Fox News’ on-air contortions to defend President Donald Trump are by now so familiar that we’ve internalized them as an absurd fixture of political media. But Chief National Correspondent Ed Henry provided a man-bites-dog moment on Wednesday afternoon, reminding us that the network can put pressure on the administration when it wants to—and how rarely that is.
It was not, on the other hand, Scott Pruitt’s lucky day. The EPA administrator has been under mounting scrutiny amid revelations that he lived on the cheap at a Washington townhouse owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist and bypassed the White House to give his favorite aides big pay raises. The Wall Street Journal even reported that administration officials have opened an official inquiry into his conduct.
Feeling the heat on Wednesday, Pruitt slunk over to the normally friendly Fox News to answer some questions about it all. But Henry gave him no quarter:
Henry: If you’re committed to the Trump agenda, why did you go around the president and the White House to give pay raises to two staffers?
Pruitt: I did not. My staff did. I found out about that yesterday and I changed it. I issued a statement yesterday walking back those pay raises that should not have been done.
Henry: Is someone going to be fired for that?
Pruitt: There will be some accountability.
Henry: A career person or a political person?
Pruitt: I don’t know.
Henry: You don’t know? You run the agency. You don’t know who did this?
The cabinet secretary continued to squirm, and Henry kept pushing. He even walked Pruitt into a set-piece question comparing his staffers’ raises to the country’s median national income. It was a rare and beautiful sight above a Fox News chyron:
The interview came a day after EPA officials allowed only Fox News into an event with Pruitt without informing competitors CNN, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Instead of basking in that exclusive access, CNN reports, Fox “alerted the networks and a pool was established allowing networks equal access to the event.” Fox helped the media—that monolithic enemy it so often criticizes—keep up a full-court press on an embattled Trump administration official.
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It’s no coincidence that Pruitt and his handlers looked toward Fox in both situations. The network’s “opinion” offerings comprise a de facto propaganda arm of the Trump administration. In exposing the EPA administrator for what he is, though, Henry also exposed his own colleagues for being nice enough to Trump to get access in the first place.