Fox Anchors' Texts With Mark Meadows Contrast With Network's Coverage : Consider This from NPR On Jan. 6, three Fox News hosts desperately urged former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to get the president to tell supporters to stop attacking the Capitol building.

The texts, which were made public this week as the House of Representatives voted to hold Meadows in contempt, reveal a starkly different message than the one those same Fox hosts delivered to their audiences about the insurrection.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach discuss the gap between Fox's messaging behind closed doors and in front of the camera.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Fox Hosts' Texts To White House Official Contradict Coverage Of Jan. 6 Capitol Siege

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LIZ CHENEY: We are here to address a very serious matter.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming at a congressional hearing this week.

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CHENEY: Contempt of Congress by a former chief of staff to a former president of the United States. We do not do this lightly.

SHAPIRO: She is on the select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that involved many people trying to block the certification of the presidential election. On Monday the committee unanimously recommended Mark Meadows be charged with contempt of Congress. The former White House Chief of Staff skipped a scheduled deposition and refused to cooperate with a subpoena.

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CHENEY: But this vote on contempt today relates principally to Mr. Meadows' refusal to testify about text messages and other communications that he admits are not privileged.

SHAPIRO: And on Tuesday the full House voted to hold Meadows in contempt, setting the stage for the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute him. Those text messages Cheney mentioned - some of them are from three Fox News hosts sent to Meadows on January 6 as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol building. Cheney read them aloud.

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CHENEY: Quote, "Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy," Laura Ingraham wrote. "Please get him on TV - destroying everything you have accomplished," Brian Kilmeade texted. Quote, "can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol," Sean Hannity urged.

SHAPIRO: Those text messages help us understand what Meadows knew about the events of that day. And they also reveal a disconnect between what Ingraham, Kilmeade and Hannity clearly knew and what they told their audience about the attack.

JONAH GOLDBERG: This is the thing that has made me feel like I was in an "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" movie for the last five years.

SHAPIRO: That's Jonah Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and former commentator for Fox News.

GOLDBERG: The real outrage about it, to my mind, is that for the next 11 months, a lot of these people decided to go another way and say it was no big deal, that Donald Trump had nothing to do with it.

SHAPIRO: Goldberg cut ties with Fox last month because he disagreed with the network's editorial direction.

GOLDBERG: The Republican Party and conservative media world is full of people who know the truth and say something else.

SHAPIRO: Fox News just announced that it remains the most watched network on basic cable for the sixth straight year. CONSIDER THIS - what do this week's revelations from the January 6 investigation tell us about how much real news millions of people are consuming?

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SHAPIRO: From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Friday, December 17.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Do the Mark Meadows text messages prove that several Fox News personalities lied to viewers for months about what happened on January 6 at the Capitol?

GOLDBERG: Yes. I mean, I could give you some caveats, but yes.

SHAPIRO: Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg again. Put another way, Fox News doesn't appear to be providing its audiences independent, reliable information. Within 24 hours of their text messages with Meadows becoming public this week, Ingraham and Hannity both acknowledged the situation on air, both denying any wrongdoing.

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SEAN HANNITY: Now, all riots obviously are bad - all of them. And on this program, we strongly condemn the violence on January 6 just like we condemned all of the violent riots from the summer of 2020.

LAURA INGRAHAM: Both publicly and privately, I said what I believe - that the breach of the Capitol on January 6 was a terrible thing. Crimes were committed. Some people were unfairly hounded and persecuted and prosecuted. But it was not an insurrection.

SHAPIRO: Yet back on January 6, hours after texting Meadows, Ingraham went on the air to say this.

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INGRAHAM: Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd. We'll have more on that later.

SHAPIRO: For the record, prosecutors have brought charges against more than 700 people in connection to the attack on the Capitol. And so far, there is zero evidence that antifa played any role.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: You know, I think what you heard was an incredible diminishment of how serious it was in terms of what Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity had to say to viewers on their airwaves in front of millions of viewers and a kind of erasure of then-President Donald Trump as a player in all of this.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. He and NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach spoke with my colleague Mary Louise Kelly about what else the texts from Fox hosts to Mark Meadows reveal.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: I want to hear just a little bit more about how these months between January 6 and now, just how big has the gap been between what Fox News hosts were saying on air and what they were texting privately to top White House officials?

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Well, I think what the text messages revealed in many ways is how broadly the narrative around January 6 has shifted. In the moment that it was happening and immediately afterwards, the event was almost universally condemned on the right, including by President Trump. It's important to remember what Donald Trump himself said in taped remarks the day after on January 7.

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DONALD TRUMP: To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay.

DREISBACH: That was January 7. Now, and as soon as this summer, Trump was saying something completely different. He was describing the rioters who have been arrested and charged with crimes as political prisoners. And he says that January 6 was actually just a protest.

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TRUMP: I reverse it. The insurrection took place on November 3rd. That was Election Day. And before and after, that was, to me, the insurrection, and the January 6 was a protest.

KELLY: So what's going on with this evolution? Is this Fox coverage mirroring an evolution in what Trump and his loyalists have been saying? Or are they driving that evolution? Or do you think it's some of both?

DREISBACH: It's a little hard to say who's driving it. It's sort of a chicken and the egg issue, who is in control of this narrative? But I would say that early on, the seeds of this counternarrative were being planted. As you heard, Fox hosts like Laura Ingraham were arguing that leftists or antifa were actually causing the violence, even though rioters who were there that day say that is completely false. Then there was this narrative that the violence was being overblown in order to discredit Trump and his supporters. Most recently, what we've seen is from folks like Tucker Carlson, Fox host, this argument that is largely based on conspiracy theories that federal agents must have been instigating the attack that day, causing a sort of false flag so they could launch a, quote, "war on terror" against Trump supporters. And at this point, I should say, there's really no evidence to support any of those narratives.

KELLY: This prompts a wider question. David, is Fox News - should we be calling it Fox News? This is a TV channel. They track current events. Are they performing journalism?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think we can answer that question just by looking at what's happened in recent days. Fox News at no point is addressing the fact that, you know, these opinion journalists who are prime-time stars are acting essentially as fully part of the Trump political circle. They're never addressing that. That's not - you know, you're still supposed to admit fact against your rooting interest as opinion journalists. It's not happening here. The way to think about Fox News right now is it's a highly profitable political operation to which some journalists are appended, some of them trying to do honest reporting.

KELLY: Well - and some journalists jumping ship, as we saw with Chris Wallace this week.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. Wallace raised objections about Tucker Carlson's documentary that Tom alluded to about January 6 itself, that it was filled with lies and unfounded conspiracy theories. He objected to the CEO, Suzanne Scott, and got nowhere with it.

KELLY: And this brings me to my last question, which is all of this matters because a whole lot of people are watching and listening to what Fox broadcasts. Tom, you have spent the last year talking to people connected to the riots. How closely are they watching? How entrenched are these alternate narratives?

DREISBACH: Well, PolitiFact declared that lies about the January 6 attack on the Capitol or the lie of the year. I think that's a recognition of just how entrenched these views have become. I talked to people who were at the riot who have admitted to breaching the Capitol of their own will. And after the Tucker Carlson series aired on Fox or on Fox Nation, they started questioning their own experience, not based on what they saw or did that day themselves but based on what they saw on TV. And we are seeing some of that playing out in the broader public. You look at polling, and a majority of Republicans think too much attention is being paid to the attack on the Capitol now. And the number of Republicans in the public who say it's important to prosecute the rioters is going down by about 20 points according to Pew Research over just the last several months.

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SHAPIRO: NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach and media correspondent David Folkenflik.

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SHAPIRO: You're listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ari Shapiro.

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