Largely ignoring alleged Bush disclosure authorization, Fox News devoted more than twice as much time to covering McKinney controversy

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

After the revelation that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former vice presidential chief of staff, testified that President Bush allegedly authorized him to disclose classified portions of an NIE pertaining to Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction, Fox News largely ignored the story, preferring instead to focus on the controversy surrounding Rep. Cynthia McKinney's alleged altercation with a Capitol Police officer.

After the revelation that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former vice presidential chief of staff, testified that President Bush allegedly authorized him to disclose classified portions of a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) pertaining to Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction, Fox News largely ignored the story, preferring instead to focus on the controversy surrounding Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-GA) alleged altercation with a Capitol Police officer. A Media Matters for America review of Fox News coverage of these two events found that from noon to 10:00 p.m. ET on April 6, Fox News devoted more than twice as much time discussing McKinney's alleged altercation with the police officer (53 minutes) than to reporting on the revelation that Bush may have authorized Libby to reveal then-classified intelligence information to the media (25 minutes). Libby's revelation was drawn from court papers FBI special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald filed in the government's case against Libby, who has been charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to the FBI, related to the leak of then-CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame's identity.

The New York Sun, which broke the story and posted the "Web Exclusive" to its website at 9:02 a.m. ET on April 6, reported that Libby "testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded 'National Intelligence Estimate' on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case." As an April 6 Associated Press report noted:

[T]he disclosure in documents filed Wednesday means that the president and the vice president put Libby in play as a secret provider of information to reporters about prewar intelligence on Iraq.

The authorization came as the Bush administration faced mounting criticism about its failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the main reason the president and his aides had given for going to war.

Both MSNBC and CNN first covered the story at the top of the noon hour, and spent significant time throughout the day reporting on the breaking news. By contrast, Fox News did not initially report on the findings until approximately 12:20 p.m. and then apparently decided, as conservative talk show host and columnist Larry Elder later stated during the April 6 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, to "get back to the real issue, here": Cynthia McKinney.

As illustrated by the graphs below, Fox News devoted twice the amount of coverage to the McKinney incident, her April 6 apology to Congress, and speculation over whether she would be indicted for the incident, as it devoted to covering the latest developments in the CIA leak investigation.

From noon to 10:00 p.m., Fox News anchors, commentators, reporters, and guests mentioned Bush's alleged authorization a mere 11 times as opposed to 21 mentions of the McKinney controversy. They spent approximately 25 minutes discussing the news of the alleged leak compared to 53 minutes spent on the latest development in the McKinney incident. In fact, while every Fox News program between noon and 10:00 p.m. featured at least one report on McKinney, several shows -- including Your World with Neil Cavuto and The O'Reilly Factor -- did not report on Libby at all.

During the 9 p.m. hour, Hannity & Colmes spent approximately 11 minutes covering McKinney, compared with about 1 minute discussing the CIA leak investigation. Except for a news brief, the program mentioned Libby only during a debate over the McKinney controversy, when co-host Alan Colmes asked Elder if it was correct that Republicans "would rather talk about Cynthia McKinney" than "about the leak information that came out today." Elder responded:

ELDER: Well, I guess that's why you brought it up. Bringing up the "Scooter" Libby thing because that's what you really want to talk about. Let's get back to the real issue, here [McKinney].

Further, according to her website, Fox News host Greta van Susteren admitted that her show, On the Record, which airs at 10:00 p.m. ET, also did not cover the Libby story. Van Susteren stated that she "pulled the plug on doing the segment after spending about two hours studying the pleadings" because "the more I studied it, the more I realized that it is complicated and I want to make sure I get it right."

Continuing, van Susteren suggested that Fox News had adequately covered the story and stated that she would cover it the following night only if she could figure out how to "do it differently from what has already been done" or if "some new information emerges today":

This is not to take from the many other news organizations -- and my own -- who covered the story, I just wanted to study it further. It is a very important story and since so many shows were doing it, I felt comfortable being a bit more cautious and pulling back.

[...]

If I can figure out how to advance the story, or do it differently from what has already been done, we will cover it on our show tonight. I also need to measure in my mind whether it has been done and done and done in the last 24 hours and if we are now too late (because I dragged my feet yesterday!) If some new information emerges today, then even if the story was done by everyone yesterday -- and it was -- it becomes a new story today.

Moreover, as TVNewser reported on April 7, Fox News failed to cover the White House briefing, where press secretary Scott McClellan "was quizzed about Bush's involvement in the leaks." Both CNN and MSNBC aired portions of McClellan's April 7 White House press briefing.

From the April 6 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: Larry, you know, on a day when we find out, that according to "Scooter" Libby, that President Bush leaked information, leaked it for his own well-being, and Cheney was involved, as well, Republicans, I guess, would rather talk about Cynthia McKinney, who, in fact, did apologize. I guess that's easier, or better for the Republican agenda than to talk about the leak information that came out today. Right?

ELDER: Well, I guess that's why you brought it up. Bringing up the "Scooter" Libby thing because that's what you really want to talk about. Let's get back to the real issue, here.

COLMES: I think it's more important for the country.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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