Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
An internal Fox News document detailing the Ukrainian disinformation campaign which helped trigger President Donald Trump’s impeachment reportedly reveals the network knew that host Sean Hannity had been the campaign’s focal point. But the network failed to take action against Hannity for his transgressions — in fact, it rewarded him, sending the Fox star and sometime presidential adviser to interview Trump at the Super Bowl earlier this month.
In a Thursday report, The Daily Beast summarized the findings of the 162-page research briefing book, which was authored by Fox senior political affairs specialist Bryan S. Murphy, a member of the network’s internal research “Brain Room.” It is unclear when it was first drafted, but the cover page states that it was “updated” December 9, 2019.
The document, which largely condenses and summarizes reporting from other news outlets, accuses frequent guests on the network’s most popular programs — Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer; Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, Republican attorneys with ties to the White House; and veteran conservative writer and Fox contributor John Solomon — of “spreading disinformation” about former Vice President Joe Biden and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. It says the smears originated with Yuriy Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, a client of diGenova and Toensing.
The briefing book, The Daily Beast reports, “is also seemingly critical of Fox’s own coverage” of the disinformation campaign, and it singles out Hannity for particular censure:
The document notes omissions by Hannity, who frequently had Solomon, Toensing, diGenova, and Giuliani on his show. Murphy notes that the primetime star continued to refer to Solomon as an “investigative reporter” even after The Hill explicitly labeled his work to be “opinion.” The briefing also dings Hannity for failing to mention, in a segment featuring Toensing and diGenova about an affidavit filed on behalf of Firtash, that the pair were working for the Ukrainian oligarch Firtash—an obvious conflict of interest.
“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,” the briefing book reads.
How did Fox respond to Hannity’s failure to properly identify one of his guests and to inform his audience about the conflicts of interest of others? The network sent him to Miami to interview Trump before the Super Bowl, making the host the face of Fox on the biggest possible stage.
The document’s findings are merely the latest in a long line of Hannity’s ethical improprieties, which include violations that would have been firing offenses at any other news outlet. At Fox, the response has only been to grant him fewer restraints and more exposure.
The report may also point to a disparity in the enforcement of whatever standards Fox supposedly has.
As the document explains, Giuliani, diGenova, Toensing, Solomon, and their associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, played key roles in the Ukrainian disinformation campaign. Its fruits were published in Solomon’s column at The Hill, then endlessly touted in dozens of appearances by Solomon, Toensing, diGenova, and Giuliani on Fox programs like Hannity’s.
The research book’s creation may explain why some of those figures have seen their roles at Fox diminish. Toensing and diGenova have not appeared on the network since a diGenova hit on October 8. Solomon, announced as a Fox contributor a few days before that interview, remained a regular Fox guest through the end of the year but has appeared only twice on the network in 2020. And reporters from other news outlets who reached out to Fox’s PR team to ask about the situation hit a brick wall.
Without comment from Fox, curious observers can only look at the timeline of events and speculate about what happened. That final diGenova appearance came just a day before Parnas, who had been hired as an interpreter by the pro-Trump lawyers, was arrested with Fruman en route to Vienna, Austria, to reportedly help set up an interview between Hannity and Viktor Shokin, the corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutor who was one of Solomon’s sources. In the weeks before, diGenova had feuded with Fox’s Andrew Napolitano and Chris Wallace, the latter of whom had reported on the pair’s dealings with Giuliani. As for Solomon, new details about his role in the disinformation plot were revealed in January by Parnas, who began giving interviews and turned over documents to Congress.
The Fox research book provides a new data point showing that the network’s own “Brain Room” had determined that Toensing, diGenova, and Solomon were not credible and had conflicts of interest.
For what it’s worth, Fox issued a statement to The Daily Beast which dissuades the public from that interpretation, describing the document as “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.” But it would not be unusual for Fox to stay mum about deliberately keeping one of the president’s key allies off its airwaves.
If the disappearance of Toensing, diGenova, and Solomon from Fox’s airwaves is a case of the network enforcing its standards, it is nonetheless clear that any such strictures do not apply equally to everyone. The document, according to The Daily Beast, savages Giuliani for playing an “extensive role” in “spreading disinformation” and points out that his associates, Fruman and Parnas, had “strong reported financial links to” diGenova and Toensing client Firtash. But Giuliani’s appearances have not been curtailed — the president’s lawyer has been interviewed on Fox News at least four times this year.
Fox doesn’t have much in the way of ethical standards, and the ones it has don’t apply to everyone. Just ask Hannity.