Fox News Once Joyfully Anticipated Indictment's Political Impact -- In 2016
Fox News hosts are currently denouncing a potential indictment of former President Donald Trump as a corrupt attack on a political opponent aimed at interfering with the course of the 2024 presidential election, saying it would destroy American democracy and the nation’s justice system.
“We all know what's happening here,” Sean Hannity claimed on Tuesday. “This is political vengeance. Justice is not blind. There is no longer in this country, and I say this with a lot of sadness, equal justice under the law or equal application of our laws.”
It’s worth looking back to November 2016, when network anchor Bret Baier reported, just days before the 2016 election, that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton faced a looming federal indictment. At the time, Fox hosts like Hannity touted the news’ potential for changing the course of the election and helping Trump to victory, and expressed sympathy with FBI agents for leaking information about the probes before Election Day.
On November 2, 2016, Baier reported a string of claims about federal probes into Clinton’s use of a private email server and her family’s foundation based on two unnamed “sources with intimate knowledge of the FBI investigations,” and he concluded that the inquiries “will continue to likely an indictment.” But Baier seems to have been serving as a mouthpiece for an anti-Clinton faction within the bureau and his report was swiftly dismantled by reporters at other outlets, forcing him to first walk back aspects of it and then issue an apology that amounted to a near-total retraction.
As with much of the original reporting by Fox’s “news” side personalities, Baier’s flawed effort served as a boon to the Republican Party that Fox exists to succor and as a hook for his right-wing “opinion” side colleagues’ propaganda. Trump himself quickly ran with the account on the campaign trail, while Fox devoted at least 2 hours and 8 minutes of coverage of the Baier report over a 24-hour period -- about 12 percent of the network’s total live airtime.
Fox hosts were not concerned with the possibility that an indictment might inappropriately shift the course of the election — in fact, they explicitly championed its potential to do so.
“A major Fox News Alert, explosive new details about the FBI investigations into the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server that could now dramatically alter the outcome of the election which is only six days away,” Hannity said at the top of his November 2, 2016, broadcast.
After discussing the story with Laura Ingraham, now his prime-time colleague, Hannity asked her, “In an hour and 46 minutes, we're five days away from the election, Laura. What is the impact going to be? Twenty-seven million people, 28 million people voted already. What are we going to do?”
Ingraham replied, “Well, I think people going to the polls on Tuesday, people still voting -- they have to be thinking, do we really want to do this for another four or eight years? Is this the really best that we can do?”
In another segment, Hannity asked Jeanine Pirro, now co-host of Fox’s The Five, and then-Fox contributor Monica Crowley, “Is this going to impact the election?”
Pirro replied, “I hope so! And if it doesn't, shame on us!”
The following night, Hannity and Ingraham expressed sympathy with FBI agents for leaking information about the Clinton probes in order to affect the outcome of the election.
“This is leading towards an indictment,” Hannity said. “Do you think the FBI rank and file have so had it with the Justice Department they are not going to allow this case not to be brought before the American people?"
Ingraham replied, “If I were Hillary Clinton I would be really, really worried at this point. It seems like it's pointing that way and pointing that way in a very devastating fashion. You don't have a mutiny at the FBI for nothing, and that looks like what we're on the verge of having.”
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.