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Fox News Anchor Apologizes For False Report


The scrutiny of Hillary Clinton and her emails in the final days of the presidential campaign led to a remarkable report and retraction this week by a Fox News anchor. Fox News' Bret Baier apologized this week for a report in which he said, without foundation, that an indictment of Hillary Clinton was likely to result from the FBI's investigation of the Clinton Foundation. But the claim continues to reverberate in the conservative media and on the campaign trail. Correspondent David Folkenflik covers the media for NPR, and he's with us now to talk about this. So, David, tell us what Bret Baier said first. And what did he say in his apology?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, in his report, which he repeated on the air, he talked about two different things which had been kind of clustered together in some ways. He reported that the Clinton Foundation investigation is far broader and more serious than people have been reporting and been going on for more than a year. He talked about some aides whose laptops had been discovered not destroyed and said agents are poring through those and said that the emails on - from Hillary Clinton's server that had been found on disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner's laptop are not duplicates, could potentially be classified in nature.

Then there were two things that are really problematic. In one, he said his FBI sources say with 99 percent accuracy that Hillary Clinton's server has been hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies and that information has been taken from them. It turns out that there is no actual evidence to prove that but that is a suspicion, as he later acknowledged. And then there was the question about his reporting that an indictment is likely in the case of - and this is quoting from him - "pay-for-play at the Clinton Foundation, barring some obstruction from the Justice Department." He had to walk back from that, and let's listen to how he apologized for it.


BRET BAIER: Well, that just wasn't inartful. It was a mistake. And for that, I'm sorry. I should have said, they will continue to build their case. Indictment, obviously, is a very loaded word, John, especially in this atmosphere. And no one knows if there would or would not be an indictment, no matter how strong investigators feel their evidence is. It's obviously a prosecutor who has to agree to take the case and make that case to a grand jury.

FOLKENFLIK: And let's be clear, our colleague, Carrie Johnson, who covers the Justice Department and such issues, says there's no grand jury even convened to consider such evidence, much less a question of whether or not they're going to hand up an indictment on that.

MARTIN: And yet, you're telling us that this report has continued to reverberate. Tell us how so.

FOLKENFLIK: Well it's reverberated in a number of ways. It's still present as of, last I checked, today on the Breitbart, the, you know, alt-right website that's been fueling a certain core of the - Donald Trump's electorate to say that, you know, Hillary Clinton or people close to her are likely to be indicted based on Bret Baier's reporting. You've seen it on Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, his own personal website talking about it. You've seen guests on Fox News opinion shows continue to refer to it as though it hasn't been discredited. And you've seen Donald Trump himself talk about it on the campaign trail. Now, Kelly Conway was asked about this on MSNBC. She was speaking to Brian Williams on Thursday. Here's what she said about that.


KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, the damage is done to Hillary Clinton there. No matter how it's being termed, the voters are hearing it for what it is - a culture of corruption.

FOLKENFLIK: And she's not saying that she's apologizing or that he's apologizing. She just says it's there.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, how do you understand these leaks both - from a media context? I mean, do you see this as kind of typical - that's not to not to minimize it, but typical at the end of campaigns - a rush to leak, people trying to push out negative stories while they can? Or do you think it speaks to something else?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, certainly if you're looking at the story in isolation, it sure looks like there are, as Carrie and others have reported, an incredible culture clash between figures at the FBI and others at the Justice Department over the Justice Department's deep skepticism over the ability to bring indictments or convictions against anyone for these Clinton issues, for the emails and for the foundation. Separately, I think that you are seeing it in a crush of other news - revelations brought forward about Donald Trump. Most interestingly, perhaps, in The Wall Street Journal owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also is of the family that controls the Fox News - but about the National Enquirer paying off a woman, essentially, to ensure that her story of an alleged affair never gets to the light of day.

MARTIN: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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