At a time when its exceedingly tight relationship with the Trump White House and promotion of white nationalism are under scrutiny, Fox News had a very bad weekend.
On Sunday night, Fox News’s public relations department released separate statements addressing two different debacles involving prominent network hosts.
The first one involved host Jeanine Pirro, who suggested during her Saturday evening show that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of America’s first Muslim female Congress members, is disloyal to the country because she wears a hijab.
In a rant ostensibly about controversial comments Omar recently made about Israel, Pirro said, “Omar wears a hijab, which according to the Quran 33:59, tells women to cover so they won’t get molested. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”
Less than 24 hours later, Media Matters for America published clips of radio interviews that host Tucker Carlson did on Bubba the Love Sponge’s show between 2006 and 2011 in which he makes a number of misogynistic and offensive comments — including defending Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who is currently serving a life sentence in prison for child sexual assault.
In one clip, Carlson — referring to charges Jeffs faced for arranging marriages between adult men and girls — defended him by saying the charges were “bullshit” because arranged marriages with children are not “the same thing exactly as pulling a child from a bus stop and sexually assaulting that child. ... The rapist in this case has made a lifelong commitment to live and take care of the person, so it is a little different.”
In other clips, Carlson demeans sex workers as “slutty and pathetic” and says women are “extremely primitive, they’re basic, they’re not that hard to understand.”
He also makes suggestive comments about underage girls, saying in response to Bubba the Love Sponge’s story about girls at Carlson’s 14-year-old daughter’s boarding school experimenting sexually with each other, “If it weren’t my daughter, I would love that scenario.”
Neither Carlson nor Pirro actually apologized
Carlson’s resurfaced comments come as his show hemorrhages advertisers because of comments he’s made about immigrants, who he’s said make America “poorer” and “dirtier.”
But in a statement released Sunday night through Fox News PR and later posted to Carlson’s personal Twitter account, he didn’t apologize for his statements on Bubba the Love Sponge’s show. Instead, he downplayed his defense of the sexual assault of children as “naughty,” and challenged those who were offended by them to go on his show.
Pirro offered a similar non-apology in a Fox News PR statement about her remarks, which also included an invitation for Omar to go on her show.
“My intention was to ask a question and start a debate, but of course because one is Muslim does not mean you don’t support the Constitution,” Pirro said. “I invite Rep. Omar to come on my show any time to discuss all of the important issues facing America today.”
Fox News, however, condemned Pirro’s remarks, saying in the statement, “We strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro’s comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar. They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly.”
Rep. Omar thanked Fox News for the apology on Twitter, writing that “No one’s commitment to our constitution should be questioned because of their faith or country of birth.”
While Fox News’s statement doesn’t mention specifically which executives are condemning Pirro, her rant rankled at least some of the network’s rank and file. Hufsa Kamal Khan, an associate producer for Fox News host Bret Baier’s show who is a Muslim herself, denounced her comments on Twitter.
@JudgeJeanine can you stop spreading this false narrative that somehow Muslims hate America or women who wear a hijab aren’t American enough? You have Muslims working at the same network you do, including myself. K thx. https://t.co/ZfKhRhlvM3— Hufsa Kamal (@hufkat) March 10, 2019
As Media Matters news director John Whitehouse noted on Twitter, the language Fox News used in its statement denouncing Pirro — “we have addressed the matter” — echoes language it has used in other statements responding to debacles involving hosts it ultimately elected not to fire.
Fox News has a long history of standing by embattled network personalities
In 2016, longtime Fox News CEO Roger Ailes resigned from the network after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment — a development that ultimately exposed the network’s rampant culture of sexual harassment.
The next year, arguably the network’s most prominent host, Bill O’Reilly, was forced out of Fox News amid an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations against him and revelations that the network “repeatedly stood by him even as he and the company reached [multimillion-dollar] settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him,” as the New York Times put it.
Carlson ended up taking O’Reilly’s primetime slot, and the network has stood by him as advertiser after advertiser has fled due to comments he regularly makes demeaning immigrants.
The show following Carlson is anchored by Sean Hannity, who refuses to disclose his conflicts of interest when it comes to covering President Trump and has come under fire for unapologetically spreading conspiracy theories. Following Hannity is Laura Ingraham, who has faced her own advertiser exodus for demeaning immigrants and survivors of school shootings who became gun control activists.
If you're considering defending Tucker Carlson right now, make sure you read this portion of @mmfa comms director @LauraAKeiter's statement on the tapes first.— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) March 11, 2019
Don't say I didn't warn you. https://t.co/vA93ko7DwY pic.twitter.com/EYndUZsFGf
In his statement responding to the Media Matters exposé, Carlson downplayed his comments about women and child abuse as “naughty” things he said “more than a decade ago.” But ironically, during his most recent show, Carlson focused on controversial comments Joe Biden made in 1975.