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Home / Tips and Tricks / Fox News portrayed it as one of the biggest scandals in American history. Then it fell apart

Fox News portrayed it as one of the biggest scandals in American history. Then it fell apart



Tucker Carlson called it a “domestic espionage operation” “hidden under the pretext of national security”. Laura Ingraham characterized senior Obama administration officials as “exposed”. And Sean Hannity flatly proclaimed it the “biggest abuse of power, corruption scandal” the country had ever seen.

That was in May. However, this week conspiracy theory collapsed when the Washington Post reported that a Justice Department investigation into the alleged scandal had ended silent without charge.
The Fox News narration centered on the routine intelligence practice of “unmasking”. A document released in May by then-acting director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell, who was criticized by Democrats and Intelligence officials as the most overt political figure in that position, revealed that several Obama administration officials had “exposed”
; a US Citizens mentioned in intelligence reports.
Information about Americans is anonymized in US intelligence reports for privacy reasons. However, there are instances when U.S. officials reading these reports need to see the full picture. In order to do this, they have to provide the intelligence agency that created the report with a reason. If the agency approves this request, the information will be “debunked” and the name will be displayed.

The person in the intelligence reports, after all, was Michael Flynn, who served as National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump before he was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his ties with Russia. The Obama officials who demanded the “exposure” of the US citizen would only have known Flynn’s identity after he was “exposed”.

During the transition, Flynn’s name would have appeared in intelligence reports because of his very infrequent contacts with foreign officials, including phone calls to the Russian ambassador and a meeting with a delegation from the United Arab Emirates. National security officials from the Obama-era said they “exposed” Flynn while trying to decipher this unorthodox diplomatic deal.

While the national security “unmasking” process is commonplace and occurs thousands of times each year, right-wing media have portrayed the act as shameful. The essence of the narrative they put forward was that President Barack Obama and members of his administration, including then Vice-President Joe Biden, were in a “Deep State” negotiation to abuse government levers to win the 2016 election. The alleged scandal was colloquially referred to as “OBAMAGATE” by its proponents.
Attorney General William Barr eventually hired a federal attorney to investigate the matter. The Post reported Tuesday that the investigation ended without finding material wrongdoing and that the results of the investigation would likely disappoint conservatives who believed “unmasking” was linked to a political conspiracy against Trump.

News that Trump’s Justice Department closed without charge landed on Fox News with a thud. Martha MacCallum covered it on her Tuesday night show, but a search for transcripts found no other cases of Fox covering it on the air. The story was briefly featured on Fox News’ home page before being removed on Wednesday afternoon. Even when featured on the network’s website, it wasn’t played like the first exposing stories back in May.

The episode marks yet another case in which Fox News and its presenters dishonestly implicated a harmless national security procedure in a supposed scandal, only to later watch it quietly fall apart before moving on to offer their audience something else.

A Fox News spokesperson failed to respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

It’s hard to overstate how heavily Fox News promoted the exposing story back in May, regardless of whether it was advertised as an insidious conspiracy against Trump.

As the US coronavirus death toll neared 100,000, Fox News virtually stopped reporting the disease to focus on “OBAMAGATE”. After Grenell released the related documents in May, mentions of keywords related to the alleged scandal on the conservative network increased as mentions of words related to the coronavirus decreased.

And it wasn’t just pro-Trump Fox News propagandists like Hannity and Ingraham who made history. Fox News presenters like Bret Baier, who the network is promoting to get the news across in a factual manner, have also highlighted the story on their programs.

Baier, for example, hosted right-wing commentator Mollie Hemingway to discuss the alleged scandal without questioning her claims, even though they disagreed with what the national security community said.

The topic was featured on myriad other news segments on the network, where experts would chew through the shared documents.

CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to the coverage.


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