Fox News apologizes for implying Eagles players knelt during the anthem

The ongoing war of words between the White House and the Philadelphia Eagles over the Super Bowl champions’ decision to boycott a meeting with Donald Trump caused some collateral damage on Tuesday at Fox News. During a report Monday night about the administration canceling its invitation to the team, the network broadcast a video of two Eagles players kneeling on the turf, implying that this was footage of them “taking a knee” in protest during the playing of the national anthem.

The only problem, as a growing horde of Twitter users and media analysts pointed out late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, was that none of the Philadelphia Eagles players ever knelt during the national anthem. The video clip Fox used was of two players kneeling in prayer before a game. As the crescendo of criticism continued to build, one of the players depicted took to Twitter to slam the network. “Praying before games with my teammates, well before the anthem, is being used for your propaganda?! I feel like you guys should have to be better than this,” wrote tight end Zach Ertz.

Partway through the day on Tuesday, a Fox network executive issued an apology for the video clip. Christopher Wallace, executive producer of the program that featured the video, said in a statement: “During our report about President Trump canceling the Philadelphia Eagles trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, we showed unrelated footage of players kneeling in prayer. To clarify, no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem throughout regular or post-season last year. We apologize for the error.”

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The Fox apology took some media watchers by surprise, since the network has broadcast stories involving far more serious allegations that were later shown to be inaccurate, but hasn’t issued any apologies for those. For example, Fox News aired multiple reports about a conspiracy theory involving the death of former Democratic Party staffer Seth Rich, but didn’t apologize even after the victim’s family complained that they were being harassed by online trolls who believed the reports.

Here’s more on the network’s backpedaling and the Eagles–White House brouhaha:

  • Play-by-play: CNN’s Tom Kludt has the story on how the Fox News report and the apology came about, as well as some additional bonus material about a back-and-forth between another football player (former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith) and noted conservative commentator and Fox News regular Charlie Kirk, who complained about the team disrespecting the anthem.
  • Apology not accepted: Chris Long, defensive end for the Eagles, didn’t think the apology was enough. In a tweet, Long said: “Fox News used the faith of Christian men dishonestly to push an agenda. That wasn’t an ‘error,’ but intentional and strategic. They’ve deleted the segment + apologized on twitter, but many viewers don’t have twitter. An on air apology to all Christians would be the classy move.”
  • Friendly fire: A report at The Hill noted that at least some of the criticism of Fox’s video clip came from prominent conservatives and in some cases regular Fox contributors like Brittany Hughes, who said: “This is a deceptive photo montage showing Eagles players praying before games, not kneeling for the anthem. Truth matters.” Prominent Trump supporter Jack Posobiec also criticized the video.
  • More kneeling: After canceling the invitation to the Eagles, the White House went ahead with a celebration that included the playing of the national anthem and music from the United States Marine Band, which Trump promoted in a tweet that read “No escaping to locker rooms.” According to a CNBC report, at least two people at the event knelt during the playing of the anthem and criticized Trump.

 

Other notable stories:

  • A new report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia analyzed more than 7,000 recommendations made by Apple News, the computer company’s media portal, and found what it called a “strong tendency” to favor a small group of large players, such as The New York Times, while paying less attention to regionally focused news outlets.
  • Gerard Baker is stepping down as editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal and will be replaced by Matt Murray, the paper’s current executive editor. Baker will become editor at large and will write a column for the Journal, as well as hosting conferences, and will also host a news and interview show on the Fox Business Network. The paper has also reportedly asked some editors to reapply for their jobs.
  • HuffPost wrote about how one of its reporters, Luke O’Brien, was attacked by trolls on Twitter after he revealed the identity of the woman behind a prominent conservative Twitter account, @AmyMek. The story says O’Brien received dozens of threats on Twitter as well as by phone and email, and that the names, addresses, and phone numbers of several of his family members were posted online. HuffPost Editor in Chief Lydia Polgreen also said she was “doxed” or had personal information posted.
  • According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, a deal that Tronc Inc.’s largest shareholder and former chairman Michael Ferro had struck to sell his stake in the newspaper company to McCormick Media has fallen through after the buyer was unable to secure financing. The acquisition group was formed by Sargent McCormick, a relative of the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, which is owned by Tronc.
  • Gizmodo reports that the Federal Communications Commission deliberately spread false information about an alleged cyber-attack it suffered last spring during the open comment period on proposed net neutrality legislation. The site says the FCC misled several news organizations by feeding their journalists fabricated details about the alleged attack, while trying to convince them not to challenge the official story.
  • The publisher of The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto sent a note to staff saying the paper has a new policy on harassment and trolls: Phillip Crawley said the Globe will now block and even cancel the subscriptions of readers who harass its journalists either on the paper’s website or through any other means, including email, social media, telephone, or letter.

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Mathew Ingram is CJR's chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in The Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as Reuters and Bloomberg.