Fox News host Tucker Carlson finds himself in a pickle: On the one hand, he must do his propagandistic duty of discrediting top-tier Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden; on the other, doing so requires crediting enemy media outlets.
That very tension played out on Thursday night’s edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” In a continuation of the show’s obsession with Biden’s coherence, Carlson played a clip of the former vice president from the previous week in Hanover, N.H., telling the story of a war hero who told the politician he didn’t want a medal for his efforts. Biden told the crowd in Hanover: “He said, ‘Sir, I don’t want the damn thing!’ ‘Do not pin it on me, Sir! Please, Sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!’”
After showing Biden plow through this dramatic story, Carlson bashed the former vice president. “That’s just barf,” he said. But Biden’s affect wasn’t the real reason Carlson was doing a segment about the New Hampshire moment. It was this: “The worst part is, the story wasn’t even true. It turned out to be a jumbled mashup of a bunch of different stories with all of the facts wrong. Even The Washington Post noticed. And trust me, they’ve got every incentive to lie about it, they often do,” said Carlson, articulating the most churlish, petty and envious story credit ever to air.
A fact-checker would ding Carlson for a falsehood. To say that The Post “noticed” the story is to suggest that it was floating in a word cloud outside the newspaper’s offices. Just copy and paste!
As a matter of fact, The Post sent national political reporter Matt Viser to the Biden appearance. The immediate news story to emerge from the night was Biden’s curious hypothetical about what would have happened if Barack Obama had been assassinated in 2008. Several reporters, including Viser, wrote up those comments.
The war story, however, stuck with Viser, so he investigated it along with Post reporter Greg Jaffe. As their subsequent piece itself noted, the two reporters crashed on it until they had a detailed picture of Biden’s memory-merge: “Based on interviews with more than a dozen U.S. troops, their commanders and Biden campaign officials, it appears as though the former vice president has jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened.”
The imperative of dissing and crediting The Post in a single breath drives at a broader ill at Fox News: The network secures audience by bashing and discrediting so-called liberal media outlets, except on the quite frequent occasions when they publish accountability stories about Democrats. In such cases, they’re vessels of factual integrity, and forget about what we just said about them in that last segment with Joe Concha.
Have a look again at Carlson’s formulation: “Even The Washington Post noticed. And trust me, they’ve got every incentive to lie about it, they often do.” If he honestly believes that The Post often lies about its journalism, why would he ever cite it? Why would he hang a segment on the newspaper’s coverage? Wouldn’t he lose sleep worrying that the whole thing would collapse overnight?
The story here is not merely Carlson’s animus toward The Post. It’s the dependence of Fox News on investigative reporting from the outlets whose integrity it seeks to undermine each day. Take the Viser-Jaffe story: A search of the Fox News airwaves shows that the network mentioned the piece on Friday at 5:27 a.m., 7:37 a.m., 8:39 a.m., 9:19 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 11:29 a.m., 12:22 p.m., 2:10 p.m. and so on. Perhaps the Biden-war theme jumped into a sleepy pre-Labor Day weekend news void, but this level of reliance isn’t new. It happens all the time.
Including in September 2011, on the set of “Hannity.” At issue was Solyndra, the solar-panel company that benefited from an Obama administration environmental policy that was “infused with politics at every level.” That was according to The Post, which broke the story. On his show, host Sean Hannity was gracious enough to acknowledge as much: “The White House seems to have had a special stake in this deal. Emails obtained by the Washington Post show that officials at the Office of Management and Budget felt that the White House put them under the gun to approve the Solyndra deal,” said Hannity on his Sept. 14, 2011, show.
A little more than a year later, Hannity apparently decided to omit the credit and just deceive his audience: “President Obama’s first term was filled with countless scandals that we’ve exposed right here on this program," said Hannity in November 2012, "but the so-called journalists in the mainstream media, they chose to ignore them. Now, some of them include the botched Fast and Furious operation, the disastrous half a billion dollar loan to Solyndra and other, quote, green companies, and more recently, the Benghazi coverup.”
Along with its commitment to absurdly excessive political coverage, the mainstream media remains dedicated to supplying Fox News with material to wield against Democratic candidates. Over the course of the primary season, for example, it has reported on Biden’s history with busing (The Post); his history on crime legislation (New York Times); his contractual stipulation that he be regaled with angel hair pomodoro for speaking gigs (The Post); the time Biden, early in his career, “voted to let states overturn Roe v. Wade” (New York Times); his position on the Hyde Amendment (NBC News); the “awkward kiss” that Biden planted on the head of former Nevada state assemblywoman Lucy Flores (New York magazine); his fraught history on race (Los Angeles Times); the smelly overlap between his political donors and charity donors (Daily Beast); the enrichment of the Biden family over his time in politics (Politico); his argument in favor of a “fence” to stop drugs coming from “corrupt Mexico” (CNN KFILE); his dubious role in the 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations (the Intercept): who aside from the candidate himself calls him “middle-class Joe,” anyway (HuffPost).
As for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), there were sexism complaints arising from his 2016 presidential campaign (New York Times); the struggle of staffers on the current Sanders campaign to get better pay (The Post); Sanders’s affection for the Soviet Union (Politico); his own history with crime legislation (NBC News); his appetite for nationalizing industries in the 1970s (CNN KFILE); and many others. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)? The time she put “American Indian” on a Texas state bar form in the slot for “race” (The Post); her sketchy campaign fellowship program (Daily Beast); her attempts to court Native American leaders (CNN); her anti-regulatory rhetoric of decades ago (CNN KFILE); and many others.
More broadly, HuffPost explored how faithfully the campaigns patronize union hotels; Politico examined the tendency of the primary candidates to crib policy declarations from previously written material, a.k.a. plagiarism. And don’t forget accountability journalism on wannabe Democratic primary candidates, such as this Los Angeles Times piece on the flimsy finances of Michael Avenatti, a favorite punching bag of Carlson himself.
The Erik Wemple Blog compiled this inventory through our own memory and by polling several journalists involved in campaign coverage. It surely omits a great deal of worthy material. We also asked if there were any important Fox News accountability stories on the Democratic candidates. The folks couldn’t cite one. So we asked Fox News to provide links to any such stories.
No response thus far.
The Fox News Citation Hypocrisy Syndrome extends well beyond politics coverage, too. On May 1, for example, Hannity was alleging that The Post and the New York Times “lied again” when they published allegations that there was consternation within special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team over how Attorney General William P. Barr had abridged their report. The next day, however, the New York Times published a story titled, “F.B.I. Sent Investigator Posing as Assistant to Meet With Trump Aide in 2016." Perfect grist for Hannity’s deep-state conspiracy mill: “We start tonight: A breaking report from the New York Times which might have actually gotten something straight for a change — amazing,” said the host.
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