When the targeted killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was announced last Thursday, Fox News immediately brought in salesmen of the last (albeit, ongoing) war in the region. The night of the strike on the road to the Baghdad airport, former Bush deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer appeared on the network, painting the act of war as an unequivocally good thing. “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani,” said Fleischer, whose prediction has already proven false.
Fox News’ sale of an open conflict with Iran has continued, often with a curious reversal of their position on the U.S. intel community fueling the argument. Throughout the Trump administration, hosts and guests on the network have decried the “deep state” for intelligence investigations into the president’s connections with Russia, and rolled the critique over into coverage of the Ukraine scandal.
On Friday, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade immediately accepted the administration’s presentation of the intelligence community’s findings on Soleimani, and in a tiff with correspondent Geraldo Rivera, he said that he will “cheer” the killing of the Iranian leader. As the Daily Beast notes, in December, Kilmeade condemned journalist Molly Jong-Fast for not pressing Lisa Page about the deep-state conspiracy in her profile of the former FBI lawyer. In the days following the strike, which also killed an Iraqi military official, Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth offered his intel approval, saying that Trump acted only after the “intelligence lined up.” In September 2018, his estimation was a little different, claiming that the “American people didn’t vote for the deep state.”
Sean Hannity, who has been one of the network’s staunchest critics of the investigations into the president — and claimed last summer that intelligence officers are “trying to screw over Donald Trump — has covered the most distance in his conversion. In June, Hannity hosted a special called “The Deep State’s Day of Reckoning,” in which he and a panel of 10 guests examined the “exculpatory material” not covered by the Mueller investigation. By January, he was praising the attack in Iraq as a “huge victory for American intelligence,” with no mention of his former opinion.
On Monday, the most openly comical reversal of the network’s position toward U.S. intelligence was voiced by Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt, who found it “interesting that people are critical of the president’s decisions, the intelligence community’s decisions,” adding that the public should trust the administration’s word on the strike — even if that word has some bedrock logical flaws.
It is, of course, possible to generally trust the accuracy of the intelligence community’s findings, while critiquing individual actions or examples of overreach. But expect a return to the deep state rhetoric if reports of U.S. intel finding concerning information on Trump emerge as the administration leverages its intelligence on Iran to justify the attack.
Already, there is some programming dissonance. On Monday night, Tucker Carlson addressed the 180-degree turn: “Seems like about 20 minutes ago, we were denouncing these people as the deep state … Now for some reason, we do trust them, implicitly and completely.”