Trump on dis­puted claim: Hey, check with Fox News

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - — Erik Wem­ple

At a joint news con­fer­ence Fri­day with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, Pres­i­dent Trump fielded a ques­tion from a Ger­man jour­nal­ist about whether he felt it was a “mis­take” to ac­cuse British in­tel­li­gence of as­sist­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in al­legedly surveilling him. Wrapped up in the ques­tion was a piv­otal is­sue re­gard­ing the relationship be­tween the Trump White House and the con­ser­va­tive me­dia. Af­ter all, the claim about British in­tel­li­gence stemmed di­rectly from a re­port by Fox News’s An­drew Napoli­tano, a former New Jer­sey judge.

“Three in­tel­li­gence sources have in­formed Fox News that Pres­i­dent Obama went out­side the chain of com­mand. He didn’t use the NSA. He didn’t use the CIA. He didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Depart­ment of Jus­tice. He used GCHQ. What the heck is GCHQ? That’s the ini­tials for the British spy­ing agency. They have 24-7 ac­cess to the NSA database,” Napoli­tano said on the March 14 episode of “Fox & Friends.”

In re­sponse to the Ger­man re­porter’s ques­tion, Trump said, “We said noth­ing. All we did was quote a cer­tain very tal­ented le­gal mind who was the one re­spon­si­ble for say­ing that on tele­vi­sion.”

There­with, a full-on con­tra­dic­tion. From the podium on Thurs­day, White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer had re­peated Napoli­tano’s al­le­ga­tions about GCHQ in­volve­ment in sur­veil­lance al­most ver­ba­tim. With that, the White House was ex­ert­ing own­er­ship over the re­port­ing of Fox News. Then, along­side Merkel at the “very fa­mous” White House, Trump di­s­ex­erted own­er­ship. “I didn’t make an opin­ion on it. That was a state­ment made by a very tal­ented lawyer on Fox, so you shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

The shorter ver­sion: Be­fore Fox News’s re­port­ing is chal­lenged, we stand by it. Af­ter Fox News’s re­port­ing is chal­lenged, hey, that’s on them. With this sort of at­ti­tude, how long will it be be­fore Trump loses his al­lies in the con­ser­va­tive me­dia?

Ac­cord­ing to Fox News, Napoli­tano is stand­ing by his story. Yet Fox News an­chor Shep­ard Smith on Fri­day af­ter­noon said that the news side of the or­ga­ni­za­tion couldn’t con­firm the con­tention. “Fox & Friends,” by con­trast, is con­sid­ered an opin­ion show. Per­haps the net­work should send out user guides to its view­ers.

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