Fox News claims scoop that was buried in a New York Times story months ago
President-elect Donald Trump meets with former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani at the clubhouse of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 20, 2016. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
Media critic with a focus on the ups and downs and downs of the cable-news industry.
Fourth in a series on the relationship between Fox News and the mainstream media. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.
“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace advertised some breaking news near the top of his excellent public-affairs show on Sunday. “Fox News has learned the president’s private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was not acting alone in trying to get dirt from Ukrainian officials on 2020 rival Joe Biden,” said Wallace. “Two high-profile Washington lawyers, Joe diGenova, who’s been a fierce critic of the Democratic investigation, and his wife Victoria Toensing, were working with Giuliani to get oppo research on Biden.”
The two, said Wallace, were working with Giuliani “off the books apart from the administration” and that only President Trump knew about the operation — tidbits that were attributed to a “top U.S. official.”
The official Twitter account of “Fox News Sunday” advertised the development:
Breaking news on FOX News Sunday: Chris reports Rudy Giuliani did not act alone in trying to get dirt from Ukraine on Joe Biden… and much more.
Then– Kevin Corke discusses further information on the Trump whistleblower complaint and the Democrat’s push for impeachment. pic.twitter.com/OpGRMArMHz
New York Times reporter Ken Vogel had something to say about the “breaking” part:
That May 9 article by Vogel focused on Giuliani’s travel plans — “Rudy Giuliani Plans Ukraine Trip to Push for Inquiries That Could Help Trump,” reads the headline — and his attempts to “to push the incoming government in Kiev to press ahead with investigations that he hopes will benefit Mr. Trump.”
Deep in his story, Vogel reported these details:
Mr. Giuliani has been working on the effort with other allies of Mr. Trump whose involvement has not been previously reported, including Victoria Toensing, a lawyer who was named last year, along with her husband, as part of the legal team representing the president in the special counsel’s investigation. The appointment was rescinded less than one week later amid concerns about conflicts of interest, but Mr. Trump’s legal team suggested that Ms. Toensing and her husband, Joseph E. diGenova, would assist the president “in other legal matters.”
Vogel reported that, as part of her work on the case, Toensing had met with a Ukrainian prosecutor. She was to accompany Giuliani on a trip to Ukraine, though Giuliani later backed out of the trip. Both Toensing and diGenova have appeared frequently on Fox News’s prime-time programs, which are sympathetic to Trump.
After the Erik Wemple Blog asked Fox News about crediting the New York Times, Wallace was quick to hop on the phone. “The idea that something that a New York Times reporter wrote in May in the 17th paragraph of his story that was cast about how Rudy Giuliani was helping the president was the basis for our report in the heat of the impeachment battle would be funny if it weren’t a bit sad,” Wallace told the Erik Wemple Blog, making clear that he’d never read Vogel’s story. The information, says Wallace, was “totally different” and in a “totally different context.”
After summing up Vogel’s May story, Wallace riffed, “Is that the same as saying as reporting now that Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing have been part of Rudy Giuliani’s effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and quoting a top U.S. official that their efforts were off the books and nobody knew about them except the president of the United States? If you think that’s the same story, Erik [Wemple Blog], go with it.”
Okay, we’re going with it.
Without regard to where Vogel and his editors decided to place this information, they reported and verified it. That they did so in May, nearly five months before the Ukrainian/impeachment scandal started roaring, shouldn’t count against them; it should count for them. At the time that the story was initially published, the diGenova-Toensing angle was appropriately placed as a tertiary plot point, considering that the Ukraine matter wasn’t big news back then. These days every little detail commands its own headline.
As for Wallace’s claim that only the president knew about these maneuvers, diGenova has gone on record as denying it: “That’s totally false. The president was not involved with any of this,” diGenova said in a Monday radio interview. Wallace stands by his reporting.
“Fox News Sunday” is the crown jewel of Fox News. It is responsible for a good chunk of the interview-accountability journalism that happens each week in the United States. It partakes in precisely none of the shenanigans that Fox News’s prime-time programs visit upon outlets such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, etc. — which is to say, trash them all the time, except when they publish negative stories about Democrats.
That said, there’s no reason Wallace can’t be generous enough to concede that the Times had this item first — a clean scoop.
We believe the host when he says he didn’t know about the Vogel story and hadn’t read it. Perhaps his source read it, though, or was oblivious to what was already in the published record on this scandal. Stuff like this happens all the time, largely because people don’t read enough. That’s the main takeaway from this miniature imbroglio.
Another takeaway: The Post — in its editorial and news pages — the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have again played outsize roles in landing revelations on the Ukraine story, just as they did during the Mueller investigation. Read newspapers.