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After arrest in rape of 10-year-old girl, Fox News hosts shift focus

Fox News host Jesse Watters said his show “put the pressure” on authorities to make an arrest in the case of a 10-year-old rape victim who had to get an abortion, but the host had suggested the story was “a hoax.” (Screenshot via YouTube/Fox News)

As news spread on Wednesday that a man had been charged in the rape of a 10-year-old girl who had to travel from Ohio to Indiana to undergo an abortion, critics soon took aim at Republicans and media outlets that were skeptical of the sourcing of a story that captured international attention.

Among the outlets that cast doubt on the story were the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. (The Post’s Fact Checker column pointed out that the story lacked details and thus was difficult to verify.)

Some of Fox’s most high-profile hosts — Tucker Carlson, Jesse Watters, Laura Ingraham — suggested this week that the account of the 10-year-old rape victim was a “hoax” and “politically timed disinformation,” and claimed that the Biden administration was “lying” about the case after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

But hours after the arraignment of Gershon Fuentes on a charge of felony first-degree rape was reported by the Columbus Dispatch, the Fox hosts did not correct or amend their previous reporting, like The Post or the Journal did on Wednesday. (Fox reporters have been covering the developments in the case.)

Instead, Watters, who had suggested the story could be a “hoax,” took some of the credit for the arrest during a show that featured Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) calling for an investigation of the doctor who provided abortion care to the 10-year-old girl.

“ ‘Primetime’ covered this story heavily on Monday, put on the pressure, and now we’re glad that justice is being served,” Watters said alongside a graphic that read, “Justice Served.”

Later on Wednesday, Carlson and Ingraham shifted their attention to Fuentes and his uncertain citizenship status. The hosts featured chyrons on their shows saying that the 10-year-old girl “in Biden’s abortion story” was raped by an “illegal immigrant.” Assistant Franklin County prosecutor Dan Meyer said during Wednesday’s hearing that he believes Fuentes, 27, is undocumented, according to video of the arraignment.

“So the obvious headline here was not about abortion. It was about the crime committed against a child — ‘Who raped a 10-year-old?’ ” said Carlson, who had previously claimed the story was “not true.” “Nobody seemed interested at all in learning who this person was. And maybe there was a reason for that.”

Carlson added, “Apparently, the rapist was an illegal alien.”

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Fox News pointed to several reports corroborating the story and on the arrest.

Fuentes was arrested Tuesday after he allegedly confessed to authorities that he had raped the 10-year-old on at least two occasions, according to the Dispatch. Columbus Police Detective Jeffrey Huhn testified at Fuentes’s arraignment that the arrest was made after a referral from Franklin County Children Services, which had been in touch with the girl’s mother on June 22 — two days before Roe was overturned. The girl had an abortion at an Indianapolis clinic on June 30, Huhn said. The detective added that Fuentes’s DNA is being tested to confirm that he was the father to the aborted fetus, according to video of the hearing.

Man charged in rape of 10-year-old girl who had to travel for abortion

Huhn testified that Fuentes admitted to detectives, through an interpreter, that he had sexual contact with the girl. The detective added that the girl also identified Fuentes as the man who impregnated her. Meyer noted that the girl had only recently turned 10, according to video of the arraignment — meaning she may have been 9 at the time she was raped and became pregnant.

Fuentes is being held in Franklin County Jail on a $2 million bond. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Gershon Fuentes, 27, was arraigned on July 13 in Ohio, where he was charged with the rape of a 10-year-old girl who had to travel to Indiana for an abortion. (Video: Reuters)

The story of the 10-year-old victim was first made public by Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis physician who provides abortions. In an Indianapolis Star article published July 1, Bernard said that she had been called by a doctor in Ohio about a 10-year-old patient who was six weeks and three days pregnant.

The girl had to travel to Indiana for her procedure because abortions are now banned in Ohio after six weeks. Ohio was among the 13 states with “trigger bans” designed to take effect once Roe was struck down. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, Ohio has imposed a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape and incest.

The story quickly received international attention, including from President Biden, who decried the reported case last week.

“She was forced to have to travel out of the state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life,” Biden said at the White House last week. “Ten years old — 10 years old! — raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatized, was forced to travel to another state.”

But the story also drew some skepticism because Bernard gave no corroborating details and reporters who tried to find a criminal complaint linked to the alleged rape found nothing. Ohio Republicans — including Attorney General Dave Yost and congressman Jim Jordan — soon seized on the information vacuum, accusing critics of the Dobbs decision of weaponizing an unproved rumor. Yost told Watters this week that he had “not heard a whisper” about the reported case of the 10-year-old victim, while Jordan called the story a “lie” on Tuesday in a tweet that has since been deleted.

Both Yost and Jordan celebrated Fuentes’s arrest on Wednesday but did not address their previous remarks. When asked by CNN why he deleted his tweet, Jordan blamed media reports on the case, saying, “I never doubted the child.”

After the Journal’s editorial board criticized Biden in a Tuesday op-ed titled, “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm,” the editorial was updated with an editor’s note on Fuentes’s arrest.

The Post’s Fact Checker also updated its Saturday story titled, “A one-source story about a 10-year-old and an abortion goes viral,” to include Fuentes’s arrest.

“This is an interesting example of the limitations that journalists face in corroborating this type of story without evidence confirmed by law enforcement,” The Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote.

A one-source story about a 10-year-old and an abortion goes viral

On Fox, Watters did not address his statements from Monday, in which he said that if “the mainstream media and president of the United States [are] seizing on another hoax, then this is absolutely shameful, and fits a pretty dangerous pattern of politically timed disinformation.” Carlson echoed that sentiment on Tuesday, telling his viewers that “politicians are lying about this.”

“Why did the Biden administration — speaking of lying — repeat a story about a 10-year-old child who got pregnant and they got an abortion or was not allowed to get an abortion when it turns out the story was not true,” he said. “Where is the rapist?”

On Wednesday, Carlson continued to claim the White House did not vet the story, even after charges were brought in Ohio.

“The facts didn’t make any sense,” Carlson said.

Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America

Roe v. Wade overturned: The Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years has protected the right to abortion. Read the full decision here.

What happens next?: The legality of abortion will be left to individual states. That likely will mean 52 percent of women of childbearing age would face new abortion limits. Thirteen states with “trigger bans” will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next.

State legislation: As Republican-led states move to restrict abortion, The Post is tracking legislation across the country on 15-week bans, Texas-style bans, trigger laws and abortion pill bans, as well as Democratic-dominated states that are moving to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

How our readers feel: In the hours that followed the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Washington Post readers responded in droves to a callout asking how they felt — and why.

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