Watching Fox

Fox News’ Manhattan Truck Attack Coverage Was Good, Until It Was Terrible

Geraldo Rivera, Pamela Geller, and Sean Hannity on Tuesday night.

Fox News

Fox News actually did a pretty good job covering the New York terror attack on Tuesday afternoon—at first, that is. During the immediate aftermath of the attack—in which an Uzbek national claiming allegiance to ISIS drove a truck he rented from a New Jersey Home Depot onto a Manhattan bike path, killing eight people—the network took great care to emphasize everything it didn’t know. This caution is standard protocol for journalists during breaking-news events, when unintentional misinformation is everywhere, and passing it along as fact can damage your credibility and have other disastrous consequences. Fox was very careful on Tuesday afternoon. Starting with Shepard Smith Reporting in the 3 p.m. hour all the way through Special Report With Bret Baier at 6 p.m., Fox’s early coverage of the attack was competent, professional, and informative, featuring minimal speculation and relatively responsible punditry. Then the evening programming began.

There is a real divide between the news and opinion programming at Fox News, and that split was especially evident Tuesday night. From 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Fox’s evening hosts and guests also took pains to emphasize how much they did not know about the attacks—albeit in the “displaying their ignorance” sense—and took every possible opportunity to fill in those knowledge gaps with nativist rhetoric and liberal-bashing. All night long, the network presented a ceaseless parade of disreputable guests with polarizing opinions, egged on by hosts eager to pin blame for the attack on the rampant political correctness that ostensibly prevents government officials from broadly surveilling American Muslims and interferes with President Trump’s ongoing efforts to isolate America from the rest of the world. If Tuesday afternoon showcased the strengths of the network’s breaking-news division, then Tuesday evening was Fox at its worst.

The toxicity began with The Story With Martha MacCallum, at 7 p.m. The show’s producer really needs to find a better Rolodex. As the hour went by MacCallum’s guests became increasingly unhinged, starting with a man who seemed to be trying to partially pin responsibility for the attacks on Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, a Democrat, because a group supporting Northam’s campaign recently produced and aired a television ad that involved children being chased by a truck.

This imaginative fellow was miles more articulate than the guest who followed him, former New York City police commissioner and convicted felon Bernard Kerik, who told MacCallum that “the thing that needs to change, the one dynamic that needs to change is political correctness. Stop the political correctness.” Kerik, a blunt man, went on to claim that the only viable way to stop terror for good is for the government—or possibly Kerik himself; it wasn’t clear—to kill every single terrorist. “You are either going to kill them or they will kill us, and that’s the only way you can deal with this,” said Kerik.

Did MacCallum push back on either of her guests’ arguments? No, she did not. “Bernard Kerik. Thank you very much, sir,” she whispered. “Strong words. Good to hear it tonight.” Later, MacCallum welcomed Rep. Peter King, who is always ready to share his distinct views on Islam. King enthusiastically seconded Kerik’s strong words. “As Bernie said before, they’re going to kill us unless we kill them first, and we have to stop being politically correct. We have to stop being apologetic,” said King. “I’ve said this a million times: When the FBI was going after the Mafia, they went into the Italian American community. When they were going after the Westies, it was the Irish American community. If you’re going after Islamist terrorism, you have to monitor the Muslim community. That’s where it’s coming from, and that’s the reality.”

The Story ended with an antic appearance from Brigitte Gabriel, founder and CEO of ACT! For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed an “anti-Muslim hate group.” Gabriel suggested that the New York attacker’s first name should have struck American immigration officials as suspicious from the start. “What type of questioning are we doing for those who are coming into the country? You take this person for example, his name is Sayfullo, which means ‘sword of Allah’ in Arabic. It’s an Islamic name. What type of questioning was this person questioned when he came into the country?” Gabriel asked. She went on to tell an exciting story about how she had recently used an expired driver’s license while traveling through three different airports. “I’m a terrorism analyst, I’m a faithful American, but this goes to show you the lack of security and the apathy we have in training those who are trying to protect us,” she concluded. “And that’s why we need to throw political correctness in the garbage and start doing what we need to do to protect the country.” Got it? Good.

After The Story With Martha MacCallum came Tucker Carlson Tonight, which offered a more sedate, though no less fervent, snapshot of the real culprit in Tuesday’s attacks. Carlson is obsessed with both immigration and political correctness, and Tuesday night offered a prime opportunity for Carlson and his guests to opine on those twin passions. Guest Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent, blamed Democratic political correctness for preventing the government from surveilling Muslims in mosques. “You and I both know if it was a Christian church professing that they wanted to blow up something that of course law enforcement would be in there, thankfully so,” said Bongino. “But this has just gotten, this PC society, is sickening and it’s damn dangerous to American citizens. And thank God we have a president who finally understands the threat, too, by the way.”

According to both Carlson and President Trump, “the threat” is a byproduct of America’s overly liberal immigration policies. Both men also seem to believe that those policies are in part attributable to left-wing thought policing that inhibits open discussion of the purported correlations between Muslim immigration to America and terror attacks in America. “I’m almost 50 years old. I remember when things like this didn’t happen in New York, ever,” said Carlson. “And now they seem to happen with some frequency. It seems obviously tied to immigration. Why is the country unwilling to have that conversation, to face that?”

“Because there is something in that conversation that is still taboo, which is the ideology,” said guest Walid Phares. “ ‘Don’t touch the ideology,’ says the mainstream media, academia. Unless we change politically and intellectually we’re not going to get anywhere.”

“But how can a small group of people in charge of our country continue to lie to the rest of us and demand that the rest of us participate in their lies when everyone knows it’s a lie?” asked Carlson. The Fox News conundrum, in action.

Next came Hannity. While Sean Hannity seemed mildly annoyed to have to turn his attentions away from the hot Uranium One scandal, he eventually rallied. “I have four TVs in my radio studio today,” Hannity told guest Sebastian Gorka. “This was all unfolding live on radio. And I look at a CNN fake news chyron and it actually says ‘Witness: Suspect Was Yelling ‘God Is Great’ In Arabic.’ OK. He said Allahu akbar. So somebody at fake news, CNN… there is this fear.” I do not really understand Hannity’s point—I think he was accusing CNN of moral cowardice for translating the phrase Allahu akbar into English—but Gorka seemed to think that it was a good one. “Yup,” said Gorka, nodding.

Hannity later convened a panel with Gorka, Geraldo Rivera—who began his remarks by sending “my love and sincere condolences to my homies in New York,” and who ended by getting shouted down by his counterparts—and Pamela Geller, whom the SPLC has deemed “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.” The ensuing discussion was truly exhausting, and you should probably just watch it yourself.

Poor Geraldo. Anyway, “why do I have to pat on the back every Muslim that doesn’t want to kill me?” is actually a pretty concise summation of the attitude that Fox News’ opinion hosts brought to their coverage of Tuesday’s terror attack. Their commentary was not only embarrassing and divisive, but it served to undermine the solid work that their breaking-news colleagues did all day in reporting the details of the ongoing story. On Tuesday, before the attack happened, ran a story reporting that several Fox News employees “were left embarrassed and humiliated by their network’s coverage” of the Mueller indictments on Monday, with one calling it “another blow to journalists at Fox who come in every day wanting to cover the news in a fair and objective way.” Tuesday night’s coverage was yet another blow, and there are surely more to come.