Fox News' Summer of Mistakes and Apologies

FOX News Screen Shot Aretha Franklin-H 2018
FOX News

The network has apologized repeatedly for and clarified technical errors, editorial mistakes and inappropriate remarks.

Fox News is the most successful cable news network in the country, a ratings powerhouse that pumps out profits for parent company 21st Century Fox (despite occasionally falling victim to ad boycotts) and regularly produces high-quality journalism. But, for such a well oiled machine, the network has made a number of mistakes that it has publicly apologized for this summer, raising questions about whether the errors are one-offs or if they speak to a larger issue. (The network has also frequently addressed comments, primarily made by opinion-side hosts, that have drawn widespread scorn.)

Most recently, the network apologized profusely last Thursday for erroneously using a photo of African-American singer Patti LaBelle in a segment about the death of African-American singer Aretha Franklin. "We sincerely apologize to Aretha Franklin’s family and friends,” Fox News vp Jessica Santostefano said in a statement. “Our intention was to honor the icon using a secondary image of her performing with Patti LaBelle in the full-screen graphic, but the image of Ms. Franklin was obscured in that process, which we deeply regret.” (Some pointed out that LaBelle and Franklin did not perform together during the event pictured, which HuffPost called a "huge problem" for the "confusing" apology.)

Fox News has apologized for, clarified or addressed more than a dozen editorial mistakes and incendiary remarks just this summer, according to a Hollywood Reporter review, a number far exceeding competitors MSNBC and CNN. (Fox News would not comment on this report on the record.)

June 5: Fox News @ Night executive producer Christopher Wallace and host Shannon Bream apologized after a photo of a Philadelphia Eagles football player kneeling in prayer was used in a segment about players kneeling in protest during the National Anthem.

June 10: Then-Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Abby Huntsman apologized for inadvertently calling President Trump a "dictator."

June 18: Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham likened child detention centers on the border to "essentially summer camps." After a swift backlash to the remark, the network released a statement, saying in part that "Fox News will never tolerate or give in to attempts to silence diverse viewpoints by agenda-driven intimidation efforts."

June 22: Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade explained on Twitter that, during a morning segment on children taken from their parents, he "didn’t mean to make it seem like children coming into the U.S. illegally are less important because they live in another country." Kilmeade had said on the air, "Like it or not, these aren’t our kids. Show them compassion, but it’s not like he’s doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas."

June 24: Fox News contributor David Bossie apologized for saying that African-American Democratic strategist Joel Payne was "out of his cotton-picking mind." A network spokesperson said the "remarks do not reflect the sentiments of Fox News and we do not in any way condone them," and he was reportedly suspended for two weeks.

July 13: A Fox & Friends First host apologized for a "factual error" in the previous day's show, when it was said that Cal Poly State University "is working to diversify their campus by deliberately reducing the number of white students."

July 23: Fox and Friends First inadvertently booked Democratic congressional candidate Barbara L’Italien instead of Democratic congressional candidate Ann Kirkpatrick and first realized the mistake on air. (The show had booked L'Italien through a press contact who had once worked for Kirkpatrick.) Fox & Friends First executive producer Desiree Dunne explained the error in a statement.

Aug. 9: Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham defended comments she made about immigration a night earlier, which attracted a backlash after she said that "in some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore." Ingraham said the remarks "had nothing to do with race or ethnicity."

Aug. 14: Fox Business Network anchor Trish Regan "clarified her point" following a country-wide backlash after she compared the economic opportunities in Denmark to those in Venezuela.

Aug. 15: Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt apologized for calling a winning gubernatorial candidate a "transgender."

Aug. 16: Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt erroneously said that Japan was a "Communist" country during World War II, leading her co-host Steve Doocy to clarify her remark.

Aug. 16: Fox News vp of media Jessica Santostefano apologized after America's Newsroom erroneously used a photo of African-American singer Patti LaBelle in a segment about the death of African-American singer Aretha Franklin.

Aug. 20: Fox Business Network said the Mornings with Maria production team erred when it played the La Roux song "Bulletproof" during a segment about bullet-proof backpacks for children. La Roux singer Elly Jackson said the song choice was "abhorrent."

While the network has not acknowledged or apologized for the error, Fox News primetime host Sean Hannity has accused former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of "acid-washing" her emails more than 80 times on television this year, a claim that's been widely debunked. After THR called attention to the error in a story published June 25, Hannity did not repeat the mistake again on TV until July 23, when he made the error three times in an eight-day period. He has repeated the error several more times in August, particularly in the midst of bad legal headlines facing two former Trump aides, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.

A former Fox News executive, presented with the list above, said the number of apologies "seems higher than in the recent past." The former exec said it could be evidence that the channel is softening a bit and becoming more responsive to complaints, asking, "Are we seeing a kinder, gentler Fox News? ... There does seem a rush to apologize when someone gets offended."

The apologies all came during the tenure of Suzanne Scott, who was elevated to the channel's top job in mid-May (Jay Wallace was promoted to president at the same time). Scott reportedly held a meeting in late June during which she told show producers "to protect the talent and the brand" by preventing inappropriate remarks on air.

A cable news executive who worked at a rival channel explained both the walk-backs and the clarifications by saying that "Fox anchors are feeling more free to give expression to their id, to let loose and push the invective envelope." The executive added, "If the price is the occasional tepid apology or clarification, [it's a] small price to pay."

Industry analyst Andrew Tyndall said the frequent mind-meld between Fox News and the White House raises the stakes for the network's coverage. "Mistakes that previously would have been gone unnoticed or would have been shrugged off as slips or flubs, are now, properly, being treated as matters of great consequence," he said.