AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Newly released documents underscore just how close the Trump administration is with Fox News. The documents show how Fox producers ran questions for former EPA chief Scott Pruitt by his staffers before he went on air. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been following all this and more. He joins us now. And, David, what exactly have you learned about what Fox producers would do?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: So this all goes back to the spring of 2017 when Pruitt was still in office. He later left under an ethical cloud. The Sierra Club obtained emails from producers for the popular morning show "Fox & Friends" in which they were basically in April and May of 2017 running questions by Pruitt's top staffers, getting their approval on questions, making sure he got to make the talking points that he wanted to make and even in one case saying here's the script with which we intend to introduce him - an unusual level of coordinations. And here's what it sounded like when the questions that they approved ahead of time sound like on the air. We're hearing from Steve Doocy here posing the first question.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")
STEVE DOOCY: The press made President Obama out to be the environmental savior. And yet when you look at the number of toxic dumps left on your plate, it's a big number.
SCOTT PRUITT: Absolutely. In fact, Ainsley you said these sites across the country have some of the, you know, uranium and lead posing great risk to the citizens in those areas. An example...
FOLKENFLIK: Scott Pruitt making the talking points he wanted to make bashing the Obama administration. Similarly, Ainsley Earhardt did a follow-up question exactly going to a point that he wanted to make.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")
AINSLEY EARHARDT: Does this mean you can get cancer from - if you're exposed to all of this?
PRUITT: Quite possibly, yes, and that's why it's so important to focus the core of the mission on those areas.
CORNISH: Now, the policy here at NPR is not to share questions with guests beforehand, right? But there are TV news shows where it's quite common for hosts to at least confer with guests. So help us understand. What's the harm here?
FOLKENFLIK: You don't do it with public officials. You don't do it with people in positions of power who you want to hold to account. Even if you're sympathetic, even from a conservative outfit, there has to be some critical distance. Even Fox News - a spokeswoman texted me a statement to say this is serious. It's being addressed internally. You can't collaborate like that.
CORNISH: Is this part of a larger pattern?
FOLKENFLIK: I think there are too many examples to marshal all at once, but we don't have to go far. Just think back a couple of weeks just before this month's elections earlier this month, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, two of the network's most prominent opinion hosts, were literally on the platform on stage with President Trump campaigning for Republican candidates.
CORNISH: Now, we also learned that Fox is still paying a former executive who is now at the White House. What more have you learned about that?
FOLKENFLIK: Bill Shine is the White House communications director, deputy chief of staff. He also was the president of Fox News and left the network, took this job and is still being paid significantly $3.5 million this year by the parent company of Fox News and $3.5 million next year while making decisions about the media, making decisions in fact about how the administration will handle Fox and its competitors. That's, you know, the kind of payments that, in some cases, previous administrations, people would forego.
A point of irony - the woman that Bill Shine replaced, Hope Hicks, left the White House. She's now headed to go to the parent company of Fox News to become their senior executive in charge of their communications policy - another sign of the close ties between the two institutions.
CORNISH: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thanks.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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