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Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade texted President Donald Trump’s chief of staff on Jan. 6 about getting him to call off the attack.
The text messages were revealed by the House select committee investigating what happened and read aloud during a hearing. Hannity and Ingraham claimed, wrongly, that the texts showed them saying exactly the same things they had said on air.
Some of the messages the Fox News hosts delivered on air Jan. 6 were different — suggesting, for example, that antifa instigators may have been behind what happened.
As supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, three Fox News hosts known for supporting the president texted his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, calling on Trump to speak out against what was unfolding.
"Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home," primetime host Laura Ingraham said in one such message. "This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy."
The alarm that Ingraham and fellow hosts Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade sounded in their urgent messages to Meadows represented a striking departure from some of the public comments they delivered on the Fox News airwaves that day. On various programs, they played down the violence and, in some cases, suggested that antifa may have been to blame.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., read the texts out loud during a Dec. 13 hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. A day later, Hannity and Ingraham claimed they had always been consistent with their viewers.
"I said to Mark Meadows the exact same thing I was saying live on the radio at that time and on TV that night on Jan. 6 and well beyond Jan. 6," Hannity said Dec. 14 during his show.
"Both publicly and privately I said what I believe, that the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a terrible thing," Ingraham said.
Were they consistent?
A review of their on-air and social media comments show that on Jan. 6, Ingraham, Hannity and Kilmeade broadly condemned the attack while at the same time questioning whether those who stormed the Capitol were Trump supporters. Ingraham and Hannity also minimized the event, likened it to protests from the summer of 2020, and entertained the conspiracy theory that antifa instigated it. Guests on Ingraham’s show also posited that antifa may have been involved.
Fox News hosts on 1/6: what they texted vs. what they said pic.twitter.com/EQtkpLCZ7s— The Recount (@therecount) December 15, 2021
Ingraham tweeted that it was "disgraceful" and said on air that those who stormed the building were "criminals." Hannity said he didn’t "want to see our Capitol building breached like this ever again." A day later, Kilmeade, who co-hosts the morning talk show "Fox & Friends," called the replacement of an American flag with a Trump flag "one of the worst things I’ve ever seen."
But their other comments on Jan. 6 undermined the concerns they shared in private — that the threat was serious, and that the president had influence with the crowd.
"I do not know Trump supporters that have ever demonstrated violence that I know of in a big situation," said Kilmeade, who had texted Meadows: "Please get (Trump) on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.
"Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd," Ingraham said on her own show.
PolitiFact designated that and other lies about the Jan. 6 attack the 2021 Lie of the Year.
"They are telling the president or those who work for him one thing, and they are telling their audience another," said Aly Colón, professor of media ethics at Washington and Lee University, who previously taught at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns PolitiFact.
"Journalists should not concurrently report the news publicly while privately attempting to change the story that they are publicly claiming to cover," added Deni Elliott, professor of media ethics at the University of South Florida. "It is deceptive to withhold from audience members details about how purported journalists are participating in the story. That is simple."
Ingraham did tweet out a BuzzFeed News story on Jan. 7 disproving an erroneous Washington Times article that she had cited on Jan. 6, which falsely claimed antifa activists were identified among the rioters.
But she continued to downplay the attack in the months that followed. She claimed repeatedly on her show that what happened was not an insurrection. She minimized the presence of weapons among the rioters. She mocked the police officers who testified about their experience with "best performance awards."
In November, Kilmeade invited Fox News host Tucker Carlson on "Fox & Friends" to promote his falsehood-filled series "Patriot Purge," which pushed the conspiracy theory that the FBI incited the rioters as part of a false-flag operation.
"Do you think maybe, perhaps, and maybe you don't want to give away your series, you find indications that the FBI was actually pushing for this invasion?" Kilmeade asked Carlson on air.
Addressing the texts on Dec. 14, Hannity likened the Capitol attack again to the protests of summer 2020 that followed the murder of George Floyd.
Here are the texts that Ingraham and Hannity sent Meadows on Jan. 6, compared with some of the other misleading on-air comments they made the same day.
What Ingraham texted Meadows on Jan. 6: "Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy."
What Ingraham said Jan. 6 on Fox News’ "The Ingraham Angle," starting at 10 p.m. EST:
"Earlier today, the Capitol was under siege by people who can only be described as antithetical to the MAGA movement. Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd … But the point remains, if you were a Trump supporter hoping to display your support for the president, well, today's antics at the Capitol did just the opposite."
"An overwhelming majority of them — 99%, more than 99%, had to be — were peaceful. But because of a small contingent of loons, these patriots have been unfairly maligned."
"I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets. Black helmets. Brown helmets. Black backpacks. The uniforms that you saw in some of these crowd shots … Those knee pads and all the pads on their elbows."
"We knew this big crowd was coming, right? We knew they were coming, we knew. Whether antifa was in there or not. We’ll find out more."
"I have been to dozens of Trump events and the criminal actions we saw today do not represent this movement. The Washington Times reported today that at least two antifa were in the crowd. Now let me be clear, and I said this on Twitter today. Any effort to use this movement as cover for illegal acts of violence is wrong. We’re trying to save this country, not to tear it down."
What Hannity texted Meadows on Jan. 6: "Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol."
What Hannity said Jan. 6 during the second hour of his 3-6 p.m. EST radio show:
"They were there to peacefully protest. Then we had the reports that groups like antifa, other radical groups — I don't know the names of all of them — that they were there to cause trouble."
"There were reports that some of these groups were telling their members to dress up in, quote, ‘MAGA gear.’"
What Hannity said Jan. 6 on Fox News’ "Hannity," starting at 9 p.m. EST:
"Everyone knew going in today that this crowd was going to be massive. They knew there were hundreds of thousands of people that came to town. We also knew that there’s always bad actors that will infiltrate large crowds. I don’t care if they’re radical left, radical right. I don’t know who they are. They’re not people I would support."
"The overwhelming majority" of the people who showed up at the rally in Washington that preceded the riot were peaceful. "The 99%, as we say."
"Knowing that often agitators insert themselves, from whatever crazy point of view they might have, inside a big crowd like that, why were they so ill-prepared?"
"I always distinguish the 99% that were peaceful today."
Fox News, "Hannity," Dec. 14, 2021
Fox News, "The Ingraham Angle," Dec. 14, 2021
The Washington Post, "Fox News hosts urged Meadows to have Trump stop Jan. 6 violence, texts show," Dec. 13, 2021
Media Matters for America, "Fox & Friends hosts Tucker Carlson to promote his January 6 'false flag' series," Nov. 1, 2021
Mediaite, "Laura Ingraham Attacks Capitol Police Officers’ Testimony With Mocking ‘Best Performance’ Awards," July 27, 2021
Acyn on Twitter, June 7, 2021
Fox News, "The Ingraham Angle," March 2, 2021
Mediaite, "Dinesh D’Souza Says Capitol Riots Were ‘Just a Bunch of Rowdy People Walking Through a Hallway,'" Feb. 24, 2021
Fox News, "The Ingraham Angle," Feb. 23, 2021
Media Matters for America, "Fox News says we should respond to the January 6 insurrectionists by implementing their anti-voting agenda," Jan. 8, 2021
Fox News, "Hannity," Jan. 6, 2021
Fox News, "The Ingraham Angle," Jan. 6, 2021
Fox News, "The Story with Martha MacCallum," Jan. 6, 2021
The Sean Hannity Show on Spotify, Jan. 6, 2021
Media Matters for America, "Laura Ingraham suggests insurrectionists weren't Trump supporters because Trump supporters don't wear helmets and knee pads," Jan. 6, 2021
Media Matters for America, "Sean Hannity speculates "groups like antifa" are the ones storming the US Capitol," Jan. 6, 2021
Matthew Gertz on Twitter, Jan. 6, 2021
C-Span on YouTube, "Rep. Liz Cheney Reads January 6th Texts from Fox News Hosts to Mark Meadows," Dec. 13, 2021
PolitiFact, "The 2021 Lie of the Year: Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance," Dec. 14, 2021
Email correspondence with Fox News, Dec. 15, 2021
Phone interview with Aly Colón, professor of media ethics at Washington and Lee University, Dec. 15, 2021
Email interview with Deni Elliott, professor of media ethics at the University of South Florida, Dec. 15, 2021