If there were ever a journalist professional enough not want to become part of the stories she covers, it would be Jennifer Griffin, Fox News's longtime, widely respected National Security Correspondent. But in recent weeks, since shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, she's made a number of headlines herself — not so much for her reporting (which has been excellent), but for the contrast she has repeatedly drawn, on-air, between the facts surrounding the Russia/Ukraine conflict and the opposing narratives created by a number of her network's political commentators.
Fox viewers got their first taste of it back on February 18th, a few days before the invasion began. Griffin was invited onto The Five to talk about the looming crisis, and came into a segment on the heels of a panel discussion. That discussion included two of the show's hosts, Greg Gutfeld and Kennedy, suggesting that the Biden administration was over-inflating or even faking the international situation for political purposes — perhaps to draw attention away from recent findings from the Durham investigation.
Griffin, a professional who takes her job as a journalist very seriously, felt inclined to set the record straight.
"First of all, I need to level set with the conversation I’ve just been listening to," she said. "What we are witnessing right now is not something that’s changed in the last 24 hours. If you go back to notes that I’ve been sending out for the last two weeks, this is something we’ve been watching in terms of you–have commercial satellite imagery, you have the buildup of forces, the type of forces, the numbers of forces, things that we’ve been told in advance to look for... All of that is ticking up."
She added, "Right now, every American should be watching this and knowing that this is deadly serious. This is not some wag-the-dog situation. To even mention the Durham probe in the same sentence as what we know, and what we can see with our own eyes in terms of the military buildup and knowing what Vladimir Putin is capable of–I served in Moscow from 1996 to ’99. I watched as Vladimir Putin rose. I remember the apartment blocks that were blown up by his KGB, his FSB as a pretext to go into Chechnya. Go look at those images of Chechnya and how carpet-bombed Chechnya was when the Russian military moves in. This is not a precision, small pinpointed strike. This will be the full weight of the Russian military going into Ukraine if someone doesn’t stop it in the coming days.”
Griffin was right of course, and the truth bombs she dropped that day really did illustrate the profound disconnect that often exists between Fox News reporting and Fox News commentary. This particular detachment continued all the way up until the day of the invasion, with top-tier FNC hosts including Tucker Calrson arguing that the story was being over-hyped, the conflict was nothing more than a "border dispute", there wouldn't be an invasion, and — when one thinks about it — Vladmir Putin wasn't even such a bad guy.
This went on even as Griffin continued to appear on various analysis shows, politely but effectively dismantling the preferred partisan messaging of hosts including Sean Hannity, Steve Doocy, and Harris Faulkner to provide Fox viewers with hard facts and pertinent information.
Bernard Goldberg, the owner of this website, has been arguing for some time that when you watch politically-opposed cable-news networks like Fox News and MSNBC, what you're witnessing through selective messaging is two very different Americas; perhaps even two different worlds. What's remarkable is that the same can be said of FNC's reporting division versus their commentary side. It's not even apparent that most Fox commentators even bother to watch their own network's reporting. So, on occasions when these two worlds meet, it's like oil and water.
In Late February, Griffin talked to MediaBuzz's Howard Kurtz about the media attention she had drawn for correcting her Fox colleagues on-air.
"I cover the news," she said. "I’ve been part of the news division since those beginning days. I’m here to fact-check facts, because I report on facts. And my job is to try and figure out the truth as best as I know it. I share those facts internally so that our network can be more accurate. That’s what I’ve always done. There’s nothing different than what I’ve been doing for the last 26 years working for Fox."
Generally speaking, she's right. There have certainly been other times over her long tenure at Fox when Griffin has cleared up faulty information put out by people on her network. But what we've seen in recent weeks more resembles a campaign, and the explanation for it has been pretty obvious: FNC's commentary side has grown increasingly unhinged from both reality and basic tenets of public responsibility.
From casually bolstering outlandish conspiracy theories (and those who trumpet them), to mocking honorable people's suffering, to assigning the worst possible motives to anyone deemed to be a political opponent (or merely a useful prop), this is not the Fox News of yesteryear.
Case in point, it's hard to imagine people at the old Fox News bringing on a figure like Retired Colonel Doug Macgregor to offer pro-Putin talking points on Ukraine. Yet, even after Jennifer Griffin spent several minutes discrediting Macgregor's wild, factually-challenged claims during a recent Fox News weekend appearance, Macgregor was invited onto Tucker Carlson's prime-time show just a few days later... to repeat them. Carlson even introduced Macgregor as an "honest man" who "unlike so many of the so-called reporters you see on television, is not acting secretly as a flack for Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon." Being that Griffin reports from the Pentagon, Carlson's dopey implication was clear.
It's worth reminding people this is the same Tucker Carlson who publicly sided with Russia over Ukraine, and argued that Putin wasn't the despicable figure that American liberals are, right up until the day of the invasion.
Fortunately, internal animus hasn't deterred Griffin from proceeding with her role as a network fact-checker. She keeps pushing back on deeply flawed analysis from both sides of the Russia/Ukraine conflict, and her integrity seems to have inspired others at Fox to do the same.
While this has certainly been an embarrassing experience for affected Fox News commentators, and has drawn Griffin the ire of conspiracy nuts of the Putin and Pizzagate persuasion, I think it's ultimately a very good and healthy thing for the network. FNC commentary has been in desperate need of disruptors for some time — serious people from outside of the right-wing infotainment echo-chamber who are much more concerned with conveying the truth than stoking and monetizing desired emotions from their viewers.
A few days into the invasion of Ukraine, Arc Digital's Berny Belvedere tweeted a thought that I keep thinking about:
He makes a very good point, as demonstrated last month when a number of FNC commentators seemed genuinely annoyed that international tensions over Putin's build-up of troops at the Ukraine border were stealing oxygen away from the Canadian truckers story that had led their nightly programs.
There was a time, a few years back, when one could turn on Fox and pretty quickly find smart, mature, informed analysis of stories of consequence. Special Report has always been a good resource (though Bret's lost nearly all of his credible panelists), and in prime-time, people like Charles Krauthammer and straight news journalists were regularly brought onto the O'Reilly Factor to provide it. Megyn Kelly was even better in this regard, making a conscious choice to enlighten her audience rather than pander to it. There was a good mix.
But these days, on the rare occasions when we see such interaction, it feels out-of-place, and weirdly comes across like a high-school party being broken up by parents arriving home early from a trip. Again, oil and water.
It seems to me that the war in Ukraine could provide an off-ramp of sorts from some of the often cartoonish grievance-culture programming that has largely come to define the network. It could be seen internally as an opportunity to let more adults into the room (and keep them there). While Fox executives understand better than anyone that holding viewers in a constant state of cultural outrage keeps Fox dominating in the ratings, I have to believe that they would prefer not to have to rely on the exceedingly irresponsible rhetoric of ethically-challenged on-air personalities willing to say whatever it takes, no matter how perverse, to hold that spot.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are no limits. There's certainly a strong argument that so many lines have already been crossed at Fox that there's no coming back. But people like Jennifer Griffin boldly stepping up, and effectively upending the conspiratorial nonsense of her colleagues at an important time in world history, has shined a very large spotlight on the problems of a news network that should, by definition, hold itself to certain standards.
Will the powers that be take note? It's highly doubtful, but one can always hope.