Then there was Saturday morning, July 27, 2019. “Fox & Friends Weekend” was just minutes into its morning marathon when it invited “Republican strategist” Kimberly Klacik onto the airwaves to talk about Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland congressman whose district includes hard-hit sections of Baltimore. Never known for shrouding their political motivations, the show’s producers teed up the chat with Klacik by showing footage of Cummings, who is the chairman of the House oversight committee, laying into acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. “What does that mean? What does that mean?" asked Cummings after McAleenan said that his people were doing their “level best” to handle the influx of migrants at the southern border. "When a child is sitting in their own feces, can’t take a shower? Come on, man. What’s that about? None of us would have our children in that position.”
Shifting from that clip, “Fox & Friends Weekend” host Jedediah Bila pronounced Cummings guilty of hypocrisy before she even brought on her star guest: “Democrats like Congressman Elijah Cummings say they care about how migrants are treated at the border. What about the families and people in their own district? Congressman Cummings was elected to represent West Baltimore. Living conditions at the border are better than most areas in his district,” said Bila, who cited no authority or source whatsoever for that claim.
From there, Bila introduced Kimberly Klacik, who was identified as a “Republican strategist” and Maryland resident who took videos of the “crisis” in Baltimore: "I don’t think many people realize this, but Congressman Cummings represents the most dangerous district in America,” Klacik said. As Klacik discussed the conditions in emptied-out Baltimore row homes, Fox News played her videos and attributed them to her Twitter account (@kimkbaltimore).
Mind you: Fox News can afford to send one of its own TV crews into Baltimore to see for itself just how Cummings’s constituents are faring. The network, after all, measures its profits in the billions of dollars and has sent its people into the field for far more foolhardy purposes. Yet there was the network, forking over its airwaves to a “Republican strategist” with a videocamera, a Twitter account and an agenda.
Delighted with her platform, Klacik said that her tour of Baltimore’s distressed areas turned up people who are “actually on board with Trump’s immigration policies"; she said that Cummings is in his job just for the “photo ops”; and, according to her reporting, “a lot of people said he hasn’t even been there in a while,” said Klacik on the program.
All of these images and contentions crossed the Fox News screen just after 6 a.m. On a Saturday morning. In the middle of summer. According to Nielsen figures, this isn’t the network’s peak viewing time: Total viewership numbers tend toward the high 800,000s. A guest like Klacik can expect to see her comments come and go, preserved only on catch-everything TV archiving services.
Notice the thematic overlap?
Since that Saturday morning tweetstorm, the country has been debating Trump’s continued efforts to divide the country along racial lines. On CNN, host Victor Blackwell noted how the president frequently invokes the term “infested” when referencing lawmakers of color. Supporters have cited the fact that Baltimore’s impoverished neighborhoods are impoverished. And Trump himself has pounded Twitter with topically adjacent attacks, further criticizing Cummings, denying any racism in his original tweets and attacking the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The country can thank Fox News for touching off this entire calamity. What so enticed Trump was a staple of Fox News programming over the years. It relishes any opportunity to attach the ills of major U.S. cities to Democratic politicians -— and not so much to broader forces that have hollowed out these places. When the horrors of a racist criminal-justice system come into focus, there’s always a segment to be done on “black-on-black” crime somewhere in the United States, often Chicago.
If only the sudden focus of Fox News on the residents of West Baltimore sprang from genuine concern, rather than a ploy to clear political breathing room for the president. In addition to hammering the DHS chief, after all, Cummings’s committee last week approved a subpoena for private emails and text messages at the White House that put Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, in the “cross hairs.”
The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Fox News whether the Klacik assertions met the network’s editorial standards. We also emailed Klacik a series of questions about those assertions, including the source for her claim that Cummings’s district is the most dangerous in the country. Also: What about the claim that Cummings hadn’t been around in a while? Did Klacik confirm that? Did she ask Cummings for comment? A separate set of questions went to Cummings’s office. We haven’t heard back from any party.
Klacik was delighted at the elevation that her videos received from the president:
Fox News is surely less enthusiastic about the signal boost. Once upon a time, the network could air its transparent hit pieces for its captive audience and move on to the next smear, with little interference. These days it faces the prospect that even its most obscure, not-ready-for-prime-time material will land on prime time for days on end. Just as outlets such as The Post and the New York Times have struggled to report about Trump’s racism and lies, so, too, Fox News has struggled with the implications of broadcasting to one motivated viewer.
A motivated viewer, that is, with a Twitter following of more than 60 million and a knack for accurately abridging Fox News’s tendentious content.