If you watched “Fox & Friends” for a 10-minute stretch during the 8 a.m. hour Saturday, you might think Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is likely to be indicted in the coming months.
The network’s handing of the false indictment claim demonstrated the sometimes schizophrenic nature of Fox News, whereby a right-leaning news operation co-exists with conservative hosts and guests who may undermine the network’s own reporting.
The initial failure, however, wasn’t with the opinion hosts, but took place on the news side.
“Special Report” anchor Bret Baier reported Wednesday that a post-election indictment over the Clinton Foundation is “likely,” a claim made by two anonymous sources. Several news organizations rebutted the unsubstantiated claim, which was reckless to air so close to an election. The potentially damaging claim also comes as the FBI, considered broadly pro-Trump, is leaking innuendo about Clinton.
Though Baier admitted his “mistake” on Friday, “the damage” ― to quote Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway ― was already “done” for Clinton.
Trump continued talking up the likelihood of an indictment Friday afternoon on the campaign trail, including during a stop in Wilmington, Ohio, which aired live on Fox News.
Fox News hosts devoted over two hours of airtime to the indictment claim prior to Baier’s Friday apology. Afterward, some Fox News stars continued promoting the claim, while others tamped it down.
“This is so much scurrilous rumor, innuendo,” Fox News contributor Juan Williams said on “The Five.” “I don’t think it’s fair to anyone. We would never do that to Trump. If it was done by the liberal media, you would call it out. So let’s just stop it.”
When Fox News contributor and Trump critic Charles Krauthammer mentioned during the 6 p.m. Friday newscast that Clinton “could be” indicted, Baier urged the panelists “to be very clear here.” Krauthammer said using the word “indictment” was a slip of the tongue. The next hour, anchor Brit Hume said “there is no certainty in the FBI on whether Secretary Clinton will be indicted.”
But Sean Hannity, Trump’s biggest media booster, raised the specter of indictment on his 10 p.m. show.
“If she wins on Tuesday, Clinton could be indicted while in office,” he said. “She will spend all of her time certainly fighting off any type of indictment or criminal charges against her. Well, that will create a massive constitutional crisis.”
Later, Hannity asked former House Speaker and Trump supporter Newt Gingrich about whether a President Clinton would spend most of her time fighting off “potential indictment,” a case the host had been making. Unsurprisingly, Gingrich agreed.
On Saturday morning, author Ed Klein claimed that sources told him “there’s a very good chance that if she’s elected president on Nov. 8, by the time inauguration comes around, [FBI director] Comey will have recommended an indictment of the president-to-be.”
Klein provided nothing to back up his claim and the hosts of “Fox & Friends” ― Trump’s go-to destination after Hannity’s program ― didn’t challenge it. Co-host Clayton Morris ran with Klein’s claim and suggested that if Clinton won, perhaps Vice President Tim Kaine would have to take over. “This would be remarkable,” he said.
Fox News and the New York Post, both owned by the Murdoch family, have long promoted Klein’s claims about the Clintons and President Barack Obama. But Klein’s books, complete with dramatic scenes supposedly happening behind closed doors, are largely dismissed by mainstream news outlets.
About 10 minutes later, Fox News host Eric Bolling said on the show that “there is a very, very real possibility if Hillary Clinton is the next president-elect, she could be indicted.”
The “Fox & Friends” hosts, again, didn’t push back. But a Fox News correspondent did.
“Your last two guests have spoken of imminent indictments,” said Geraldo Rivera. “You know, and I know, that Fox News a few days ago had to backtrack on the report that indictments were imminent... We have corrected our reporting in that regard.”
Rivera, who is also an attorney, pointed out that there would need to be a grand jury impaneled before someone could even be indicted ― and that initial step hasn’t happened. So the suggestion an indictment is likely, even imminent, is without merit.