In January 2016, Catherine Herridge, Fox News’ longtime chief intelligence correspondent, reported a huge scoop: No fewer than 150 FBI agents were investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails and the private server she used while serving as secretary of state. The number, as part of Herridge’s exclusive report based on anonymous sources, was shocking. If the FBI had assigned 150 agents to fan out across the country and were treating the Clinton email case as one of the most pressing crime probes in the country, akin to a terrorist attack investigation, then, of course, Fox News’ favorite controversy at the time must represent a truly blockbuster scandal, right? I mean, 150 agents.
It turns out Herridge was off by a bit. In fact, she was off by roughly 140 agents. NBC News soon confirmed that the FBI had put roughly 12 people on the Clinton investigation. Herridge made big headlines when she reported 150 agents were on the case, and her estimate was off by more than 90 percent.
In some newsrooms, a shocking misstep like that could get you fired. But not at Fox News, of course, where the “news” is designed to provide content for GOP-style propaganda. And that’s why Herridge’s embarrassing miscue on the 150-agent story probably isn’t even her most egregious bout of inaccurate reporting. For many years, she managed to get report after report wrong about the Benghazi terror attack, the Clinton emails, and the Clinton Foundation. (She was aggressively wrong on the Benghazi story for three years, which isn’t easy.)
But no, Herridge’s job was never in jeopardy, because Fox News is in the misinformation business. What is surprising today though, is that executives at CBS News looked at Herridge’s blotted record and recently decided they wanted her on their team. Funny how the Beltway media works. And it’s funny how mainstream media outlets appear so anxious to make nice with conservatives that they’re willing to hire someone with a resume of misinformation like Herridge’s.
“Catherine Herridge is a skilled investigative correspondent who has consistently brought depth and originality to her reporting,” said Christopher Isham, vice president and Washington bureau chief for CBS News. “We are very excited that she will be joining the outstanding team at the Washington Bureau.” Ironically, almost nothing in CBS’s statement about Herridge was accurate.
What’s especially odd about CBS’s decision to hire a Benghazi fabulist like Herridge is that the network was rocked with a far-ranging scandal in 2013, when correspondent Lara Logan aired a completely untrue 60 Minutes report that advanced unfounded Republican claims about Benghazi.
Preparing the unsound report, Logan reportedly met behind the scenes with one of the GOP’s most vociferous Benghazi crusaders, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. According to a report in New York magazine, Graham helped shape the CBS Benghazi story. When the segment aired, he immediately cheered it on, calling it a “death blow” to the White House and announcing he’d block every White House appointee until he got more answers about Benghazi. Then when huge holes began to appear in the story after the star “eyewitness” admitted he falsified claims, “Logan called Graham and asked for help,” New York reported. Logan soon took a leave of absence from CBS News.
Meanwhile, I realize that Herridge gets touted as a “highly respected” journalist by her Beltway media colleagues. But that says a lot about the low barrier for quality at Fox News. It also says a lot about how Beltway reporters are often so anxious to claim Fox is home to actual journalists. But no, Herridge’s public record does not suggest she’s a “highly respected” journalist.
At Fox News, Herridge often peddled whatever nonsense Republicans on the Hill were pushing (Clinton’s email server was hacked by a crime syndicate! President Barack Obama was MIA the night of the Benghazi attack!), and then refused to correct the record when all the dopey claims fell flat. She basically ran an ongoing misinformation campaign on behalf of the GOP, and now CBS News wants her on its elite time slot.
And seriously, how do you get the Benghazi story aggressively wrong for three years if you’re not consciously trying to get the story wrong? In truth, Benghazi served as Herridge’s meal ticket, which means that in the world of cable news, Benghazi guaranteed she would get a lot airtime if the story stayed front and center. (She once reported as breaking news that Obama had been in the White House the night of the Benghazi attack—a fact that had been public for a year.) So she helped make sure that it stayed front and center by acting as a conveyor belt for the GOP, dutifully presenting the party’s false narratives. All of this was done by Republicans in order to try to damage the Democratic nominee in 2016, which means Herridge’s misinformation was even more reckless. Herridge also volunteered her duties to the GOP during the campaign to spread misinformation about the Clinton emails and the Clinton Foundation.
That year, Herridge reported an “exclusive” on the known hacker Marcel Lehel Lazar (aka “Guccifer”), bragging about how he “easily — and repeatedly — breached former Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email server.” But as the FBI confirmed, the whole Fox News story was a lie.
As Media Matters noted:
According to documents released by the FBI in relation to its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, “FBI forensic analysis of the Clinton server during the timeframe Lazar claimed to have compromised the server did not identify evidence that Lazar hacked the server.” Additionally, the documents reveal that during questioning by the FBI, Lazar “admitted he lied to FOX News about hacking the Clinton server.”
CNN recently hired a dishonest Trump apologist and has had to deal with the unpleasant consequences when someone on the payroll misleads the public. My hunch is CBS News will soon have a similar problem with Herridge.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.