Fox News’ Reporting On Fired US Attorney Ignores His Investigation Of Fox News

››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

In over 40 segments from March 11 through 13 that discussed President Donald Trump’s firing of Preet Bharara, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Fox News failed to disclose that Bharara was investigating multiple potential crimes committed by the network, including allegedly hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.

Fired US Attorney Preet Bharara Was Investigating Fox News For Potential Crimes, Including Secret Sexual Harassment Settlements

New York Magazine: Trump Oversaw Firing Of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Who Was “In The Middle Of A High-Profile Federal Investigation Of Fox News.” In a March 12 article, Gabriel Sherman, who has reported extensively about Fox News and its former CEO, Roger Ailes, wrote that President Donald Trump “oversaw the firing of Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan.” Sherman noted that Bharara was investigating Fox News for “a number of potential crimes,” including looking into whether executives obtained journalists’ phone records or “committed mail and wire fraud by hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.” Sherman noted that Bharara’s firing could be a “win” for Fox News executive chairman Rupert Murdoch because “the prospect of indictments” in Bharara’s investigation of Fox was “a serious problem” for the network. From the report:

[O]n Saturday Trump oversaw the firing of Preet Bharara, the U.S attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, whose office is in the middle of a high-profile federal investigation of Fox News. The probe, according to sources, is looking at a number of potential crimes, including whether Fox News executives broke laws by allegedly obtaining journalists’ phone records or committed mail and wire fraud by hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. Sources told me that prosecutors have been offering witnesses immunity to testify before a federal grand jury that’s already been impaneled.

Trump’s decision to fire Bharara ignited speculation that it was designed to blunt investigations like the Fox News probe. In November, Trump had promised Bharara he could remain in the job. But on Friday, he reversed course and requested Bharara’s resignation along with 45 other Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys. (Adding to the intrigue, Trump’s prosecutor purge came less than 24 hours after Sean Hannity said on Fox News that Trump should “purge” the Justice Department of Obama-appointed officials.)

Given that Fox News is Murdoch’s most profitable division, the prospect of indictments is a serious problem. “They’re really worried,” one source close to the network said. Another insider said that Fox News executives considered the investigation “political” because Bharara had been appointed by Barack Obama. Which is why, for Murdoch, it must be a relief that Bharara’s replacement could be an ally. According to the Times, Trump’s shortlist to replace Bharara includes Marc Mukasey — who just happens to be former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s personal lawyer.

Considering Mukasey’s close relationship with Ailes, he would surely come under pressure to recuse himself from the Fox News probe if he was appointed by Trump to succeed Bharara. “I have no comment,” Mukasey said when I reached him Sunday evening and asked if he planned to do so, should he get the job. [New York magazine, 3/12/17]

Fox Figures Failed To Mention That Bharara Had Been Investigating The Network

Not One Out Of 49 Fox News Segments Discussing Bharara’s Firing Included A Mention Of His Investigations Into The Network. A Media Matters analysis of mentions of Bharara on Fox News from 1:30 p.m. on March 11, when Bharara tweeted that he had been fired, to 11 p.m. on March 13 found that though the network had over 40 segments either dedicated to or including significant discussion of Bharara’s firing, not one mentioned his investigations into Fox News. Several examples follow:

Fox’s Rob Schmitt Failed To Mention Bharara’s Fox News Investigation While Reporting On His Many Successful “Corruption Cases.” While reporting on Bharara’s firing, Fox News reporter Rob Schmitt noted that Bharara had taken on a number of “corruption cases,” including a potential probe into Trump’s conflicts of interests, but did not mention his investigations into Fox News. From the March 12 edition of Fox News’ America’s News HQ:

ROB SCHMITT: The Preet Bharara saga continues today, though many would argue this is standard procedure being blown way out of proportion. Bharara, along with 45 other U.S. attorneys, lost their jobs on Friday. Normally this would be standard operating procedure, not a lot to talk about, but Bharara tweeted out that he refused to resign when asked and then had to be fired. And making the matter even more complex was a meeting that Bharara had at Trump Tower in late November after the election, when Bharara says Mr. Trump asked him to stay on under his administration. Well Bharara has been a very successful U.S. attorney for Manhattan and other parts of the southern district of New York. He has successfully taken on corruption cases against high-ranking New York politicians who some said were untouchable. Democrats are alleging there is more to this, though -- more to his removal than just standard politics. Evidently on Wednesday, three watchdog groups asked Bharara to investigate Mr. Trump regarding possible conflicts of interest between his businesses and of course his new role as president. [Fox News, America’s News HQ, 3/12/17]

Fox’s Jeanine Pirro: Preet Bharara “Has A Big Ego,” And Is “Under The Impression That He Is Different.” In a segment on Fox News’ Fox Report, Judge Jeanine Pirro lashed out at Bharara claiming that “instead of taking what he does seriously, he’s taking himself seriously,” accusing the former-U.S. attorney of having “a big ego.” Host Julie Banderas added that Bharara “may be mulling a run for governor,” suggesting “it almost seems like it’s a political ploy.” Neither Banderas or Pirro mentioned Bharara’s investigation into Fox News.

JEANINE PIRRO: Instead of taking what he does seriously, he's taking himself seriously. Look, this guy has a big ego. Preet Bharara is no different than any other United States attorney, and every one of them serves at the pleasure of the president. Period, end of the story. Bill Clinton comes in, and through Janet Reno, fires all 93 in one fell swoop. They do it all the time. He, however, is under the impression that he is different.

[...]

As if you're the first attorney general or United States attorney to think you're entitled to hang in there. You are not. And so this is kind of the left saying, oh, our cases are going to be affected, and justice is going to be affected. I'm amazed they haven't said the Russians aren't affected in this thing, you know it, Julie? But he's got to go. But he's using the word "firing" because that is a word that the president never used, that the United States attorney general never used. He's trying to pump this all up.

JULIE BANDERAS (HOST): Yeah. Well, a senior administration official tells Fox News, basically, that he may be mulling a run for governor.

PIRRO: Now, that doesn't surprise me. That’s interesting.

BANDERAS: He talks about that no matter what else I do or how long I live, that this job will be the greatest job I ever had. He's almost hinting at his next step. It almost seems like it's a political ploy.

[...]

PIRRO: And so I think what he should have done is he should have been a gentleman, like all of the others before him -- and I'll talk about this on my show tonight -- and simply recognize that you serve at the pleasure of the president. Now, he comes out after a trip to Trump Tower, and he says, oh, you know, I have been asked if I'd consider staying, or if I would stay, but you know what? That doesn't matter. Things can change on a dime, and you serve at the pleasure of the president. He's not making friends, and think about this, Julie, if I'm going to hire this guy, I'm a little worried about hiring him because he's not a guy who goes quietly, you know? As an attorney or as someone who's a member of a law firm, is he going to make a stink every time someone lets him go for real, genuine reasons? [Fox News, Fox Report, 3/11/17]

Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt On Bharara: "You Got To Be Loyal" To Trump Or "You Are Out The Door, Buddy." The hosts of Fox News morning show Fox & Friends failed to mention Bharara’s investigation into the network. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt also played defense for Trump's firing of Bharara because of his potential investigations into Trump and his allies, stating, “If you work for a company, and you find out someone's investigating you within your company, you are out the door, buddy.” From the March 13 edition of Fox and Friends:

STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Well, on Friday, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, asked for all 46 of the remaining U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations. That man right there pictured right there, Preet Bharara, said, "No, I'm not going to do it."

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): So, wait, they asked for 46 resignations. One said no.

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): All U.S. attorneys.

DOOCY: Yeah. They always do that. But he said no. And now it's a big deal about well, what's going on? Was he investigating Donald Trump or something?

KILMEADE: Well, I mean, he did get an OK from Donald Trump. He went and saw him, and famously he went to the tower, came down and said, "I had a great conversation, and President-elect Trump wanted me to stay on."

DOOCY: For how long, though?

KILMEADE: When he fired all 46 --

EARHARDT: In his words, that's what he said. He said Donald Trump promised me I could stay on for the time being, which he actually did. Donald Trump, he says, told him that in November.

[...]

EARHARDT: Here are the facts, though. Bill Clinton did this. Bill Clinton fired 90 people. One of them was Jeff Sessions. These are guys, these are individuals that don't agree with the president. If you work for a company, and you find out someone's investigating you within your company, you are out the door, buddy. I'm sorry. You got to be loyal. You got to be a family member. You got to be a team player. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/13/17]

Fox’s Andrew Napolitano Mentioned Potential Bharara Investigation Into Trump, Ignored Investigation Into Fox News. Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano mentioned a potential investigation into Trump’s conflicts of interests by Bharara without mentioning his investigation of Fox News. From the March 13 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): What about this allegation that Preet Bharara was looking into something on Donald Trump and that's why he fired him?

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: I think it is so highly irresponsible of Congressman [Elijah] Cummings [D-MD] to inject that into the debate without any specifics. But I do think I know what he's talking about. A couple of people in New York filed a complaint with Preet Bharara's office suggesting that the president of the United States was violating the law by receiving dividends on stock that own a hotel that receives foreign visitors. Now this is rather intricate argument, but it is absolutely frivolous. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 3/13/17]

Methodology

Media Matters searched Snapstream transcripts of Fox News between 1:30 p.m. on March 11, when Bharara tweeted that he had been fired, and 11 p.m. on March 13 for mentions of either “Bharara,” “Preet,” or “U.S. attorney,” along with variations of the word “fire” to determine whether the segments mentioned his investigations into Fox News. Media Matters included both segments where Bharara’s firing was the stated topic of a segment or news update and segments that included significant discussion of his firing. “Significant discussion" is defined as including a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people. This study did not include teasers in its segment counts, though no teaser mentioned the investigation, and repeated segments were not included in the count. Stories about the other U.S. attorneys forced to resign were not included if they did not mention Bharara’s firing. 

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