“Fox & Friends” issued an apology Monday after it aired a segment last week that falsely claimed the Democratic mayor of Nashville, Tennessee, tried to “cover up” data that showed low transmission rates of coronavirus at bars and restaurants.
The allegation stemmed from a report published Wednesday by Fox 17, a TV station in Nashville. The station is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a brazenly pro-Trump media group. Fox 17 has since retracted the report and removed it from its website.
During Monday’s broadcast, “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy apologized for “any confusion” that might have occurred as a result of his show spreading false information about the Nashville mayor’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
“We wanted to give you an update on a story we shared last week,” Doocy said. “On Friday, we reported on allegations that the mayor of Nashville had hidden coronavirus numbers. That was according to our local Nashville Fox affiliate. They have since retracted their story. And we now know the mayor’s office apparently did not conceal those numbers and did release them to the public.”
In his initial story, Fox 17’s Dennis Ferrier reported about an email exchange that he obtained between Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s office and the city’s health department.
CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote a thorough breakdown of what went wrong with Ferrier’s reporting, but essentially Ferrier grossly misrepresented what was said in the emails between the city officials.
A city health department official told an aide with the mayor’s office that they’ve refused to publicly release some coronavirus “counts per bar because those numbers are low per site.” But the full context of the emails shows this wasn’t an attempt to cover up low numbers, but to protect COVID-19 patients’ privacy.
“I do not see a problem with releasing the number of cases that are due to clusters at bars ... it is just the issue of whether we can or should release the names of the bars,” one Nashville health official reportedly wrote in the email exchange.
The official added: “Releasing the names of bars or schools especially when there haven’t been many cases makes it possible to identify the individual(s) that were positive and HIPPA says you can’t provide any information that may help identify an individual.”
What’s more, the data was disclosed during a July press conference (which was attended by a Fox 17 reporter, a Nashville official told CNN). The data was also referenced in a report published last month by The Tennessee Lookout.
Fox 17 removed the report from its website and issued a retraction on Friday after Cooper’s office demanded an apology.
“In a segment that aired earlier this week, we incorrectly asserted that Mayor Cooper’s office withheld COVID-19 data from the public, which implied that there had been a cover up,” Fox 17 said in a statement to CNN. “We want to clarify that we do not believe there was any cover-up, and we apologize for the error and oversight in our reporting.”
At that point, the story had been picked up by several Fox News programs, including on “Fox & Friends,” which averages more than 1.5 million daily viewers.
“There is a lot of people who have paid the price because he’s playing politics by lying about the number of positive cases in Nashville, basically shutting down the honky-tonks, the bars and the restaurants,” host Brian Kilmeade said during Friday’s segment about the later-retracted story.
Kilmeade later called on Cooper to resign: “The mayor denies the cover-up even though we have the emails. ... The mayor comes back and tries to cover himself when he should just quit.”
Joining the segment was Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, one of President Donald Trump’s loudest cheerleaders on the network, who falsely claimed Cooper was attempting to meddle in the upcoming presidential election by suppressing information about the virus.
“I’m telling you, it’s about the election,” Pirro said. “They want to keep people home and afraid and use those mail-in ballots. ... In the end, this is going to be fine.”
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham also peddled the story on their respective shows.
A spokeswoman for the network said the hosts would address the retracted story during their programs Monday evening.