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The Fox News response to the Pelosi attack, in 40 short seconds

Fox Business correspondent Jackie DeAngelis appears on Fox News. (Fox News)

Shortly after noon Friday, as reporters scrambled to learn more about the horrifying assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) husband, Paul, at their home in San Francisco, Fox News aired a panel discussion in which the attack was a central topic.

By that point, some details were known. It was known that Paul Pelosi had been attacked with a hammer. As the panel was live, we also learned that the alleged attacker had called out “Where is Nancy?” at some point as the incident unfolded. (The speaker was in Washington.) Beyond that, we didn’t know a lot.

So Fox’s panel — and in particular, Fox Business correspondent Jackie DeAngelis — filled the vacuum with speculation. Speculation that aged very badly, very quickly, but speculation that also served as a concise encapsulation of how much of the network’s other coverage of the event would play out over the following hours.

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Here is the beginning of what DeAngelis said.

“We’re waiting to find out what the motivation was. But there are two things that we could have on our hands here.”
"A crime situation that just happened more randomly or with some motivation but wasn’t really targeted at the Pelosis per se. That shines a light on what’s happening not only in San Francisco, but all these other cities."

As soon as you find yourself saying we’re waiting to learn what happened, but, it’s worth taking a pause. It is quite natural for people to quickly form opinions about things happening in the world. It is, however, very different to then offer those opinions to a live television audience. Though again, in this case it was revealing.

So what are the two options for what occurred, per DeAngelis?

Well, the first is that the attack was an example of random violence. And this, she argues, ties into the narrative that the network on which she was appearing has been energetically promoting: that Democratic cities are hives of precisely that sort of crime. There’s no pause to acknowledge that any individual incident is not necessarily representative of broader trends in crime because Fox has repeatedly given primacy to isolated incidents over broader data. Violent crime is up in San Francisco this year, about 8 percent. (Homicide is down very slightly.) But DeAngelis doesn’t offer this incident as a point to that end; rather, she frames this one attack as being reflective of what’s happening in “all these other cities.”

Why is Fox News so heavily focused on these examples of increases in crime? Mentions of crime on the network began to skyrocket in late September and have increased consistently as the midterms have approached. To think that this is about casting Democratic leaders as soft on crime — a heavy focus in Republican politicians’ campaign ads — is hardly a stretch.

Particularly given DeAngelis’s second theory.

“If we have a situation where this is politically motivated, you have to step back and say: why is our country so divided? President Biden, you got up to the podium and said you were going to bring us together. And that was one of the things you promised people. It’s one of the reasons they voted for you and they backed away from Trump because they did think that he was divisive. So why is this happening and why are we so polarized?”
“It’s a huge question right now.”

This is a not-uncommon line of rhetoric. President Biden has, indeed, called for unity, as Donald Trump did before him. But both presidents were facing a nation with deep political divides that it’s silly to assume a partisan politician might be able to mend.

It’s convenient, though! If you are a cable news network with a lengthy resume of amplifying misinformation about and hostility toward one political party, that a president from that party was unsuccessful at mending the partisan gulf just gives you somewhere else to point. Biden said he would fix the rupture (that our network has helped widen) but he didn’t. He is why this division still exists! It’s like blaming Ukraine for the war with Russia because President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for peace and it didn’t happen.

But all of that is secondary to the most egregious part of this statement. To suggest that the attack was a function of division is to equate an alleged attempted homicide with mere political opposition. This isn’t a guy standing outside Pelosi’s house with a bullhorn, calling her names. This is — according to early reports — a guy inside her house striking her husband with a hammer. To credit this to “division,” even based on the more-limited information available to DeAngelis at the moment, is to suggest that this is a natural endpoint of political disagreement.

Paraphrasing, then: If this wasn’t a function of politics, it is an act of heinous violence that represents precisely the sort of horrible, surging crime that Fox News has been warning its viewers about endlessly for weeks. If it was a function of politics — presumably politics that cast Pelosi negatively — then it’s simply division, something that lamentably reflects our nation’s sad state under Biden.

It is admittedly hard to speak off-the-cuff on television, though this is DeAngelis’s job. But again, her arguments did not occur in isolation. They were just one early segment. You can also see Fox News hosts and guests downplaying the “where is Nancy” question, blaming the city’s politics and, of course, somehow, “defund the police.”

Where DeAngelis landed, though, is precisely where you’d expect a Fox commentator to land. If it wasn’t politically motivated, it’s because of the crime wave and therefore the Democrats’ fault. If it was, it’s because Biden didn’t unite America … and therefore the Democrats’ fault.

A simple, effective formula.