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Friday, August 7, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In recent months, President Trump has complained repeatedly about Fox News. He told CBN, “I don’t like what they’re doing at Fox News … They have people on that network that are horrible, vicious.” 

His recent tweets included the damning statement, “Fox is terrible!”


Why would a president in the midst of a reelection campaign continually lash out at the top news network on cable television? Why would Mr. Trump criticize the one network that has consistently provided him an outlet to get his side of the story to the American people? Why would he express anger at the news agency that has been more of a cheerleader for him than any other? 

Apparently because he doesn’t see it that way. One recent Trump tweet said “So hard to watch @FoxNews anymore. They are working so hard against the people (viewers) that got them there. Their contributors are a disaster, and all over the place.” Another Trump tweet said Fox News is “not the same.”

Mr. Trump believes the quality of the Fox News product, the vetting of their guests and the editorial content are all open to question. 

It appears he may be absolutely right. 

While reading a story on Fox News this past week, I realized just how right the president may be. The story I was looking at was poorly written, questionably sourced and made assertions that were patently false. 

I am aware that the news industry as a whole features stories plagued by speculation rather than governed by facts and that editorial comments pollute many written articles promoted as straight news. I know that with shrinking revenue has come shrinking staffs, which for some news organizations means fewer editors, less fact checking and sloppy journalistic practices. Fox News however generates more revenue than any other news outlet. That’s why I was stunned to find Fox News publishing a carefully crafted hit-piece on one Middle East nation that was lacking in virtually every journalistic quality. 

The headline read “Qatar’s alleged finance of Hezbollah terrorist movement puts US troops at risk, dossier claims.” The piece was written by Benjamin Weinthal and Jonathan Spyer. Mr. Weinthal is a paid fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and Mr. Spyer is a paid fellow at the Middle East Forum (MEF). Both organizations have sponsored events, forums and conferences that are strongly anti-Qatar in nature. Some contributors and related organizations appear to get funding from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a Qatar foe. In short, they are paid to promote a negative image of Qatar. The fact Fox News would accept a news piece from these two purporting to be straight news on Qatar would indicate no one is tending the store at the network. 

Qatar is arguably America’s closest ally in the Middle East. Strategically located immediately across the Gulf from Iran, Qatar plays host to more than 10,000 U.S. troops at the Al Udeid Air Base. It is a huge business friend to the United States as well. 

The story as written by the anti-Qatar fellows says the pair have been in contact with a private security contractor who claims to have infiltrated Qatar’s weapon procurement business as part of a sting. The identity of the contractor is unknown. Why he was participating in an undercover operation and for whom are both left to the imagination: A.) Was it on behalf of another country? B.) A law enforcement agency? C.) The United Nations? D.) Or was it for none of the above? 

Considering the track records of the Middle East Forum and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies I am willing to bet the correct answer is d.) none of the above. Several years back the Middle East Forum created the MEF Education Fund. It is financed by anonymous sources and no grant applications are accepted. Instead, the MEF determines at their sole discretion who gets funding and what they can do with it. Translation: Unaccountable slush fund.  

Back to the narrative of the Fox News story. It alleges that Qatar funds Hezbollah. The source of the accusation? The unnamed contractor, working secretly for an unnamed entity, put together a dossier claiming that an unnamed member of the Qatar royal family authorized delivery of military hardware to Hezbollah in Lebanon. That same mystery person felt the best place to share the information he found was with two obscure anti-Qatar organizations.

Never mind that Qatar’s hosting of 10,000 U.S. troops keeps the Saudis and other unfriendly neighboring countries at bay, assuring the safety of Qatar and its people. Never mind that Qatar counts on the U.S. and other Western countries for billions in business and economic partnerships. Never mind that Qatar’s emir has been the voice of reason among the Gulf states in any number of issues ranging from Iran to the Taliban. This alleged dossier asks us to cast logic to the wind and believe that Qatar would risk all of that to secretly support Hezbollah. 

Perhaps you remember the Christopher Steele dossier on Mr. Trump’s alleged misdeeds with and in Russia? As it turned out, that dossier was paid for by Trump opponent Hillary Clinton and by the Democratic National Committee. The outrageous contents were provided to the FBI under the guise of being the right thing to do. It turned out to be completely untrue, but not until those who didn’t like Trump used it as a tool to try and derail his presidency. The Fox News piece has striking similarities. A single source dossier with outlandish accusations has mysteriously been provided to those who oppose Qatar. They, in turn, share the news with Fox News because the world has the right to know. 

The problem is there are so many questions that the item shouldn’t have even been published as wild speculation, let alone as hard news. Who is the source? We don’t know. Why was he undercover and for whom? We don’t know. Why on earth would the source bring his information to two fringe think tanks? We don’t know. What hard evidence is in the dossier? We don’t know. What member of the Qatar royal family is being accused? We don’t know. 

Any journalist worth his laptop would ask a few questions. Why would Qatar jeopardize its relationship with the United States? If the U.S. and the west in general were to pull their military from Qatar, the tiny gas rich nation could immediately be at risk from the Saudis, UAE and others who could potentially invade, annex and write the final chapter to the young prosperous nation’s history. Why would Qatar jeopardize the 2022 World Cup? Why would Qatar jeopardize its bid for the 2032 Olympics? Fox News apparently never thought to ask. 

Qatar residents have far more freedoms than their neighboring Arab countries. Gender equality is dramatically more pronounced there than in virtually all of the Gulf states. In short, Qatar is a role model for the Middle East. 

Whether it did so intentionally or through journalistic incompetence, Fox News appears to have participated in something straight from the same playbook as the Clinton funded Steele dossier.

A person may like their editorial content or not, but Fox News has built a reputation over the years for journalistic integrity. Sloppy pieces like the phony Qatar story mean perhaps President Trump is right. Maybe Fox News “is not the same.”


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