During his Senate testimony today, former FBI Director James Comey revealed an important piece of information about the 2016 election: He was worried about the credibility of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Comey said his worries were “capped” by learning Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on a tarmac last summer while the investigation was still going on — and that’s one reason why he publicly called out Hillary Clinton and her aides for their “extremely careless” handling of classified information.
These concerns were shared by many commentators last summer, including those on Fox News. They questioned the integrity of the investigation and drove home that, at the least, this create the perception of impropriety.
That past coverage sits in striking contrast to how Fox News is covering Comey revealing details of how President Donald Trump attempted to pressure him to drop the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser. The network has defaulted into two storylines — both of which carry water for the Trump administration and shift blame onto Democrats and the media.
The two Comey-Trump storylines
The first Fox storyline Wednesday was that Donald Trump was “vindicated” by the testimony, since it affirms that Trump isn’t under investigation. It parroted something Trump’s lawyer said, and was a primary talking point:
The second line was that the testimony shows how much the mainstream media and Democrats are lying. Sean Hannity said Wednesday night that this “blows the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory out of the water” and it shows that the media and Democrats have been “lying to you for months.”
Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson said the media is melting down over this testimony, citing commentators on other networks invoking Watergate:
Those stories ultimately built to the argument that this is part of a bigger witch hunt:
On The Five, this was painted as a Democrat-driven push to impeach Trump:
It’s part of a trend we’ve seen time and again, where Fox News obscures parts of the news to push certain storylines, while discrediting opposing sources. And we saw it again when we watched every instance of Fox News talking about Comey’s testimony from Wednesday night until Thursday morning.
But for this news, which suggests Trump may have interfered with an investigation, there’s a data point we can compare it to: the news that broke about a year ago about Bill Clinton meeting with Lynch on a tarmac while the Justice Department was investigating Hillary Clinton.
Both events deal with potential interference into an investigation. So we decided to go back and see how Fox News covered that news, starting late on June 29, 2016.
In contrast, the hard-hitting Clinton-Lynch storylines
Virtually every segment that talked about this Clinton-Lynch meeting established that this was, at the least, bad for perception — and either put the blame on Lynch or Clinton.
But by the time Fox and Friends aired the next morning, June 30, there were insinuations that this meeting showed “the fix is in.” Other commentators said this was a “brazen” attempt to undermine an investigation, or that the lack of disclosure about this meeting indicated both Clinton and Lynch had something to hide.
Several conversations were about the Clintons being “above the law.”
On Sean Hannity’s show, there were commentators saying the Clintons “have a way of exerting influence,” and other shows talked about the Clintons “getting away with everything.”
And when Lynch responded by saying that she and Clinton only talked about family, and not the investigation, attention turned to whether she should recuse herself from the investigation — and then briefly about whether she should resign:
The mismatch in coverage is striking
In the Clinton-Lynch case, Fox News pushed the narrative that the Clintons believe they are above the law.
In the Trump-Comey case, Fox News twists the content of the testimony to favor Trump, then pushes the narrative that the media and Democrats have been lying.
We’ve covered this a few times in recent weeks, but that second part is quite jarring. It plants a distrust of virtually all other perspectives into the viewer’s mind, and frames these stories as a collusion between media and Democrats. It creates a false equivalency that all information is partisan information, and that all people have partisan motives. That means any information you don’t want to hear can be chalked up to people who want to smear the blue team or red team.