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Trump tried to make the Philadelphia Eagles a culture war. Then Fox News fumbled it.

Fox News tried to run with Trump’s lies about the Eagles. It ended up insulting Christians.

Swoop, the Philadelphia Eagles mascot, kicks off the parade during festivities on February 8, 2018, in Philadelphia.
Corey Perrine/Getty Images

President Trump canceled an invitation to the White House for the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles on Monday, saying that “staying in the locker room for the playing of our National Anthem” was “disrespectful.”

This explanation, however, makes no sense. No Eagles players ever stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, nor did any players kneel during the regular season or the playoffs.

And when Fox News tried to pile on by showing footage of players it claimed were protesting during the national anthem, it backfired — because those players weren’t protesting; they were praying.

Trump believes that NFL anthem protests are a winning issue for him; after all, culture war politics have served him well. The more the focus is on race and other identity issues, the better off he is. But conservatives are starting to reconsider their positions.

Trump doesn’t like to be stood up

On Tuesday evening, President Trump tweeted that he had canceled a planned visit by the Eagles to the White House because only a small number of players intended to come, adding that “staying in the locker room” for the national anthem was “disrespectful.”

Originally, the names of 70 players were submitted to the White House for the event, but Eagles players were still deciding on whether to go (defensive end Chris Long would not attend, but quarterback Carson Wentz was planning to). After reportedly attempting to reschedule for when Trump would be in Singapore, the group that planned to be in attendance as of Monday morning would have included a few players and the team’s owner, Jeffrey Lurie.

In 2017, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and more than two dozen other Patriots players skipped their White House visit — which went on as scheduled.

In a statement, Trump said, “The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow. They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country. The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”

Trump’s statement wasn’t true. No Eagles players kneeled during the season, nor did any stay in the locker room.

Today’s White House visit has been rebranded as a celebration of America hosted by a president who described the United States as a “hellhole” in May 2015.

Fox News picks up the ball, fumbles it immediately

The controversy got worse when Fox News picked up the story. In a television segment on the White House visit cancellation, Fox News used B-roll footage of Eagles players kneeling before the anthem — but didn’t mention that the players featured were praying. Many Eagles players are Christians, and a group of players pray together before every game.

In response, Zach Ertz, a tight end for the Eagles, tweeted that Fox News should be “better than this.” Ertz is among the players featured praying in the Fox News segment — he’s a devout Christian, and he and his teammates released a Bible study phone app on humility and surrender this past fall.

Fox News eventually apologized, acknowledging in a statement to USA Today that no Eagles players ever kneeled in protest during the season in 2017:

Starting to lose on a winning issue

Reportedly, Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that the national anthem protests were “a very winning, strong issue for [him],” and the NFL has repeatedly tried to sate the president’s anger on the subject, including banning players from kneeling in protest during the anthem at all earlier this spring.

But the brouhaha over the Eagles’ White House visit appears to have backfired on Trump, including among conservative commentators and GOP members of Congress.

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Ryan Costello tweeted that Trump handled the situation “poorly”:

Conservative magazine columnist Jonah Goldberg called Trump’s statements “deceitful propaganda”:

And RedState contributor Jim Jamitis pointed out the bad optics of excitedly planning a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un while denigrating NFL players:

Trump may have thought that his favorite pet peeve — national anthem protests in the NFL — would continue to win him support. This time, he may have thought wrong.

In an email, a White House spokesperson asked that I include their updated statement in this article. In the statement, the White House alleges that the Philadelphia Eagles “decided to abandon their fans” by not attending the White House celebration.

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