The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why Fox News has gone wobbly on anti-Semitism

Former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova on "The Ingraham Angle." (Screengrab via Fox News/Fox News)

Circumstances have conspired to create a once-in-a-lifetime laboratory test for the integrity of Fox News. The results aren’t encouraging.

Sample No. 1: In October 2018, Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch appeared on the Fox Business show “Lou Dobbs Tonight" and used the platform to smear George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist and Democratic donor. Discussing the migrant caravan in the headlines back then, Farrell told Dobbs: “A lot of these folks also have affiliates or are getting money from the Soros-occupied State Department, and that is a great, great concern. If we’re going to start cutting money, start cutting money there.” After a backlash — Farrell’s comments were re-aired after the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting — Fox Business executive Gary Schreier issued this statement: “We condemn the rhetoric by the guest on ‘Lou Dobbs Tonight.’ This episode was a repeat which has now been pulled from all future airings.”

No longer would Farrell appear on Fox Business or Fox News, the network pledged.

Sample No. 2: On Wednesday night, conservative attorney Joe diGenova appeared on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” to discuss the impeachment proceedings, which feature testimony from State Department officials involved in U.S. policy toward Ukraine. George Kent, a top State official, testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Trump’s attempts to tie U.S. military aid to Ukraine to an investigation by that country into the Bidens. Dobbs expressed skepticism about Kent, saying that he’d tried to limit an inquiry into a Soros-backed entity in Ukraine. That was diGenova’s cue:

Well, there’s no doubt that George Soros controls a very large part of the career Foreign Service at the United States State Department. He also controls the activities of FBI agents overseas who work for NGOs, work with NGOs. That was very evident in Ukraine. Kent was part of that. He was a very big protector of Soros. … The truth is George Soros had a daily opportunity to tell the State Department through Victoria Nuland what to do in Ukraine. And he ran it, Soros ran it. He corrupted FBI officials, he corrupted Foreign Service officers. And the bottom line is this: George Soros wants to run Ukraine and he’s doing everything he can, to use every lever of the United States government to make that happen — for business interests, not for good government.

The response from Fox News/Fox Business? Silence. The attempts of the Erik Wemple Blog to extract a statement from the network have failed. The Washington Examiner’s Mike Brest and CNN’s Oliver Darcy have commented on the non-response.

In both cases, Farrell and diGenova were propagating anti-Semitic notions that wealthy Jewish people are puppet masters who control all the powerful institutions around the globe — media, finance, government, etc. Though Fox News recognized the offensiveness in its condemnation of Farrell, its silence over the diGenova comments, which were far more wide-ranging, cries out for an explanation.

The likely explanation is straightforward: DiGenova has become a key guest commentator for the all-powerful block of prime-time opinionators at Fox News. He has appeared numerous times in 2019 on the highly rated programs of host Sean Hannity (“Hannity”), Tucker Carlson (“Tucker Carlson Tonight”) and Laura Ingraham (“The Ingraham Angle”). During these appearances, diGenova has engaged in the specialty of prime-time Fox News hosts, which is to say distorting the news through the use of innuendo. “Well, what you’re seeing is regicide. This is regicide by another name, fake impeachment," diGenova told Ingraham on Oct. 8.

Back in February, diGenova told Ingraham on her podcast: “We are in a civil war in this country. There’s two standards of justice, one for Democrats, one for Republicans. ... It’s going to be total war. And as I say to my friends, I do two things: I vote and I buy guns.”

Yet diGenova is more than just a dispenser of offensive and provocative quips on Fox News platforms. He’s a cog in the Ukrainian disinformation scheme. In March, for instance, he went on “Hannity” to smear Marie Yovanovitch, then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “We also now know that the current United States ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, has bad-mouthed the president of the United States to Ukrainian officials and has told them not to listen or worry about Trump policy because he is going to be impeached,” said diGenova.

Such sentiments were part of a campaign that resulted in Yovanovitch’s early ouster from her post in Kyiv. According to Yovanovitch’s deposition last month in the House impeachment inquiry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or “somebody around him” was supposed to “place a call to Mr. Hannity on Fox News to say, you know, ‘What is going on? I mean, do you have proof of these kinds of allegations or not? And if you have proof, you know, tell me, and if not, stop.’”

Hannity has said that he “never talked to anyone in the State Department about this ambassador.”

In her deposition last month, Yovanovitch flatly denied the bad-mouthing allegation stemming from diGenova’s mouth. “Did you ever bad-mouth President Trump in Ukraine,” Yovanovitch was asked, according to the transcript. “No,” she responded.

Get prepared for more of the same. The impeachment proceedings — and their endless transcripts — have provided forceful and persuasive rebuttals to the Ukrainian output of Hannity and his pals: diGenova, Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and John Solomon, the former Hill reporter and current Fox News contributor who ignited the fact-starved Ukraine conspiracy theory. Solomon, in turn, is a client of diGenova and his wife Victoria Toensing, also a frequent presence on Fox News.

Got all that?

Fox News cannot condemn diGenova for his vile and anti-Semitic remarks. He’s too critical to the pro-Trump conspiracy fairy tale that Fox News opinionators are now scrambling to keep intact. So what if he mongers hate as well as far-fetched stories about Eastern Europe?


Fox News watchers are more committed to President Trump than other Americans. Post media critic Erik Wemple went to Fox Nation's Patriot Awards to find out why. (Video: Erik Wemple/The Washington Post, Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Erik Wemple: Soros foundation requests banning of Joe diGenova from Fox News/Fox Business after anti-Semitic rant

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans’ words betray a lack of moral core

Erik Wemple: Soros foundation seeks to fight conspiratorial chatter on Fox News. To little avail.