NEW YORK — Fox News Channel on Monday clarified but didn’t apologize for a weekend segment that The New York Times said falsely accused the newspaper of revealing intelligence information that enabled Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to elude capture by U.S. forces two years ago.
Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said Fox was guilty of “sheer hypocrisy” because the network had also reported about a U.S. raid that netted valuable intelligence soon after it took place.
The dispute between the news outlets was magnified by White House attention. A “Fox & Friends” report on Saturday was headlined “NYT foils U.S. attempt to take out al-Baghdadi.” President Donald Trump apparently was watching, because less than a half-hour later he tweeted that the Times “foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist, Al-Baghdadi. Their sick agenda over National Security.”
The issue surfaced following a Friday interview of Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the U.S. special operations command, by Fox correspondent Catherine Herridge. They talked about a May 16, 2015, raid in Syria, where U.S. forces killed a top al-Baghdadi aide and captured his wife. Thomas said the raid garnered a valuable lead that could have led the U.S. to al-Baghdadi but it went cold after it was leaked “in a prominent U.S. newspaper” about a week later. Herridge, writing for Fox’s website, tied it to the Times.
The Pentagon announced the raid the day after it happened, and it was widely reported — including by Herridge, who said on “Fox News Sunday” on May 17 that “a treasure trove of information” was gathered.
The Times published a more detailed story on June 8, 2015, about some of the intelligence gathered in the raid, and that was apparently the story to which Thomas referred.
The Times said that story was described to officials in the Pentagon before it was published and no objections were raised. The newspaper said no senior American official complained publicly about the story until now.
Furthermore, the Times said it stretches credulity to think the security-conscious al-Baghdadi would not have taken steps to protect himself more than three weeks after learning about the raid.
Rhoades Ha said no one from Fox contacted the Times for comment before Herridge’s piece was published. She said the online story was changed to reflect comment from the Times after the newspaper reached out.
Fox host Pete Hegseth repeatedly referred to the “failing” New York Times, echoing the descriptive phrase the Republican president frequently uses. Hegseth said the Times “is not just failing in its credibility. It’s failing our country.”
“It’s failing the American people,” co-host Abby Huntsman said.
“You want a patriotic journalist,” said the third host, Clayton Morris. “This is why the police don’t release information about police investigations — because it jeopardizes their case.”
The Times called the morning show commentary malicious and demanded an apology.
On Monday, “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy aired a portion of Thomas’ remarks. He noted that the Times had described its findings to the Pentagon at the time and that the story had drawn no complaints.
“It wasn’t an apology,” Rhoades Ha said, “nor did it begin to address the larger issues with the ‘Fox & Friends’ weekend segment, one of which was sheer hypocrisy.”
Considering Herridge had said in her 2015 report that intelligence gathered in the raid could lead the U.S. closer to al-Baghdadi, through that logic Fox itself was unpatriotic, she said.
Fox, in a statement, said neither its initial report nor subsequent coverage on the air was inaccurate. The network suggested the Times should check to see whether Thomas’ comments have merit and whether anything revealed in its report hindered U.S. operations.
In a news report on the dispute aired on Fox on Monday, “Media Buzz” host Howard Kurtz criticized his company for not reaching out to the Times for comment following Thomas’ remarks. He didn’t pass judgment on Doocy’s statement.
The dispute surfaced less than a week after Times television critic James Poniewozik said in a review of “Fox & Friends” that Trump was “the show’s subject, its programmer, its publicist and its virtual fourth host.”
This story has been corrected to show the second Times story appeared on June 8, 2015, not June 18, 2015.