Tucker Carlson called it a “domestic spying operation” that was “hidden under the pretext of national security.” Laura Ingraham characterized top Obama administration officials as having been “exposed.” And Sean Hannity flatly declared it to be the “biggest abuse of power, corruption scandal” the country had ever seen.
The person in the intelligence reports ended up being Michael Flynn, who served as President Donald Trump’s national security advisor before being fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia. The Obama officials who requested the “unmasking” of the US citizen, however, wouldn’t have known Flynn’s identity until after he had been “unmasked.”
During the transition, Flynn’s name would’ve appeared in intelligence reports because of his highly irregular contacts with foreign officials, including phone calls with the Russian ambassador and a meeting with a delegation from the United Arab Emirates. Obama-era national security officials have said they “unmasked” Flynn while trying to decipher these unorthodox diplomatic dealings.
News that Trump’s Justice Department had concluded without charges being filed landed with a thud on Fox News. Martha MacCallum covered it on her Tuesday night show, but a search of transcripts did not turn up any other instances in which Fox covered it on air. The story was briefly featured on Fox News’ homepage before being removed Wednesday afternoon. Even when it was featured on the network’s website, it was not given the same play as the initial unmasking stories were in May.
The episode marks yet another instance in which Fox News and its hosts have dishonestly hyped an innocuous national security procedure into a supposed scandal, only to later watch it quietly fall apart before moving on to feed something else to their audience.
A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
It’s difficult to overstate how much Fox News promoted the unmasking story in May, never mind promoting it as an insidious plot against Trump.
And it wasn’t just pro-Trump propagandists on Fox News, such as Hannity and Ingraham, who went all in on the story. Fox News anchors such as Bret Baier, who the network promotes as covering the news in a no-nonsense “straight news” way, also elevated the story on their programs.
Baier, for instance, hosted the right-wing commentator Mollie Hemingway to discuss the supposed scandal without challenging her assertions, despite them being out of lockstep with what the national security community was saying.
The topic was featured in countless other news segments on the network in which pundits would chew over the declassified documents.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed reporting.