A thrilled Ingraham noted, “He sounds like Trump there.”
Good video! Where did Fox News snag this little scoop? Did one of its political reporters happen upon it? Did a tipster send it in? Here’s how Ingraham described its provenance: “I want you to listen to some unearthed footage of front-runner Joe Biden from way back in November 2006.”
Given the “unearthed” phrasing, viewers might have supposed that a team of worms pushed the clip up through Washington’s soil, whereupon they projected it onto a screen on the Mall.
The actual explanation is a bit different: CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski — of his namesake KFILE investigative group — published on May 10 a full examination of the 2006 video in which Biden explained his immigration position to the Columbia Rotary Club in South Carolina. The footage highlighted the struggles that Biden faces wiggling between his centrist past and the sensibilities of the progressive Democratic base in the ongoing primary campaign.
At Fox News, any story trumpeting the power of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing is a big story — certainly a bigger story than the serial lying, grifting and country-betraying that is the routine output of President Trump. Accordingly, the Biden-fence piece secured extensive attention at the network. The day after it surfaced, “Fox & Friends,” the propaganda sub-channel for Trump World, jumped right on it. Co-host Griff Jenkins, addressing the situation on the southern border, said: “Now, as we talk, I mentioned Democrats, who refused to say that this is a crisis. ... This is a soundbite that is flashing back to Joe Biden back in 2006 when he was taking a bold move to support a wall. Take a listen.”
Again on June 2, “Fox & Friends” circled back to the Biden-fence clip. After playing it, co-host Ed Henry said, “So there you are, he’s on camera and we’ve got the record: In 2006, actually voted, didn’t just talk about it, voted for 700 miles of border fence.”
Hours after CNN’s fence scoop surfaced, @TrumpWarRoom picked up the video and packaged it in a tweet:
That same night on Fox News, correspondent Leland Vittert pulled a clip from the video. And whom did he credit? “The campaign’s war room, President Trump’s war room, has put out this video of Biden advocating for a border fence, something not so popular with Democratic primary voters.”
Yet the popular Fox News shows cited above couldn’t be bothered. In most cases, they defaulted to the formula in the screenshot below. It notes the originator of the clip, in this case one Brad Warthen:
Warthen is a blogger and former journalist at the State, a South Carolina newspaper. Contacted by the Erik Wemple Blog, he said, “I’m really embarrassed that the Washington Post media critic is calling me about the worst video I’ve ever shot.” Shot with Warthen’s old Palm Treo, the video receded into seldom-trodden parts of the Internet. Finding it and placing it into contemporary context — as Kaczynski did — is enterprise worth crediting. There’s no reason Fox News couldn’t have written a credit stating, “Brad Warthen via CNN.”
Acute stinginess in terms of crediting CNN is something of a pattern at Fox News.
Example No. 2: On June 13, Kaczynski presented a video from 2006 in which Biden held forth on his views about abortion. “I do not view abortion as a choice and a right. I think it’s always a tragedy, and I think that it should be rare and safe, and I think we should be focusing on how to limit the number of abortions," he said in the interview with Texas Monthly. "There ought to be able to have a common ground and consensus as to do that.”
Fox News host Martha MacCallum bit on the footage, if not the explanation of how she got it. After showcasing the prevailing winds on abortion among top Democratic presidential candidates, MacCallum drew a contrast: “So that from three of the prominent candidates. But this newly unearthed video from 2006 shows then-Sen. Joe Biden taking a very different stance. Grappling with his support for Roe v. Wade, even calling abortion a tragedy,” said MacCallum.
Bolding added to highlight Fox News’s fixation with soil, at least when it comes to robbing CNN of credit for scoops.
Example No. 3: On March 7, Kaczynski scooped a 1993 Biden speech on the Senate floor speaking in favor of the now-infamous 1994 crime bill. “We have predators on our streets that society has, in fact, in part because of its neglect, created. They are beyond the pale many of those people, beyond the pale,” said Biden. “And it’s a sad commentary on society. We have no choice but to take them out of society.”
The newsworthiness of the video derived in part from shifting views on the crime bill — which is now blamed for mass incarceration, especially of African Americans — as well as the lessons of the 2016 campaign: Hillary Clinton got clobbered for her reference to “super predators” in 1996. She later expressed regret about having used that term.
Fox News wasted no time in playing clips of the Biden video and in failing to credit CNN. Fox News’s Shannon Bream on March 7 played back the video with no mention of CNN. Star host Sean Hannity did the same thing on his program, repeating the ripoff in late May. “Special Report” host Bret Baier omitted CNN credit when he used the video in April. Unattributed recycling also occurred on “America’s Newsroom" and the Aug. 19 edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Considering that Carlson grabbed the Biden clip months after CNN dug it up, it’s tempting to give him a pass. Scoops, after all, enter the public commons after a couple of months. But Carlson may have had another reason to omit credit, however: Any admission that CNN is holding Democrats to account might cause terminal confusion among his viewers. That’s because Carlson promotes a monolithic profile of CNN on his program.
Look at how Carlson portrayed CNN in late March, after Attorney General William P. Barr released his capsule of the Mueller report. A flurry of pronouncements — including from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — followed Barr’s move. “At CNN, they were paying close attention to every word Pelosi uttered,” Carlson told his viewers. “To [CNN Worldwide President] Jeff Zucker and the anchors who work for him at CNN, Pelosi isn’t just a politician, she’s the leader of the party — their party. The party under whose banner Zucker has said he may someday run for office.”
He wasn’t done. “When America’s most powerful Democrat speaks, CNN listens with pen in hand,” said Carlson.
How about Hannity? On the plus side, Hannity in April briefly credited the KFILE team for a look-back scoop on Bernie Sanders calling millionaire senators “immoral.” The thrust of Hannity programming, however, defaults to less respectful formulations. In September, CNN’s Jim Sciutto broke a story on a U.S. government operation to extract a U.S. asset from Russia — a move motivated in part by concerns over Trump’s handling of classified information, according to Sciutto. Hannity: “Now, Jim Sciutto is a former Obama administration official,” said the host. “He’s masquerading now as fake news CNN’s chief national correspondent. Oh, let’s see, Obama, straight to fake news CNN. Let’s see, lying and leaking, straight to fake news CNN. Oh, likely guilty of lying and leaking, straight to fake news CNN.”
Liars, captives of the Democratic Party, source of all evil — that’s essentially the portrait of CNN that Fox News’s two leading opinionators seek to advance on their programs. Depictions of the network on other hours are somewhat more charitable.
So it behooves Fox News to deprive CNN of credit for its occasional scoops. To studiously provide credits would be an admission that the slanders of its top opinion hosts were just that — knowing, false characterizations. Far better to just steal CNN’s reporting. Keep things simple.
Before arriving at CNN during the 2016 election, Kaczynski practiced his deep-dive-into-the-archives form of journalism at BuzzFeed News. It’s a relatively new strain of investigative journalism, one that vets the vast public record that piles up on the Internet. The CNN KFILE team consists of three reporters — Kaczynski, Nathan McDermott and Em Steck — plus an editor. They have needed all those human resources to mine the expansive fossil record of Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. Kaczynski tells the Erik Wemple Blog that KFILE has constructed a database with more than 120 hours of Biden footage. “We’ve watched most of it,” he says.
There’s some iron-butt tedium required for this particular style of journalism. “I spend my entire day from the moment I wake up till I leave the office” watching clips, says Kaczynski. In 2015 while at BuzzFeed, Kaczynski and a colleague highlighted Hillary Clinton’s “super predators” remark from 1996. This year, he wondered whether Biden had contributed similar rhetoric to the mid-1990s crime debate. He sure did.
“There are hours and hours and hours of debate relating to the crime bill,” says Kaczynski, though you’d never know it from sampling the facile crediting on Fox News. “Their late night hosts are calling CNN partisan and a super pac for the Democratic Party, and then they’re turning around and repeatedly not crediting CNN’s reporting on Democratic candidates on air,” writes Kaczynski in a statement.
The Erik Wemple Blog has pressed Fox News to comment on these episodes. If we receive a response, we will update this post.
Asked whether CNN has ever requested that Fox News correct its credit-denying ways, network spokesman Matt Dornic responded: “I have not, because any time that I’ve interacted with Fox, even when I provide statements on information they request, they choose not to use my statements, so what are the chances they’re going to change course on this? I find them to be a completely unethical organization.”
Read more in Wemple’s series on the relationship between Fox News and the mainstream media: