Fox News, in response to the recent developments from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia and collusion with President Trump’s campaign, has developed a counter-narrative that can compete with the blockbuster announcements coming out of Mueller’s office. Spearheaded by their flagship show host Sean Hannity, Fox is reacting to escalating releases from Mr. Mueller, such as the guilty plea of former White House Defense Secretary Micheal Flynn, with their own story that mirrors the Russia Investigation, even up to the point where they accuse Hillary Clinton and the FBI of collusion.
The key to understanding how Fox is copying Mueller’s investigation is the order of events. Fox does not release new information in their Clinton/FBI theory until after a major announcement about the Russia Investigation. Of course, as Mueller makes his way into Trump’s inner circle through Federal indictments, Hannity and friends are ramping up their reporting to include major salacious developments in their narrative, most recently accusing the FBI of sponsoring a coup of the sitting president.
What is a ‘mirror narrative?’
Imagine a fourth grade elementary school class voting on a class president. Two candidates, we’ll call them Candidate A and Candidate B, are in fierce competition to win the election. During the campaign, information comes out that Candidate A cheated on one of his tests. Candidate B jumps on this revelation and uses it in speeches to tell the student voters in class why his opponent is dishonest and that he should be the one they vote for.
Candidate A is in deep trouble. He realizes that he will lose the election if his classmates continue to focus on his cheating (we’ll call it Cheatgate). In reaction to Cheatgate, Candidate A not only denies the accusation that he cheated, but he tells a misleading story that Candidate B not only cheated on a test, but the test was a final, which we all know would be worse than cheating on a regular test. With his story, Candidate A has a counter-narrative that not only exonerates himself, but labels his opponent as the one who really cheated.
We need to pause here to point out two of the fundamental flaws of a mirror narrative. The first point comes in the form of a question: why would Candidate A accuse Candidate B of cheating, when he could’ve chosen any other accusation to make? Candidate A could’ve accused Candidate B of stealing money, or being a bully… but why cheating? Remember, this is a mirror narrative, so the false accusations coming from Candidate A need to mirror the allegations leveled against him.
The second fundamental flaw in a mirror narrative is the order of events. Notice from our example that the damaging info about candidate A came out first, and then Candidate A started leveling accusations at Candidate B. If the cheating of Candidate A was never released, would Candidate B have even made accusations?
A mirror narrative will generally follow three steps, again using the school election as an example:
- Denial – The first step in any release of scandalous information on an individual is to deny, deny, deny. Candidate A denies cheating on his test.
- Reactive Story – step number 2 is to establish a counter-narrative that implicates the opponent of the accused as the true rule breaker. Candidate A accuses Candidate B of cheating also, but when Candidate B cheated, it was on a final.
- Escalation – As further revelations come out about Candidate A, his accusations about candidate B become more salacious and inflammatory, further deflecting and distracting from the truth of the matter.
Fox News’ Mirror Narrative
If Fox News is presenting a mirror narrative, they will fulfill the three requirements: denial, reactive story, and escalation. Let’s see if Fox’s counter-narrative holds water. Does Hannity’s story ring true, or is it a deliberate attempt to muddy the political waters and shift the focus from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton and most recently, the justice system itself?
But wait, you say, Sean Hannity and Donald Trump have been accusing ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton since before Trump even started running for president. Didn’t that information come out long before any talk of Russia? Well, that is true. It seems Sean Hannity has a revolving wheel of conspiracies he can choose from on any given day. The specific counter-narrative we are addressing here refers to the release of anti-Trump text messages between FBI investigator Peter Strzok and his mistress Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer.
With the release of these texts, Sean Hannity & Co. finally had an impetus to forward their counter-narrative that proved what they had been railing about for months, that Hillary Clinton had acted illegally by removing classified information from a government facility and then destroying the evidence. There was an FBI investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s actions, and because Peter Strzok worked as an investigator on the case, Fox News and Hannity have raised their flag, accusing the FBI of treating the Clinton case with ‘kid gloves,’ letting Mrs. Clinton off easy.
Strzok’s texts, combined with the fact that Strzok worked on both the Clinton and Trump/Russia investigations, gave Fox News and Sean Hannity the crumb of conspiracy to develop a story that not only explained the tainted Russia Investigation, but put a spotlight back on Clinton, adding the FBI into the conspiracy mix. From there, the story from Fox News only became bigger and more salacious.
Order of Events
Sean Hannity and his coworkers at Fox, along with the president and his administration have been labeling any negative coverage of Mr. Trump as fake news. Then the accusations came out indicating President Trump and his campaign colluded with Russian operatives to win the election. Fake news. Then Trump fired James Comey. Real news. When Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate, again it was hard to deny that it was fake news. Real news trumps fake news.
So when real events on Capitol Hill reinforced what was being reported by the mainstream media (fake news), it became harder for Hannity & Co. to dismiss the news as false. They had by necessity to concoct their own counter-narrative that not only exonerated Trump, but confirmed their conspiracy theory that Washington DC was run by a leftist, faceless Deep State.
By the time the real, verifiable news broke that four people from the Trump campaign had been charged with federal crimes and two of them had already pleaded guilty, it seemed impossible that Fox News would wriggle their way out of the fake news narrative. Then, the Peter Strzok texts were released. Hallelujah! All at Fox rejoice! They had their counter-narrative.
Only now, after the indictments of Flynn, Manafort, Popadopaulos, and Gates, the only way for Sean Hannity’s narrative to make sense was for the justice department to be in on the whole conspiracy against Donald Trump. Talk about raising the stakes.
How far will they go? As far as they need to.
Let us hope that justice prevails and Mr. Mueller is left alone to do his work. As far as President Trump is concerned, methinks the man protest too much.