If there’s a news outlet in the country with the ability to recognize prayer, it’s Fox News. Here, a piece about a teacher who was told to change her “just pray” T-shirt. Here, a piece about a bus driver removed from a route after leading prayers. Here, an opinion piece on “ten ways to pray for our high school graduates.” We could go on and on and on. At Fox, prayer is a beat.
So what happened on Monday night? Following the news that President Trump had disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles to the White House for a Super Bowl celebration, host Shannon Bream in the 11 p.m. hour said this:
New tonight: The president announcing the Philadelphia Eagles will not be visiting the White House tomorrow, to celebrate their Super Bowl victory, due to the national anthem controversy. The Eagles, who won Super Bowl LII, apparently wanted to send a smaller group of players. A handful did not plan to attend, but it appears the president said, “No thanks.” Now the president says he’s still going to host a different event for a thousand fans, quote: “one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect is and loudly and proudly play the national anthem.”
The script was accurate. The images surrounding it? Nope.
Over the course of Bream’s 30-second brief on the Eagles controversy, the Fox News screen flashed three separate images of various Eagles players kneeling on various parts of the field. As just about any fan could well discern, those images didn’t come from any protests during the national anthem — the very act that has President Trump so infuriated about the National Football League. A player or two, as well, picked up on Fox News’s odd choice of imagery. For instance, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz:
In responding to the outcry about prayer vs. protest, Fox News didn’t stay silent; didn’t issue a statement from a network spokesperson; didn’t issue a statement from a top-ranking network executive. It distributed a statement from Christopher Wallace, executive producer of Bream’s program. “During our report about President Trump canceling the Philadelphia Eagles trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, we showed unrelated footage of players kneeling in prayer,” noted the statement. “To clarify, no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem throughout regular or post-season last year. We apologize for the error.”
Innocent mistake? Possible, but unlikely. Fox News commentators have been railing against NFL protest kneelers for some time. “And you have to ask, what are we kneeling for at this point?” said host Pete Hegseth last September. “Because you talk about social injustice. This is the least sexist, least racist, most free, most equal, most prosperous country in the history of humankind.” Tucker Carlson: “They’re attacking the flag and the country, and I’m just telling you that when the richest people in a society decide the country they are supposed to be running is corrupt, it falls apart.” Sean Hannity: “Patriotism under fire.”
So maybe Wallace was seeking to toss the Trump-Eagles story with a little Fox News dressing. Whatever the case, he managed to combine two constituencies whom Fox News usually treats very differently: Those who pray in public, and those who protest racial injustices during the national anthem.