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Opinion

It’s Time for Fox News to Let Judge Napolitano Go

If Fox News was interested in maintaining [creating] any credibility whatsoever, it should be playing “There Goes The Judge,” as Andrew Napolitano exits, stage left. “Judge Nap” (or as he prefers to be called, “The Judge”), is Fox’s senior judicial analyst. He appears on various programs daily, enlightening rapt viewers with his erudite-yet-down-to-earth take on all things legal, and sharing everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories to “alternative” takes on Abraham Lincoln’s role in ending slavery.

This week, though, the New Jersey Superior Court Judge-turned-media-hack went too far. On Tuesday, Napolitano, in a Fox & Friends appearance, said that Britain’s top spy agency had wiretapped Donald Trump on behalf of President Barack Obama during last year’s presidential campaign. The information, according to Napolitano, came from “three unnamed sources.”

Yesterday, The New York Times named one of those “sources,” which turned out to be none other than discredited former CIA analyst Larry C. Johnson. Napolitano had apparently been taken in by Johnson’s British-spy conspiracy theory published on RT, the Russian state-sponsored news network.

Johnson’s March 5 comments laid out the international plot against Donald Trump as follows:

“My understanding, though, is Obama did give the green light when he was briefed on information that had come from British GHCQ to US intelligence officials, that he gave a green light to go and to start distributing and using that in an improper way. This has to be done very methodically, because I think there well could be criminal charges brought against former members of the Obama administration for what they have done. What they’re doing would fall under the definition of sedition…”

Napolitano took Johnson’s accusations and ran with them. Two days later, Sean Spicer referenced Napolitano’s claims of British wiretapping during an official press conference. Spicer, while in one of his signature awkward skirmishes with reporters, defended the credibility of Trump’s wiretapping allegations with, among other things, statements by Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano.

Spicer said:

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence finding agency… Putting the published accounts and common-sense together, this leads to a lot.”

And it did lead to “a lot.” For starters, the GCHQ (the British equivalent to the NSA), was not pleased. In a rare public statement, GCHQ issued the following statement:

“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May echoed the rebuke at a news briefing on Friday: “We have received assurances from the White House that these allegations would not be repeated.”

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, who has emerged of late as one of the few Fox figures willing to call out folks like Sean Spicer and Kelly Anne Conway for their nonsensical public statements, began his show yesterday with this statement:

“Judge Andrew Napolitano commented on the morning show Fox and Friends that he has sources who say British intelligence that was involved in surveillance at Trump Tower. Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way, full stop.”

Smith, while certainly laudable for putting a clear end to the network’s support for Napolitano’s statements, knows who signs his paychecks. Smith’s characterization of Napolitano’s accusations as “commentary” was surely strategic, even if it wasn’t exactly accurate.

It’s all well and good media figures to voice their opinions on topics of national importance, but a public pulpit carries the responsibility to act in basic good faith. Whether Napolitano was purposely intending to mislead the public about the credibility of the wiretapping allegations doesn’t matter. As the senior judicial analyst on a major news network (or, frankly, as a junior commentator on even a minor one), his job is to present facts only when they have been vetted, and present opinions with clear context for their subjectivity. It’s unprofessional, unethical, and potentially illegal for a person to make false public accusations against anyone; when those accusations make their way to a White House presser and spark an international diplomatic incident with America’s strongest ally, it’s far worse. There are plenty of Russian media platforms that would readily welcome The Judge as a contributor. Fox can probably find someone to replace him for half the price and double the integrity.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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