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Fox News hits peak Trump sycophancy, as opinion hosts disregard the network’s own reporting

Fox News opinion hosts contradicted their own journalist's confirmation of reports about President Trump wanting to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

In the hours after the New York Times reported on Thursday night that President Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III last June, journalists at other news outlets scrambled to confirm the story independently. By 11 p.m., Fox News's chief national correspondent Ed Henry had done so.

“We’re breaking tonight a source close to the White House telling Fox the New York Times is accurate,” Henry said at the top of the network's late newscast. “The president did tell top officials last summer he wanted to fire Robert S. Mueller III. But a White House counsel, Donald McGahn, and other aides convinced the president not to do it.”

Henry might as well have gone to bed early, because on Friday morning “Fox & Friends” disregarded his reporting in a staggering display of pro-Trump sycophancy.

Trump moved to fire Mueller in June, bringing White House counsel to the brink of leaving

At the top of the show, “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy held up Friday's print edition of the Times and said, “There’s a big story that apparently the president of the United States, last June, wanted to fire Robert S. Mueller III because the president felt that he had a bunch of conflicts of interest, could not adequately be the special counsel.”

Co-host Pete Hegseth jumped in to say that Trump “doesn’t think that the story was all that true.” Hegseth then cued a clip of the president's response to the report, delivered to reporters in Davos.

“Fake news, folks, fake news,” Trump said. “Typical New York Times fake stories.”

Rather than tell viewers that one of Fox News's own journalists had confirmed the Times story, Hegseth cast doubt on the report by noting that the Times had relied on four unnamed sources. He described the Times article as containing “some new details that may or may not actually be true.”

“All right, well, the president says it’s fake news,” co-host Ainsley Earhardt said, in conclusion. “That happened last June. Do you — you know, it’s something we have to tell you about ’cause it is a headline on the New York Times. What do you think about that? Do you even care? Something you probably do care about is immigration.”

Just like that, the program moved on to another topic.

It is standard practice for Fox News opinion hosts to dump on competitors' reports, but “Fox & Friends” now appears so willing to defend and protect Trump that it will undercut the work of the network's own journalists. “Fox & Friends” enjoys a special relationship with the president. He frequently tweets about segments he sees on the program, and the show flaunts its power to influence the president's thinking.

The obsequiousness of the “Fox & Friends” hosts on Friday went beyond even that of Sean Hannity, who on Thursday night at least acknowledged Henry's reporting, in progress.

Early in the 9 p.m. hour, Hannity told viewers that “our sources — and I've checked in with many of them — they're not confirming” the Times story. About 20 minutes later, Henry appeared on Hannity's show with partial confirmation; Henry said he could report that Trump had, in fact, been concerned about what he viewed as Mueller's conflicts of interest.

After another 20 minutes had passed, Hannity said this: “All right, so, we have sources tonight just confirming to Ed Henry that, yeah, maybe Donald Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for conflict. Does he not have the right to raise those questions? You know, we'll deal with this tomorrow night. We have a shocking video to bring you, by the way. This footage comes to us from Arizona, where you see that red SUV, high-speed police chase.”

Hannity offered spin and distraction: The president was within his right! And, hey, look over here at this car crash! But even Hannity dialed back the “fake news” meter, as a Fox News journalist lent credence to the Times report.

It seems that “Fox & Friends” is on a different planet altogether.