Newly released emails show that Fox & Friends prepared former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt with questions before on-air interviews and once even sought the agency’s approval of part of the show’s script, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.
The emails, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Sierra Club (an avowed enemy of Pruitt), showed that Pruitt’s team was given the opportunity to agree to topics before the interviews. In one instance detailed by the Daily Beast, a producer for the show sent a list of three topics the show wanted to cover. In the show the next day, the hosts asked Pruitt six questions related to the agreed-upon topics, one question related to a topic the EPA had pitched the day before to another Fox show, and one question that did actually make a small amount of news. The host did not press Pruitt on that question.
In a more flagrant ethical violation, the show once asked approval for the language in a script. In May 2017, Pruitt’s staff reached out to the show to discuss Pruitt’s interest in “helping communities that were poorly served by the last administration.” A producer brought into the email conversation asked the EPA press secretary at the time for “talking points” and then asked, “Would this be okay as the setup to his segment?” She pasted the text from a script in the email:
There’s a new direction at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump—and it includes a back-to-basics approach. This after the Obama administration left behind a huge mess more than 1,300 super-fund sites which are heavily contaminated—still require clean-ups. So why was President Obama touted as an environmental savior if all these problems still exist?
The press secretary replied: “Yes — perfect.” The next day, the hosts were faithful to the script.
While it is common for producers to discuss topics in advance and occasionally share pre-interview questions for the sake of facilitating a better on-air discussion, it is not normal to feed questions to the public official for that official’s approval. Seeking an official’s approval for a script would not be considered ethical for journalists under any circumstances, and some reporters would argue that giving so much control to a government agency would categorize Fox & Friends’ work as communications on behalf of the administration, rather than independent journalism.
A Fox News spokesperson told the Daily Beast, “This is not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved.”
Fox & Friends has been criticized often for the show’s blind loyalty to the president and his administration, and some critics have accused it of being a source of propaganda. The relationship between the administration and Fox News in general has been a warm one: former White House communications director Hope Hicks took a job running corporate communications at Fox; Fox News host Jeanine Pirro is a personal friend of Trump’s; Fox Business host Lou Dobbs has phoned into multiple meetings in the Oval Office to advise the president on policy matters; and Fox News personality Sean Hannity, another personal friend of Trump’s, once appeared as a speaker at a Trump campaign rally in Missouri.