On the same day Fox announced Katie Pavlich's role in a new show on the network, Pavlich created a false narrative that former IRS official Lois Lerner reached out to the Department of Justice about possible criminal prosecutions for tax-exempt groups. Fox went on to promote the story in several segments and continued to push it even after Pavlich corrected her initial report.
On April 16, Fox News announced it would launch a new show called Outnumbered to air on weekdays at noon. Fox contributor Katie Pavlich will be part of a rotating group of panelists on the show. The same day, Pavlich wrote on TownHall.com that new emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Lerner reached out to officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to discuss the possibility of criminal prosecutions for tax-exempt groups who lied about political activity on their filings. Gretchen Carlson pushed the report on The Real Story, repeating the claim that Lerner contacted officials at the DOJ to ask about criminally prosecuting the groups.
But Pavlich's claim that Lerner contacted DOJ officials first is false -- the emails show that in fact the DOJ reached out to Lerner first with a phone call. Pavlich updated and corrected her post to reflect that fact:
Editors note/correction: A previous version of this post stated and implied Lois Lerner contacted the DOJ about criminal prosecution when the emails state she in fact got a phone call from DOJ about the issue. While she was clearly in contact with DOJ about criminal prosecution for tax exempt groups, DOJ initiated the contact in this specific instance. Emails also show Lerner and Flax responded to both recommendations by Senator Whitehouse and DOJ to look into criminal prosecution. The headline to this post has also been updated.
Pavlich even acknowledged in the post that "Lerner later acknowledged pursuing prosecutions of these groups would not fit well with the law."
Pavlich's significant correction didn't stop Fox from continuing to imply that Lerner was somehow conspiring with the DOJ to prosecute conservative groups. On the April 17 edition of Fox & Friends First, co-host Heather Childers pushed the story as "bombshell new evidence":
CHILDERS: To this now, bombshell new evidence in the IRS scandal. Just-uncovered emails show that former agency official Lois Lerner spoke with the Department of Justice about going after political groups.
DOUG LUZADER: These emails appear to show that Lois Lerner herself was actively communicating with counterparts at the Department of Justice about this idea of going after political groups.
Neither Childers nor correspondent Doug Luzader ever mentioned the fact that it was the DOJ who had reached out to Lerner first and suggested possible criminal prosecutions for tax-exempt groups who lied about their political activity. Also unmentioned was the fact that Lerner later acknowledged that pursuing prosecutions would not be realistic.
Even as Fox's "bombshell" revelations about the IRS "scandal" continue to fizzle out, the network shows no signs of abandoning its crusade to tie the IRS controversy to corruption at the highest levels of government. Pavlich's journalistic misstep -- and Fox's eagerness to run with her flawed narrative -- stain the credibility of the network's new daytime program before it's even begun.