clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Fox News made Andrew McCabe a “deep state” villain

Fox News spent months building out this storyline.

Andrew McCabe was a 21-year veteran of the FBI who, by most accounts, had a storied career. But if you’re a Fox News viewer, you would know him as something else altogether: a corrupt “deep state” villain who was out to depose President Trump.

McCabe, the former deputy FBI director, was unceremoniously fired just 26 hours before his formal retirement, which cost him his pension benefits. The firing has alarmed prominent members of the intelligence community, as well as Democrats in Congress.

But long before he was fired, Fox News — especially hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and the trio on Fox & Friends — constantly referred to McCabe as the quintessential example of the FBI’s corruption and anti-Trump bias. They hinted that he was plotting several schemes against Trump during the election, leaking information to the press, and was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and Democrats.

All of this was part of a larger theory alleging that the FBI was colluding with Hillary Clinton to rig the elections against Trump, and that the agency was still actively trying to take down Trump through Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In Fox News land, this “deep state” effort is the story of the century — the scandal that’s “bigger than Watergate” — and McCabe is the powerful lieutenant who greased the wheels for former FBI Director James Comey and current special counsel Mueller. In some segments, Fox News hosts and guests would drop McCabe’s name even when there wasn’t news about him.

So in Fox News land, it made perfect sense for Attorney General Jeff Sessions (perhaps directed by Trump) to fire McCabe, just a day before McCabe was set to walk out on his own. This was justice served.

This alternate reality is being fed into the president’s mind — and congressional Republicans are passively letting it build, or even contributing to the story. All of this seems like a drill for when it’s Mueller who is fired and his probe of foreign interference in American elections is halted.

Fox News built out the McCabe storyline

For months, Fox News has been meticulously telling the story of Andrew McCabe — one that casts him as an antagonist in their overarching narrative.

Here’s Hannity on December 5, outlining McCabe’s role in the Democratic plot to oust Trump:

McCabe was scheduled to appear before Congress Thursday [to talk about the Trump dossier], but now is saying he’s not going to show up. McCabe is also thought to have been the key point of contact to the former British spy, Christopher Steele. He’s the guy who created the fake news, anti-Trump dossier that was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC.

December 5

Hannity then pointed out another connection: McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, ran for state Senate in Virginia and took donations from the state Democratic Party and then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally. (Never mind that McCabe himself voted in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.)

A few days later, on December 7, a Fox & Friends segment again hinted that McCabe was biased toward Clinton:

[Florida Rep.] Ron DeSantis ... was told by a retired FBI supervisor that Andrew McCabe ... told him not to call the Benghazi attack “terrorism” when giving FBI findings to the intelligence communities, even though they had connected the dots. .,. Now it just looks like there is a political bias.

December 7

The following week, text messages between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok showed that they had conversations in McCabe’s office about an “insurance policy” in case Trump won. According to people familiar with the situation, the phrase “insurance policy” referred to the need to “aggressively” investigate collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in case he won the election, not some “secret plan to harm” Trump.

But Fox News had its storyline. Tucker Carlson on December 13 pointed out that McCabe’s pro-Clinton bias was affirmed by that exchange, saying:

Now it looks like a top FBI official met in McCabe’s office to plan some kind of insurance against Trump becoming president. Would that insurance include hamstringing the presidency with a politically motivated Russian investigation?

December 13

Days later, on December 15, Carlson had Joe diGenova, the former US attorney for the District of Columbia, on his show, and diGenova said this:

Why is Andrew McCabe still at Christopher Wray’s right hand inside the senior offices of the FBI? McCabe and Strzok and Page are all out of the same cloth: They conspired to exonerate improperly and politically Hillary Clinton — and also, if she lost, to frame the incoming president of the United States with a false crime.

By January, facing an onslaught of criticism from Fox News and from the president, McCabe announced he would step down the following month, though he would take leave until he could officially retire with benefits in March.

Fox News egged on Trump to fire McCabe

But McCabe continued to be a character in Fox News land. On a February 8 airing of Hannity, talking about the so-called Nunes memo — a memo by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) that alleged that the Trump-Russia probe was built on the DNC-backed Steele dossier — Hannity said:

McCabe testified that without the dossier, the FISA warrant to surveil [Trump associates] would never have been approved. And McCabe is also tied to the Clinton email cover-up. Remember the recent reports? Andrew McCabe? He was forced to resign over revelations in a soon-to-be-released DOJ inspector general report.

On another episode, McCabe appeared on a list of “deep state” villains:

March 5

In the days leading up to McCabe’s firing this past weekend, Fox News urged Trump not to let McCabe walk away unscathed. They began focusing on another McCabe subplot: that he had allowed a “leak” about an FBI investigation to the media during 2016 and then lied about it to the agency’s inspector general. To be clear, the inspector general’s report has not been made public, so these claims can’t be confirmed. McCabe, for his part, has said he had the authority to divulge the information to reporters — that he did not, in fact, leak to the media.

March 14

On March 14, the day before McCabe was fired, Hannity recounted McCabe’s supposed misdeeds, and then said this (emphasis mine):

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should not be contemplating a decision here, because the answer is obvious and the facts are staring Sessions right in the face. McCabe is corrupt, and he’s as crooked as they come. He’s one of the deep state actors that we’ve been telling you about and he needs to be held accountable, and firing McCabe, by the way, should only be a start.

The stage was being set to justify McCabe’s firing:

Fox News pushed the “McCabe is corrupt, and so is the FBI” narrative

If there was any doubt over why McCabe was fired, President Trump cleared things up by tweeting that it was because of “the lies and corruption going on at the highest level of the FBI.”

And that’s exactly the narrative Fox News is pushing. On Monday, Fox & Friends ran this segment:

Hannity then went on Fox & Friends the same day to say he expects criminal charges against McCabe.

Trump liked this so much that he tweeted about it:

Over the weekend, Trump also directly attacked the Mueller investigation’s credibility:

In Fox News land, the pieces all fit. In coverage this weekend, the McCabe firing was framed as a step toward addressing the FBI’s corruption.

This is how authoritarians win

Jennifer Rubin, the conservative opinion writer at the Washington Post, wrote this over the weekend:

Trump will undermine the public’s faith in entities that are supposed to be apolitical fact-finders and enforcers of the law, leading Americans to question the honesty and fairness of our government and criminal-justice system. That, in a nutshell, is how authoritarians infiltrate and abuse the administration of justice — unless the voters rise up to stop them.

But many of those voters Rubin puts her faith in are watching Fox News. Not only is it the main source of news for 19 percent of 2016 voters; it’s the main source for 40 percent of Trump voters. There’s academic evidence that Fox News is more powerful than we ever imagined.

And Fox News isn’t going to stop itself. They allow conspiracy theorists to make hay out of baseless lies. There is evidence that the hosts see their jobs as advising Trump — talking directly to him — and that Trump sees them as his main information source. And now Trump is thinking of filling his Cabinet with these people.

This McCabe story was Fox News yet again painting a picture of an alternate reality where justice was served; it was Fox News yet again attacking people it sees as villains in the plot to take down President Trump. These aren’t individual news narratives built in a vacuum, but rather parts of a larger story that Fox News is telling.

And at this point in Fox News’s alternate storyline, with the given character arcs, there seems to be only one logical conclusion: The Mueller investigation is not valid and must end.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.