Appealing to the sense of right and wrong at Fox News can be a foolhardy endeavor, but Pressman, in this case, is addressing the wrong inflicted on Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. It happened right smack in the midst of Fox News’s prime-time opinion block on Oct. 28. Host Laura Ingraham cited an article in the New York Times about Vindman, a key witness in the ongoing impeachment proceedings. The article noted that Vindman had emigrated from Ukraine with his family, was fluent in Ukrainian and Russian — and that officials from Ukraine had come to him for advice — in English — in how to deal with President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was running a shadow foreign policy at Trump’s direction.
Jumping off the New York Times reporting, Ingraham arched an eyebrow. “Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine, while working inside the White House, apparently against the president’s interest, and usually, they spoke in English. Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?” Guest commentator John Yoo, a Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, ran with it, quipping, “I find that astounding, and in — you know, some people might call that espionage.”
As the Pressman letter notes, Ingraham didn’t correct or object to such innuendo.
The letter speaks to the resounding power of Fox News to hound people with no grounding whatsoever. “Prior to Fox News’ publication of the Segment, LTC Vindman had never in his decorated 20-year career of service to his country been accused of having dual loyalties or committing espionage. Fox News’ report on LTC Vindman sparked a torrent of republications and copycat false charges. Yesterday, the President of the United States built on and amplified Fox News’ falsehoods concerning LTC Vindman in a retweet to his 66.9 million Twitter followers. The President’s son personally attacked LTC Vindman’s loyalty on your network.”
The slime, notes the letter, has followed Vindman into the hearing room where he testified about his experience with Trump’s Ukraine policy. “During LTC Vindman’s public testimony before Congress on November 19, 2019, members of Congress asked LTC Vindman questions, following the path set by Fox News, that attempted to demonstrate that LTC Vindman’s loyalties were divided between the United States and Ukraine,” notes the letter.
The segment, argues Pressman, was false and defamatory. “At no point during the Segment did Fox News publish any facts that could reasonably provide a basis for accusing LTC Vindman of criminal — treasonous — misconduct. The viewer was left to understand that Ms. Ingraham, an attorney and former Supreme Court clerk, and her law professor guest must have had a factual basis for concluding that LTC Vindman had engaged in espionage against the country he has sworn to protect. They did not.”
Accordingly, Pressman requests that Fox News retract the segment, even as it has “watched” as the slime has oozed its way around the country and beyond.
A Fox News spokesperson provides this statement: “As a guest on FOX News, John Yoo was responsible for his own sentiments and he has subsequently done interviews to clarify what he meant.”
Blaming the guest, huh? We have seen this time and again: Fox News recently broadcast the alleged name of the Ukraine whistleblower. That was a guest. Fox News recently broadcast an anti-Semitic rant against philanthropist George Soros. That was a guest. Fox News broadcast a claim that torture had “worked” on John McCain. That was a guest. Following the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year, Fox News rebroadcast a similar anti-Semitic comment about Soros. That was a guest, too.
Guests are Fox News.
The pattern here is unfortunate and well established. Fox News invites guests on its air in many cases to take cues from the hosts and mow down the folks who stand in the way of their shared ideology. That appears to have happened in the case of Yoo, who has gone on to attempt a cleanup of his remarks. “Critics descended upon me with accusations that I had claimed Vindman to be a double agent or had committed espionage. This could be as far as possible from the truth,” wrote Yoo in a USA Today op-ed. “I have tremendous respect for a decorated officer of the U.S. Army and a veteran of the Iraq War. I have no reason to question Vindman’s patriotism or loyalty to the United States.” The op-ed was titled, “No, I didn’t call Alexander Vindman a spy. But Ukraine did engage in espionage.”
On Facebook, Yoo took aim at an alleged “misconception” of his comment.
Pressman is having precisely none of Yoo’s revisionism. “The very fact Mr. Yoo wrote an article entitled, ‘No, I didn’t call Alexander Vindman a spy’ shows that he knew his statement was understood by reasonable viewers to have done just that,” reads the letter.
That Fox News hides behind a guest commentator when asked to take responsibility for a smear points to the lack of conscience and principle in its hallways and meeting rooms. If there’s one inviolable, sacrosanct, make-no-exceptions conviction at Fox News, after all, it’s that the people who serve the country in the U.S. military are to be respected and celebrated at all times. As Pressman’s letter notes, the network’s streaming service, Fox Nation, recently organized its “Patriot Awards” in St. Petersburg, Fla., precisely to commemorate these heroes.
The host of the “Patriot Awards,” Pete Hegseth, tweeted this about Vindman:
For the sake of protecting a draft-dodging president, in other words, Fox News is content to dump on a decorated Army officer.