While the right-wing pretended that the Chinese balloon represented some major security threat that President Biden didn’t adequately deal with, now that the news has come out that similar Chinese balloons flew over the U.S. under Donald Trump – well, Fox has some major spinning to do.
Fox News Sunday does its best to blame Biden for not shooting down Chinese balloon sooner while covering for Trump, who did nothing
On Fox News Sunday yesterday, correspondent Lucas Tomlinson reported that the balloon had been shot down on Saturday, then said this:
TOMLINSON: Many Republicans asking what took so long.
Senator Ted Cruz tweeting: Absolutely the right thing to do. But Biden should have done it before the Chinese spy balloon went across the entire country.
U.S. officials tell FOX it's not the first time Chinese spy balloons have flown over the United States. About four months ago, a Chinese spy balloon crashed in the Pacific near Hawaii. Others were spotted over Texas and Florida, dating back to the Trump administration, but never previously acknowledged publicly.
Tomlinson never questioned why the Trump administration had never shot down a Chinese balloon.
Sen. Tom Cotton did his part on Fox News Sunday, with an assist from the host
Fox News Sunday host Shannon Bream furthered the GOP messaging by suggesting to guest Sen. Tom Cotton that Biden should have shot down the balloon before it got to the U.S.:
BREAM: General Keane, familiar to our viewers, says it's his belief that we knew about this when it left mainland China. We would have a way to track it over the Pacific. He is questioning why we didn't take it out then.
Not surprisingly, Cotton accused Biden of failing some grave (but bogus) test:
COTTON: Well, Shannon, what began as spy balloon has become a trial balloon, testing President Biden's strength and resolve. And unfortunately, the president failed that test. And that's dangerous for the American people. The president was paralyzed for entire week by a balloon.
We should have shot this balloon down over the Aleutian Islands. We should have never allowed it to transit the entire continental United States. And I think there's a lot of open questions that the administration needs to answer to Congress on behalf of the American people about why they didn't.
I think part is the president's reluctance to take any action that will be viewed as provocative or confrontational towards the Chinese communists. I would say what's provocative and confrontation is sending spy balloon all across America.
Bream is not a bad anchor, especially by Fox standards. But rather than explore with Cotton, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, what Trump did or did not do, she euphemistically referred to Chinese balloons going over the U.S. during the Trump years as “under previous administrations.”
Cotton exonerated Trump but tried to blame Obama
Cotton gave what seemed like too-cute answers about Trump's inactions – yet baselessly pinned blame on the Obama administration.
COTTON: I have spoken to a lot of former Trump administration officials. They say they're not aware of anything like this happening during their administration. It's possible maybe that happened first during the Obama administration and the military was told at the time that this is no big deal and they shouldn't raise the alarm bells on it.
We need to get answers to that as well, though. I think some may be conflating what Lucas just reported, you know, balloons floating within the 12-mile exclusionary zones of places like Hawaii or Guam and a spy balloon going all across the middle of the country, those are two very different circumstances.
Maybe what's even more worrisome is, one, did our senior military know about these balloons in the past and not inform their civilian superiors during the Trump administration? Or maybe worst of all, did we not know about these balloons in the past and we only learned them in retrospect by studying historical data?
Again, these are all open questions for which the American people deserve answers and we in Congress are going to get those answers.
First of all, Cotton did not say if any of the Trump officials he spoke with would have had direct knowledge of the balloons. Second, if a member of the Intelligence Committee has no knowledge of previous balloons, doesn’t that immediately suggest that they were not serious incursions?
Also, while Cotton was suggesting that the balloon incursion under Trump didn’t traverse the U.S., the Pentagon had already reported otherwise. From Media Matters:
On February 2, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement that “instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years.” On February 4, a senior defense official went into more detail during a background press briefing, adding that Chinese “government surveillance balloons transited the continental United States briefly at least three times during the prior administration and once that we know of at the beginning of this administration.”
In fact, Cotton came close to admitting that the balloon was nothing to worry about:
COTTON: I got to tell your viewers, if they're worried about a spy balloon flying across middle of America, let me tell them about the TikTok app that they may have on their phone and what it means for their security and their privacy and that of their children, as well.
Of course, that didn’t stop him from repeating his unsubstantiated claim that Biden had somehow suffered some huge defeat. “Well, unfortunately, I think the humiliation this week was inflicted by Chinese communist on the president,” he added. “I mean, the idea that we are going to let this go all across America, that a spy balloon completed its spy mission before we shot it down I'm afraid is an embarrassment to the United States.”
More BS balloon freak-out on Fox
But that was mild compared to some of the other craziness on Fox. The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona has a good recap:
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), for instance, wildly speculated to Fox News that the balloon could be carrying “bioweapons” from Wuhan. Fox News’ resident ex-Real World power couple Sean Duffy and Rachel Campos-Duffy breathlessly suggested that President Joe Biden waited to take down the craft because he was “compromised” by China due to son Hunter’s laptop—and then wondered if he had to get “permission” from the CCP to shoot the balloon. Fox star Jesse Watters even aired fake news about a balloon explosion over Montana—that is, whenever he wasn’t peddling insane solutions for destroying the airship.
Fox can't get its story straight trying to cover for Trump's inaction on Chinese balloon
Cotton and Bream were not the only ones trying to thread the propaganda needle of accusing Biden of some huge foreign-policy blunder, by waiting a few days to shoot down the balloon, while glossing over the fact that Trump did nothing at all about at least three similar incidents.
More from Media Matters:
FoxNews.com published a report which quoted Trump and many of his senior defense, national security, and intelligence officials denying that these surveillance balloon flights happened during their tenure. The Fox reporter for that piece, Brooke Singman, baselessly speculated that military officials knew of these incidents and didn’t inform the Trump administration — even as she quoted an official source explaining the balloon overflights “went undetected” at the time.
It's worth pointing out that Media Matters also reported that anchor John Roberts said “there doesn’t seem to be any proof” that Chinese balloons ever crossed the U.S. during the Trump years.
But it was Ainsley Earhardt's effort to exonerate Trump on Fox & Friends that grabbed my attention.
Via Media Matters:
Co-host Ainsley Earhardt, clearly reading from a paper script rather than a teleprompter, contradicted Fox’s own reporting to claim the U.S. military withheld information about the previous balloon incursions into the U.S., saying: “They said the balloon incidents were logged during the Trump administration, but never reported to the chair of the Joint Chiefs, never reported to the defense secretary or President Trump because they were, quote: ‘Relatively minor territorial incursions.’”
However, the quote Earhardt read to accuse the U.S. military of withholding information about previous Chinese surveillance balloon flights in the U.S. does not appear in FoxNews.com’s own reporting or apparently anywhere else easily found, raising questions about the source Fox & Friends seems to be quoting to make Trump look better.
Media Matters is totally correct. And you can watch the Fox & Friends poutrage over the supposed failure of the U.S. military (which Fox News hates, while pretending to love the troops) in the clip below. But if there's even a grain of truth in Earhardt's claim, it also suggests that Chinese spy balloons are not a huge problem to U.S. security.
Nevertheless, you can best believe that the three Fox & Friends propagandists, as well as their colleagues at the network, in Congress and in the Republican party, will never admit that and will continue to blame the military and any other scapegoat expedient to their politics and/or paychecks.
You can watch the spin below from the February 5, 2023 Fox News Sunday and the February 6, 2023 Fox & Friends.