Just what could this “new” deep-state story be? A clue emerged from a strange sequence of events on Twitter. Marcus DiPaola, who formerly worked at Fox News, posted some tweets about his experience with the network, as well as the front page of an interesting internal document:
That’s the title page of a dossier from the so-called Brain Room of Fox News, a long-standing research hive at the network. The full Ukrainian report, obtained by the Erik Wemple Blog, is a document of great candor and thoroughness, 162 pages of events and statements and indictments and hearings that detail every last wrinkle in the Trump-Ukraine story. Its timeline starts in February 2014 — when former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kyiv for Russia — and concludes in December 2019 — when Trump declared that his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, would write up a report about the findings of his Ukrainian investigation. “I hear he has found plenty,” said the president.
The Brain Room report bears the name of Bryan Murphy, a senior political affairs specialist at Fox News. It also bears this withering assessment of John Solomon, former opinion contributor for the Hill who is responsible for setting in motion faulty story lines regarding Ukraine: “John Solomon played an indispensable role in the collection and domestic publication of elements of this disinformation campaign.” Another part of the document provides this assessment of Solomon: “Focus on stories from disinformation campaign, non-disclosure of conflicts, use of unreliable sources, publishing false and misleading stories, misrepresentation of sources, and opaque coordination with involved parties.”
That says it all. Even as it levels that critique, the Brain Room document discloses that Solomon is a “Fox News contributor.” Indeed, though Solomon appeared as a guest frequently on “Hannity” throughout the Ukraine story, he left the Hill in fall 2019 and was hired as a contributor at Fox News in October.
Not only does the research paper pummel Solomon, it cites a statistic that Solomon, over six months in 2019, “published 45 columns aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation, 12 of which focused primarily on Ukraine." Where did that statistic come from?
Media Matters for America! Yes, Media Matters for America, the organization essentially built to take down Fox News. Media Matters for America, the organization routinely slammed on Fox News’s air. Media Matters for America, the organization that essentially forced Glenn Beck from Fox News.
It’s a stunning juxtaposition — one that speaks to the integrity of the Brain Room report. Other faces of the Ukraine issue that surface in the report include Giuliani, the ringleader of Trump’s effort to secure an announcement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of an investigation into the Bidens, who is described as having: “High susceptibility to disinformation” from key Ukrainian actors, according to the document. Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, a Trump-supporting husband-and-wife legal team, receive this evaluation: “Non-disclosure of financial motives and representation of [Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro] Firtash while spreading false and misleading stories.”
Note: Giuliani, diGenova and Toensing appeared on “Hannity” with regularity to take the president’s side on Ukraine. All that explains, perhaps, why Hannity is making noises about a “new” deep state.
Though Fox News isn’t exactly forthcoming about its internal operations, the Brain Room isn’t a state secret. Occasionally network hosts will reference its work, as did Jesse Watters last fall, when he saw a Washington Post headline that he didn’t believe was real: “When I saw the headline afterwards, I forwarded it to our Brain Room because I thought it was an Onion” story, said Watters. There’s a great reverence among employees for the work of the room, as reflected in this comment from former host Kimberly Guilfoyle in June 2017: “Here are some doughnut facts from our Brain Room, so [they] must be true.”
A 2011 story in Rolling Stone quoted a network insider as alleging that the Brain Room was where "the evil resides.” And a former network executive told Gabriel Sherman — for his biography of late Fox News chief Roger Ailes — that the room had a “Nixonian” air. That said, Sherman wrote that the “mystique” of the Brain Room faded over time as staffers realized that it was a professional operation designed to fact-check the news. It’s the Brain Room, for example, that feeds all those contextual facts that viewers see on their screens during congressional hearings and other political events.
There’s no absence of context in the Brain Room’s Ukraine magnum opus. It has everything, including key revelations and charges against Hannity. Here’s the timeline’s entry for March 26, 2019:
Melinda Haring, the editor of the UkraineAlert blog at the Atlantic Council and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes in the Washington Post: “The mechanics of the information operation that Poroshenko’s minions pulled off are obvious. Lutsenko used Solomon to get to Hannity to get to Trump, whose Twitter feed set thousands chattering about nonexistent collusion… If a bunch of obscure foreigners few Americans have ever heard of can play Trump so easily, and so obviously, what’s to stop others from doing the same?”(387) David Holmes, Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, later said, “The barrage of allegations directed at Ambassador Yovanovitch, a career ambassador, is unlike any anything I have seen in my professional career.” (388)
Here’s another, absolutely devastating entry:
September 26, 2019: John Solomon, Toensing, and diGenova all appear on Hannity again to discuss Shokin’s affidavit, filed at the request of Firtash’s attorneys. At no time during the program does Hannity, Toensing, and diGenova mention who requested the statement nor do they discuss that they are Firtash’s attorneys. Solomon also doesn’t mention that he shares attorneys with Firtash. diGenova says “we’ve known from the very beginning that Mr. Shokin was not a corrupt prosecutor.” (856) Later that night, President Trump tweets a clip of diGenova from Hannity. (857)
More: In an entry for Oct. 9, 2019, the Brain Room document notes that Andriy Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, had made a specific allegation regarding corruption by former vice president Joe Biden. The Kyiv Post, notes the Brain Room report, called the charge “dubious.” “Hours later, Giuliani appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News and parroted Derkach’s claim. (897).”
In an entry that footnotes reporting from the Erik Wemple Blog, the document even tosses shade on how Hannity introduces Solomon on his program:
May 14, 2018: The Hill’s editor-in-chief sent out a memo to staff stating that “effective immediately” John Solomon would no longer publish stories under the banner of news but instead would be an “opinion contributor.” (218) Solomon said that the choice to have his writing classified as opinion was his. During his TV appearances, Hannity has often continued to announce Solomon as an “investigative reporter” at The Hill.
What we have here is a journalistic blowout. It is a trouncing of Hannity and his treasured contributor, Solomon — written not by some mainstream media outlet or Media Matters for America, but by Fox News itself. Turns out the network is keeping its best reporting to itself.
In a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog, Mitchell Kweit, senior vice president of the Brain Room, said: “The research division of FOX News produces a briefing book for all major stories, which serves as a standing collection of extensive data on major topics for internal use by all those in editorial functions. The Ukraine briefing book is nothing more than a comprehensive chronological account of what every person involved in the Ukraine controversy was doing at any identifiable point in time, including tracking media appearances of major players who appeared on FOX News and in many other outlets. The 200 page document has thousands of data points and the vast majority have no relation to FOX News – instead it’s now being taken out of context and politicized to damage the network.”
In an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, DiPaola commended Fox News for the separation between opinion shows and the so-called straight-news side, where he worked as a freelancer for a few months. “It did feel a lot like church and state,” he says. “They separate news from opinion pretty well.” As for the Brain Room timeline, DiPaola says, “I mean, it’s a Brain Room product, it’s meant to be unbiased. It’s evidence that Fox News Channel isn’t all bad. It’s evidence that there are honorable people working at Fox News all day.”
And it’s evidence that those honorable people understand the threat “Hannity” poses to any news organization.
Read more from Erik Wemple: