A hoax, all of it. A spokesperson for Schiff said that the congressman had suspicions about the call and reported it to law enforcement. The story surfaced in the January/February issue of The Atlantic and secured pickup by the Daily Mail, which alleged: “DailyMail.com can disclose that after the prank, his staff engaged in correspondence with what they thought was a Ukrainian politician to try to obtain the ‘classified’ material promised on the call.”
It was that story that Carlson, during his Wednesday night broadcast, claimed wasn’t getting sufficient attention. Speaking to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Carlson made his case: “[Schiff] then dispatched a researcher or an aide on the committee to call back the number and set up a document drop at the Ukrainian embassy. That seems like a significant story. It’s not being covered today. Do you think that’s a meaningful thing to know?” The affirming response from the congressman: “Absolutely, Tucker.”
Another meaningful-to-know-thing would be that White House staff secretary Rob Porter announced his resignation on Wednesday, supplying plenty of time for Carlson and his producers to put together a heaping package on the matter. We at the Erik Wemple Blog, however, have no quotes to offer from that package because it didn’t exist. The prime-timers on Fox News Wednesday night found so many other things to talk about, that they didn’t mention the Porter situation. “It’s called bias of omission, and today it was on full display,” said host Sean Hannity on his program, criticizing the media for not pounding away at a story about FBI text messages.
But, hey, this was merely a story of a man with access to the highest levels of the U.S. government who had been accused of abuse by two ex-wives. News outlets published this photo of Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, who alleged that Porter had punched her in the eye during a trip to Italy:
What about that prank call, though?
Media watchdogs have had a blast over the past year or so highlighting how creative Carlson has become in featuring stories other than the scandal du jour to emerge from the White House. He scoffs at the scoffing. In a wide-ranging interview with this blog back in November, Carlson explained his approach to story selection:
Wemple: What’s your philosophy about being on what is regarded as news of the day? Must you be on —Carlson: Regarded by whom?Wemple: That’s why I’m asking.Carlson: Yeah, I mean, being part of our job is to figure out what’s important. I mean, that’s what we do, and I’m sure that the guys over at Vox or the digital blogging staff at The Washington Post or whatever feels like they get to be our assignment editors, but they don’t. And if you want to work here, we can talk about it, but that’s kind of our call. I’m not in charge of Fox News, I’m not in charge of anything other than one hour on Fox News. And part of what they hired me for was to figure out what I think is important. And so that’s what I try to do and that doesn’t always overlap precisely with what you think is important or what guys over at Slate thinks is important, but that’s okay. That’s called diversity. I mean, that’s all right, I think. It’s not like everybody has to have the same opinion — oh wait, that is the position that you’re taking and that you so often take in your blog. That like it’s something immoral about people who’ve got a different view, or they’re doing the bidding of dark forces. Maybe I just disagree and think something else is more important. That’s honestly what the explanation is, believe it or not.Wemple: Would you concede though that in general that when big negative news stories about Trump hit the public or hit the Internet that you generally do not take those head-on?Carlson: No, I wouldn’t concede that at all. Every day there’s a big negative story about Trump, from what I can tell.Do I see my job as adding to the sum total of Trump news? No. I think you’ve got that covered, you and your other blogger friends over there at the washingtonpost.com or whatever. It’s like, that’s pretty well covered. I’d like to add something slightly different. Does that make me a Trump lackey? I don’t think I am a Trump lackey. I could give you a thousand examples, I could give you a number of examples, including recent ones, where I disagree pretty strongly with whatever policy position the White House is taking and have said.But that’s kind of not the point. The point is, I’ve got an hour. I think there’s a lot of stuff that is under-covered. I think one of the tragedies of Trump, pro and con Trump, is that he kind of sucks up all the oxygen and there’s no room for anything else. And I think it’s sort of nice to have an hour where you can talk about issues of importance that aren’t necessarily about Trump the man.I really think that. But I must say, just to restate, I find it hilarious that there are people out there who are mad about our story selection or think that they somehow are in charge of what we ought to put on the air every night. It’s like, what? There’s one show out of all shows that is doing something different, and you’re mad about it? I mean, if you’ve come to that conclusion, it’s time to reassess your own assumptions. Because is the world you’re looking for one where everybody has the same view and is doing the same story? Do you really want that? I guess people really do want that. It’s really frustrating to them that somebody is thinking for himself out there. I mean, I know it is.
True enough: Media outlets other than Fox News do have the Porter story covered. That’s because they likely place a high value on a domestic-violence scandal involving very powerful people. The opinionators at Fox News are free to sneer at such news values, as they rack up ratings victory after ratings victory precisely for these sorts of decisions.
And yet: Carlson wishes to marvel at the insufficient coverage afforded to the story about the phony phone call.
The truth is that February 2018 is the best time in world history to work as a propagandist, or at least a master deflector. Those wishing to suppress information about Porter have so many delicious choices. You can continue chewing over the memo from the House Intelligence Committee that was released last Friday; you can riff on Schiff; you can say something or other about all those scandalous text messages shared by FBI officials in 2016; you can complain about the mainstream media; you can play clips of liberals and Democrats and intelligence types stating that they’ve seen no hard evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia; or you can just discuss Twitter. And, if you’re in the mood for none of the above, Hillary Clinton emails!
There’s a symmetry for those trying to do actual journalism. “A lot of stuff that would be a really big scandal in every other administration you can think of — that happens here every week, stuff would be blockbusters at any other time and we just kind of you know mark these things and then watch them pass,” said MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on her Monday night program. Following that accurate generalization, she cited the case of K.T. MacFarland as an example: Her nomination to become the ambassador to Singapore was withdrawn after a scandalito. MacFarland, a former Fox News analyst, had told the Senate that she wasn’t aware of communications between [former national security adviser] Michael Flynn and Russia before the administration took office. Court documents later indicated otherwise.
Maddow: “Ambassador nominee and former deputy to disgraced national security adviser lies to Senate; is exposed by emails; the presidential transition didn’t know would be . . . handed over to prosecutors, right? And you can see this spinning out, you could imagine in the movie this goes on for a while. In any other administration, that’s how it would be, but because this is our life now, its like, ‘Oh, I wonder if she’s going to go back to Fox. They have a spot on the weekends, right?'”