On Thursday evening, the New York Times broke news that last June, President Trump ordered a White House lawyer to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. The story looks bad for Trump, as it indicates that over a short period of time, he twice tried to fire officials overseeing an investigation of his campaign.
At first, Trump’s favorite TV network — Fox News — pretended the story didn’t exist. While the other cable networks covered it, Fox News was talking about a 2005 photo of President Obama with Louis Farrakhan.
A short time later, Sean Hannity tried to deny the Times report, telling his viewers that “our sources — and I’ve checked in with many of them — they’re not confirming that tonight.”
Later during the same broadcast, Hannity attempted an amazing about-face. He begrudgingly acknowledged that the Times report was confirmed by Fox News, saying, “Yeah, maybe Donald Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for conflict — does he not have the right to raise those questions?”
Sean Hannity: The New York Times is trying to distract you. They say Trump tried to fire Mueller, but our sources aren’t confirming that!
Sean Hannity, minutes later: Alright, yeah, maybe our sources confirm Trump wanted to fire Mueller. But so what? That’s his right. Anywho… pic.twitter.com/yUIt7Un56d
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) January 26, 2018
By Friday morning, Fox News was walking back its own reporting. An anonymously-sourced report on its website attempt to cast doubt on the story reported by the Times and others, noting that while “Trump did have conversations about firing Mueller,” those conversations “might not have amounted to an outright directive.” That report was also highlighted on Fox News programming. Notably, Trump representatives passed up numerous opportunities to deny that Trump ordered Mueller’s firing.
Meanwhile, Trump’s favorite show — Fox & Friends — barely covered the story about Trump trying to dismiss Mueller, and treated Trump’s unconvincing denial of it as gospel.
Hegseth: The president says it's fake news, and even if it's true he didn't fire Mueller so it isn't news.
Earhardt: He says it's fake news, let's move on to something you actually care about. pic.twitter.com/pDUwDVCTDj
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 26, 2018
Fox News’ handling of the latest Mueller story is reminiscent of how they handled another damaging news cycle for Trump earlier this month. Although Fox News independently confirmed a story broken by the Washington Post about Trump calling African nations “shithole countries” during a White House meeting, the network spent the following day gradually walking back its own reporting.
As he’s now doing with the latest report that he tried to fire Mueller, Trump weakly tried to deny making the “shithole countries” comment.