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What Does It Take for Fox News to Rebuke One of Its Hosts?

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. Photo: Fox News

On her show Saturday night, Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, one of President Trump’s faves, accomplished a rare feat: She said something so awful that the network had to publicly condemn her.

In a segment about freshman Representative Ilhan Omar, Pirro said the Somali-American congresswoman is loyal to Sharia law over the U.S. Constitution. And how does Pirro know this? Because, she said, “Omar wears a hijab.”

By Sunday evening, Fox News issued a statement denouncing Pirro’s racism. “We strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro’s comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar. They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly,” it said.

In her own statement, Pirro attempted to explain herself: “My intention was to ask a question and start a debate, but of course because one is Muslim does not mean you don’t support the Constitution.”

The decision by Fox News to rebuke Pirro for her incendiary comments is notable because it doesn’t happen often. While the network has fired on-air personalities for off-air comments and other inappropriate behavior, it typically lets those on its opinion shows spout whatever nonsense they please (although there is a recent effort to change that).

The latitude the network gives its biggest stars became clear as, just hours after its statement on Pirro, it remained silent on Tucker Carlson’s recently unearthed misogynistic and creepy comments. A spokesperson for Fox News didn’t respond to an email asking why the network condemned Pirro and not Carlson.

So, what kind of offense rises to the level of an official Fox News rebuke? Here are some recent missteps that went too far even for Fox.

When Geraldo Rivera criticized Laura Ingraham for attacking a high-school kid.

Last April, Rivera took issue with Ingraham making fun of school shooting survivor David Hogg for getting rejected from a handful of colleges. After Rivera said Ingraham’s comments were “terrible” and “indefensible,” Fox News publically distanced the network from him. “Geraldo is out of the loop on this issue and speaks for no one but himself,” a network spokesperson said.

When Sean Hannity and Pirro appeared at a Trump rally.

In the heat of last year’s midterms, Hannity and Pirro appeared alongside Trump at a campaign rally. Hannity, who had said earlier in the day that he wouldn’t go onstage with Trump, used his moment in the spotlight to call the press corps “fake news.”

Fox News responded with a statement that said, “Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events. We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight and we are extremely proud of their work.”

And when Hannity appeared in a Trump ad.

In September of 2016, Hannity appeared alongside other “celebrity” Trump supporters in an eight-minute video produced by the Trump campaign. “We were not aware of Sean Hannity participating in a promotional video and he will not be doing anything along these lines for the remainder of the election season,” Fox News said after the video was uploaded.

When Rivera tweeted that “news is a flirty business.”

Following NBC’s firing of Matt Lauer, Rivera defended him as a “real gentleman” and wrote that “news is a flirty business.” Fox News found this defense of sexual harassment irresponsible. “Geraldo’s tweets do not reflect the views of Fox News or its management,” the network said in a statement. “We were troubled by his comments and are addressing them with him.”

When David Bossie told a black Democrat he was out of his “cotton-picking mind.”

A former deputy campaign manager for Donald Trump and Citizens United founder, David Bossie was working as a paid contributor at Fox News when he appeared in a segment with black Democratic strategist Joel Payne. The White House, Payne said, is using racist dog whistles. “You’re out of your cotton-picking mind,” Bossie shot back.

That earned Bossie an on-air rebuke from host Ed Henry, who said, “I want to make clear that Fox News and this show, myself, we don’t agree with that particular phrase. It was obviously offensive.” Bossie was also reportedly suspended for two weeks.

When contributor Kevin Jackson called Kavanaugh accusers “lying skanks.”

The conservative pundit and author was also a Fox News contributor, until he went on a Twitter rant in which he wrote, among other things: “Leftist women are skanky for the most part.”

In statement, Fox News said: “Kevin Jackson has been terminated as a contributor. His comments on today’s hearings were reprehensible and do not reflect the values of Fox News.”

When Stacey Dash cursed about Obama.

Stacey Dash, the Clueless star turned conservative pundit, enjoyed a brief run as a Fox News contributor from 2014 to 2017. In the middle of her tenure, she received a two-week vacation for her criticism of a President Obama speech on terrorism. Obama, she said, didn’t “give a shit” about terrorism. Fox News responded in a statement, calling her comments “inappropriate and unacceptable for our air.”

Dash was unrepentant. After the suspension she tweeted: “Consequences. Some of us have to pay them. Gladly.”

What Does It Take for Fox News to Rebuke One of Its Hosts?