As Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, some hosts at the rightwing Fox News channel were passionately defending Vladimir Putin. Once Russian troops were in Ukraine, those same personalities, such as Tucker Carlson, swiftly began to blame Joe Biden for the invasion.
That will not have surprised regular viewers of Fox, but what has raised eyebrows is the way that the views of hosts such as Carlson, the crew at the morning show Fox & Friends, and the opinions of multiple Fox News guests have been corrected often in real time, by one of Fox News’ own journalists
Time and again over the past few days Jennifer Griffin, Fox News’ national security correspondent, has taken to the airwaves to directly contradict the messages of her colleagues and their guests.
One former US brigadier general was dismissed on air by Griffin as “not a student of history”, after he agitated for American intervention in Ukraine. A former military adviser to Donald Trump was described as a Putin “apologist” after suggesting Russia should be allowed to get on with subsuming Ukraine.
It has brought Griffin, a widely respected journalist who joined Fox News in 1996 and spent three years as a reporter in Moscow, to the fore in the US, as non-Fox News viewers have been buoyed by her blunt dismissals.
Last week Griffin had already corrected Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy and lectured the Fox News host Harris Faulkner about how Joe Biden stationing troops at Ukraine’s border would have given Putin “a pretext to go into Ukraine”, but the veteran journalist stepped it up in recent days as she apparently lost patience with the opinions of some of the Fox News punditocracy.
Griffin’s first target was Don Bolduc, a retired army brigadier general who is running, for the second time, for the US Senate in New Hampshire.
Bolduc, a vocal Trump supporter who has advanced the conspiracy theory that the former president won the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News on Saturday where he pushed for greater US military intervention in Ukraine.
“I have to respond to something your previous guest, Brigadier General Bolduc, said, because he really was way off the mark in terms of talking about what the US could do on the ground,” she said.
“Putin has nuclear weapons. That is why the US military and Nato do not have troops on the ground inside Ukraine.”
“Clearly, Brigadier General Bolduc is not a student of history – he’s a politician, he ran for Senate in New Hampshire and failed. He’s not a military strategist, and to suggest that the US would put indirect fire or special operations or CIA on the ground to give Putin any sort of excuse to broaden this conflict is extremely dangerous talk at a time like this.”
The Bolduc burn came after Griffin had already stymied Sean Hannity’s efforts, two days before Russia’s invasion, to blame the crisis on Biden.
“Sean, how we got to this point is a long story and it predates the Biden administration,” she said. “It goes back and includes mistakes made by every US president since the Soviet Union fell apart.”
As Griffin’s reputation grew, she was asked about her fact-checking efforts on the Fox News show Media Buzz on Sunday. Howard Kurtz, the show’s host, referenced a Washington Post article headlined: “Jennifer Griffin keeps fact-checking her Fox News colleagues on Ukraine.”
Kurtz said: “Now, I read that as you don’t want to get drawn into opinion debates. How do you see your role during this war?”
Griffin, who joined Fox News in 1996, said: “I cover the news.”
She added: “I’m here to fact-check facts because I report on facts. And my job is to try and figure out the truth as best as I know it. I share those facts internally so that our network can be more accurate. That’s what I’ve always done.”
Hours after the Media Buzz appearance, Griffin was forced to return to the fact-checking, during an appearance on Trey Gowdy’s Fox News show. Gowdy, a former Republican congressman, had just been chatting with his guest, the former Trump military adviser Doug Macgregor, and Griffin had some thoughts.
“I feel like I need to correct some of the things that Col Douglas Macgregor said, and I’m not sure that 10 minutes is enough time to do so, because there were so many distortions,” Griffin began.
Macgregor, a former army colonel, had confidently told Gowdy that Putin had no intention of invading any other countries, and said the Russian president was merely “carrying through on something that he has been warning us about at least for the last 15 years”. Macgregor claimed that Russians and Ukrainians were “indistinguishable” from one another, and when asked whether Russia should be allowed to take as much of Ukraine as he likes, Macgregor said: “Yes, absolutely.”
Griffin came on air and swiftly accused Macgregor of sounding like a Putin “apologist”: because “there were so many distortions in what he just said”.
“I don’t think anyone I’ve spoken to at the Pentagon or elsewhere in western intelligence believes they know how far Putin wants to go,” she said.
Griffin said that Macgregor, when an adviser to the Trump administration, had supported pulling US troops out of Germany.
“That kind of projection of withdrawal and weakness is what made Putin think that he could actually move into a sovereign country like Ukraine,” she said.
With no end to the Russian invasion in sight, it seems like Griffin will continue to have her work cut out for her. That was illustrated on Tuesday night when Carlson, Fox News’ most-watched host, wheeled Macgregor back on to the network and appeared to take a veiled swipe at Griffin.
Carlson, whose recent defense of Putin was played on Russia 1 as Putin made his case to the Russian public for war, gave Macgregor the red carpet treatment, lavishing praise on the recently humbled former military man.
“Unlike so many of the TV generals you see all day long, Macgregor is not angling for a board seat at Raytheon,” the Daily Beast quoted Carlson as saying. “Unlike many of the so-called reporters you see on television, he is not acting secretly as a flack for Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. No, Doug Macgregor is an honest man.”
After a brief interview with Macgregor, where the under-fire guest criticized Nato and questioned the amount of money being spent on supporting Ukraine, Carlson turned to the camera.
“Doug Macgregor. A man you can believe,” Carlson said, defying Griffin’s earlier analysis that suggested quite the opposite.