Try to follow this dizzying sequence of events:
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that Jared Kushner sought to create a secret line of communication between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin during a meeting with Russian diplomats in December.
On Saturday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at a news conference that he “would not be concerned” about such an arrangement and added that “we have back-channel communications with a number of countries.”
On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly told ABC News that “any channel of communications, back or otherwise, is a good thing.”
On Monday, Fox News Channel published an online article with no byline and a single unnamed source that claimed that Kushner, a senior White House adviser, did not try to set up a back channel after all.
On Tuesday morning, “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade posed a question to counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway: “Do you back up the Fox News report?” Conway refused. “I'm not going to get into any of that,” she said. Conway echoed McMaster and Kelly, saying that “they're not concerned” and that “back channels like this are the regular course of business.”
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) May 30, 2017
A short time later, Trump tweeted a link to the Fox News report that Conway had just declined to support, seemingly endorsing an alternative defense of Kushner that his administration spent three days not making.
What the heck is going on here?
The Fox News report is confusing on a number of levels. A network spokesperson insisted that the lack of a byline is not unusual and pointed to other instances in which individual journalists were not credited as the authors of news articles. The examples were essentially rewrites of wire reports, however.
Make no mistake: It is not normal to publish a supposed scoop without a byline. The only clue Fox News offered about the reporting was a note at the bottom of the story that said Catherine Herridge “contributed.”
The use of a lone anonymous source is also odd, in this situation. Unnamed sources who appear in news reports about the Russia investigation are typically granted anonymity by the media because they are discussing sensitive information without authorization and could be fired if caught. But a person speaking for the Trump administration could safely say on the record that The Post's original report was false. White House officials claim reports are wrong all the time.
This time, however, the White House did not say that The Post got it wrong. Instead, it argued that there was nothing inappropriate about what Kushner did.
The Fox News article did not merely contradict other reporting; it was out of step with the Trump White House, too. It's as though Fox News were trying to give its audience two ways to stand behind Kushner.
Option 1: He did it, but that's okay.
Option 2: He didn't do it.
Never mind that those two things cannot both be true. The bottom line is Kushner did nothing bad. Believe me.
Fox News did the same thing a couple of weeks ago after The Post reported that Trump shared classified information with Russian diplomats during a meeting in the Oval Office on May 10. Based on the coverage by “Fox & Friends,” viewers could choose to believe that the report was false or that it was true but not a problem because Trump, as president, has the power to declassify intelligence.
The amazing thing about the Kushner story is that Fox News has managed to pull Trump into its alternate universe. The president's tweet means that the White House has joined Fox News in simultaneously arguing two conflicting points.