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Opinion Bret Baier’s missing courage

In this April 15, 2019, file photo is Bret Baier during a Fox News town-hall style event, in Bethlehem, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
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What happens on Brian Kilmeade’s Fox News Radio show has a tendency to stay on Brian Kilmeade’s Fox News Radio show. An exception, however, went down before the Thanksgiving holiday, when Kilmeade, also one of the mainstays of the “Fox & Friends” franchise, chatted with colleague Bret Baier.

At issue were the resignations as Fox News contributors of Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, conservative analysts and founders of the Dispatch, over a Tucker Carlson special on Fox Nation titled “Patriot Purge.” The three-part film on the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol is, as the two former Fox Newsers put it in an explanation of their moves, “a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions.”

“Fox News still does real reporting,” Hayes and Goldberg added, “and there are still responsible conservatives providing valuable opinion and analysis. But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.”

Both commentators had found a home on Baier’s nightly program, “Special Report,” so Kilmeade attempted to dig in on the story. Here’s the conversation, as it unspooled on last Tuesday’s edition of Kilmeade’s radio show:

KILMEADE: So Bret, what’s going on with Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg? Why do they don’t want to come on? I’m friends with Steve Hayes but not like you: You guys have been friends for years.
BAIER: Yeah, I think it was a tough choice, but one that they’ve made on principle. And you know, I’m going to let them speak for themselves. It’s sad to see them go and I’m always for hearing all kinds of voices — left, right, Trump, whoever, supporters. And so it’s sad for “Special Report,” I think for the network. But they made their choice on principle, so I’ll let their statement stand.
KILMEADE: I watched the feature with Tucker and I watched it on Fox Nation. Interesting perspective I didn’t get before — but I didn’t get hurt by it, I didn’t get damaged by it. Were you bothered by it, because that’s the reporting?
BAIER: There’s a — Brian, I don’t want to go down this road. You know, there were concerns about it, definitely. And I think that the news division did what we do — we covered the story. And I wanted to do all of that internally. Steve and Jonah made their decision, and it’s their decision.

Boldface inserted to highlight Baier’s apparent annoyance with Kilmeade’s prying. In rebuffing Kilmeade, Baier was careful not to exceed the parameters of the NPR story by David Folkenflik about the “concerns.” Here’s a key passage:

Veteran figures on Fox’s news side, including political anchors Baier and Chris Wallace, shared their objections with Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and its president of news, Jay Wallace. Those objections rose to Lachlan Murdoch, the chairman and CEO of the network’s parent company, Fox Corp. Through a senior spokeswoman, Scott and Wallace declined comment. Murdoch did not return a request for comment through a spokesman.

We’ve seen this pattern before. According to “Hoax,” a book on Fox News by CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter, Baier and Wallace expressed concerns in a lunch with Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott in 2018 over opinion-side anchors Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, who had appeared onstage at a Trump rally.

A lot of good that did: Hannity and Pirro continued shilling for Trump right through the 2020 election and beyond. Both of them pushed the “big lie” on Fox News airwaves — and as a result, they are both cited in monster lawsuits from voting-technology companies seeking damages from Fox News airing allegations of voter fraud in that contest.

So ask yourselves, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace: What good came of that 2018 lunch with Scott? And what good came of the “concerns” that you expressed about Carlson’s “Patriot Purge?” That series remains on Fox Nation, and its front man remains on Fox News every night at 8 p.m., standing behind the fantasies corroding the country he claims to love so much.

So we’ll repeat the entreaty we laid out in the midst of the “big lie” coverage: Speak up, Bret Baier. Speak up, Chris Wallace. Join colleague Geraldo Rivera in making public your unvarnished thoughts about “Patriot Purge” and all the other non-journalism that somehow qualifies for prime-time airing at Fox News. Your insistence on addressing the network’s outrages “internally” is a cowardly approach and one that is, by all evidence, not working.