An inaccurate report by Fox & Friends quickly became a vicious attack by President Trump against the New York Times. Fox News, however, has no regrets.
On Saturday, Fox News reported that a New York Times article helped Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi escape capture by reporting on U.S. military intelligence. The Fox News story was discussed that morning on President Trump’s favorite TV show, Fox & Friends.
The Fox News report cited comments that Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the United States Special Operations Command, made at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. Thomas said that a lead Special Operations Command received in 2015 about Baghdadi’s whereabouts was “very good” but “unfortunately, it was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead.”
Thomas appears to have been referring to a June 2015 New York Times story about how “American intelligence agencies have extracted valuable information about the Islamic State’s leadership structure, financial operations and security measures by analyzing materials seized during a Delta Force commando raid last month that killed a leader of the terrorist group in eastern Syria.” Despite what Thomas said in Aspen, the Times story was based on a Pentagon press release that government officials knew the Times was covering, and the Pentagon raised no objections about the piece before it was published or afterward.
But on Saturday, Fox News and Fox & Friends took Thomas’ misleading comments at face value. During an on-air discussion of the story, host Pete Hegseth went as far as to say that Baghdadi would’ve been captured if not for the Times.
“We would’ve had al-Baghdadi based on the intelligence we had, except someone leaked information to the failing New York Times in 2015 — this is the previous administration,” he said.
About 25 minutes after that segment aired, Trump echoed Fox & Friends’ commentary in a tweet slamming the Times’ “sick agenda” as part of an especially reckless tweetstorm the president posted Saturday morning.
The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist,Al-Baghdadi.Their sick agenda over National Security
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017
Later Saturday, the New York Times debunked Fox News’ coverage and Trump’s tweet in an article headlined, “How Trump Got It Wrong in Saying The Time ‘Foiled’ Killing of ISIS Leader.” The piece notes that “a review of the record shows that information made public in a Pentagon news release more than three weeks before the Times article, and extensively covered at the time by numerous news media outlets, would have tipped off Mr. Baghdadi that the United States was questioning an important Islamic State operative who knew of his recent whereabouts and some of his methods of communication. Further, the information in the Times article on June 8 came from United States government officials who were aware that the details would be published.”
On Sunday, The Times went a step further. Representatives of the paper wrote Fox News, requesting an “ an on-air apology and tweet… in regards to a malicious and inaccurate segment.”
“Neither the staff at Fox & Friends, nor the writers of a related story on Foxnews.com, appeared to make any attempt to confirm the relevant facts, nor did they reach out to the New York Times for comment,” the Times wrote. “We understand that the segment and story are based on a misleading assertion by Gen. Thomas speaking at a conference in Aspen. However, that does not alleviate Fox News of the obligation to seek information from all the stakeholders in a story. With this segment, Fox & Friends has demonstrated what little regard it has for reporting facts.”
New York Times has asked fox and friends for an apology pic.twitter.com/QIoqXnqwmK
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) July 23, 2017
But during Monday’s installment of Fox & Friends, hosts refused to apologize to the Times or even acknowledge that Fox News’ coverage was flawed. Instead, host Steve Doocy merely offered “an update to a story we reported over the weekend” and directed viewers to read “a lengthy statement” from the Times on the Fox News website.
(UPDATED) U.S. General: Leak let ISIS leader slip away pic.twitter.com/wNJgQqOK1b
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) July 24, 2017
As this is published, Trump hasn’t deleted his inaccurate tweet. Instead, he spent Monday morning once again live-tweeting Fox & Friends.
Fox and Friends, 6:28 am
Trump twitter feed, 6:52 am pic.twitter.com/3sGvso9sZ6
— Justin Green (@JGreenDC) July 24, 2017
7:34am on Fox & Friends, Jason Chaffetz: "Republicans need to get a backbone… call up the Clintons. That investigation, why did it end?" pic.twitter.com/XfTE5wFrcd
— Marina Fang (@marinafang) July 24, 2017
Saturday’s tweet wasn’t the first time the president has spread misinformation by live-tweeting cable news. It’s also not the first time Fox & Friends has covered for Trump by trying to generate Obama-era scandals.