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Opinion Surprise: Fox News colluded with Trump’s then-EPA boss

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Believe it or not, “Fox & Friends” is worse than it looks.

The highly rated morning program on Fox News specializes in sweet and supportive interviews with President Trump and his various colleagues and appointees. When Trumpites spray their baseless statements onto the airwaves, a common response from the trio of “Fox & Friends” co-hosts is a group nod, though co-host Brian Kilmeade from time to time adds a dissenting voice.

Pro-Trump messaging, however, may be a bit more institutionalized than previously known, thanks to a fresh story in the Daily Beast by Maxwell Tani. Based on emails fetched by a Sierra Club Freedom of Information Act request, Tani reports that aides for Scott Pruitt, then the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “chose the topics for interviews, and knew the questions in advance.”

In one eye-popping instance, a “Fox & Friends” producer wrote an introduction for an interview with Pruitt — and then passed it along to a Pruitt aide. From the story:

“Would this be okay as the setup to his segment?” producer Diana Aloi asked.
She wrote:
“There’s a new direction at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump—and it includes a back-to-basics approach. This after the Obama administration left behind a huge mess more than 1,300 super-fund sites which are heavily contaminated—still require clean-ups. So why was President Obama touted as an environmental savior if all these problems still exist?”
The EPA comms shop was pleased.
“Yes — perfect,” [then-EPA press secretary Amy] Graham replied.

The Fox News hosts followed that intro when the segment aired the next day.

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Before a separate interview in April, a Fox & Friends producer sent an email to Pruitt’s staff with three topics the show wanted to cover: a lawsuit from right-wing Judicial Watch claiming EPA employees were working against Trump; a claim that environmentalists said Trump’s proposed border wall would kill jaguars; and Pruitt’s visit to U.S. coal mines.
When the interview aired the next day, the hosts asked eight questions. Six were related to the topics agreed upon by producers and the EPA. Another question related to the agency’s decision to revoke EPA employee gym memberships—a topic the EPA chief’s team successfully pitched as an interview topic the previous day on Trump-friendly Fox Business Network.

What’s the point here? Why would “Fox & Friends” producers feel compelled to share so much material when their hosts don’t ask questions in the first place? Can’t they just promise Trump appointees that they’ll get the “Fox & Friends” treatment and leave it at that?

Scott Pruitt has resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. But will he take his press shop with him? (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Apparently not. The emails reveal that Fox News isn’t just skirting ethical boundaries here — that’s been clear ever since at least 2011, when “Fox & Friends” gave Trump special time slot to advertise his political and business ambitions; ever since Sean Hannity participated in a video ad for Trump; ever since Hannity and colleague Pete Hegseth assisted Trump in staging political rallies; and so on. What’s new in this correspondence is just how much professional self-respect Fox News is happy to surrender in service of pro-Trump propaganda.

Fairness requires noting that Ed Henry, the network’s chief national correspondent, pressed Pruitt in April on the various scandals of his time at the EPA — scandals that prompted more than a dozen probes into his work and that hastened his resignation. “If Scott Pruitt thought Fox News would play softball, someone forgot to tell Ed Henry,” this blog wrote at the time. After a few rounds of pounding from Henry, Pruitt said, “I thought we were going to talk about substantive issues.”

Fox News PR chief Irena Briganti didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Erik Wemple Blog. However, a Fox News spokesperson told the Daily Beast, “This is not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved.”

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”).

Sounds like Fox News needs a CIAO — chief internal-addressing officer.