporting.
Two big networks, two big debunkings. Baier, accordingly, had to account for himself. So in his noon appearance today with Scott, he said the following:
All the time, but especially in a heated election, on a topic this explosive, every word matters, no matter how well sourced. Which brings me to this: I explained a couple of times yesterday the phrasing of one of my answers to Brit Hume on Wednesday night, saying it was inartful, the way I answered the last question about whether the investigation would continue after election. And I answered that yes, our sources said it would, they would continue and likely an indictment. Well, that just wasn’t inartful; it was a mistake and for that I’m sorry. I should have said they would continue to build their case. Indictment obviously is a very loaded word … especially in this atmosphere and no one knows if there would or would not be an indictment no matter how strong investigators feel their evidence is. It’s obviously a prosecutor who has to make that case and take the case to a grand jury. We stand by the sourcing on the ongoing, active Clinton Foundation investigation.
Just what kind of sourcing does Baier have at his disposal? Who are these “two separate sources” so familiar with the FBI’s doings? Fox News didn’t respond to a question about sourcing.
So we don’t know with whom Baier was chatting. In debuting these allegations with Hume on Wednesday night, Baier said. “The investigations will continue, there is lot of evidence.” In certain circles, that seems to be conventional wisdom. Look at how Schweizer himself referred to the state of the case in his discussion yesterday on Fox News with host Bill Hemmer: “There’s a lot more information, so this is not going to go away.” Schweizer confirmed that he had spoken with the FBI multiple times, though his last contact was in February. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, an anti-“crony capitalism” organization. Just below Schweizer on the institute’s “about” page is Executive Chairman and Co-Founder Stephen K. Bannon — the CEO of the Trump campaign.
Baier did say today that Fox News has redoubled its efforts on the story and now has more than six sources confirming that “there is an active investigation into the Clinton Foundation that has been going on for more than a year, it is continuing and for those investigators working it it is a priority.” That’s much less of a scoop and pretty much aligns with a much-better-sourced Wall Street Journal story on the matter from Wednesday.
In discussing this matter on CNN this morning with media correspondent Brian Stelter, “New Day” co-host Alisyn Camerota noted of Baier, “Bret is a real journalist. He’s not Sean Hannity who, as we’ve discussed, is a broadcaster who just fell for a fake news story and rolling it out on his radio show.” It may be time to adjust that assessment. Sure, Baier gets a lot of credit for running a quality report for Fox News every night. But as even he appears to now understand, there is quite possibly no better time than now to prove your journalistic chops than the week before a presidential election. In this instance, Baier spoke of a likely indictment — something that has to come from the Justice Department — based on a couple of sources familiar with the FBI.
So this isn’t just sloppy journalism; it’s propaganda. As proved by Donald Trump himself, who yesterday told a crowd in pivotal Florida, “There is more breaking news I would like to share with you right now. It was reported last night that the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s pay-for-play corruption during her tenure as secretary of state. … It was reported that an avalanche of information is coming in. The FBI agents say they their investigation is likely to yield an indictment.” Breitbart was all over it.
Correction: Post changed to eliminate speculation on whether Baier used Schweizer as a source. A rep for Schweizer said the two haven’t had contact since spring 2015.