If you blinked, you probably missed it.
Fox News boasted this week that it had obtained roughly 10,000 messages sent between August 2015 and December 2016 by two anti-Trump FBI officials previously involved in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
This could have gone a long way to disquieting concerns that the brewing text scandal hinges entirely on out-of-context excerpts taken from private conversations spanning several months.
But it seems Fox News has obtained no such number of messages between FBI Russian counterintelligence expert Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page. Rather, Fox obtained the same 375 texts that were made available to Congress and the press prior to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's Wednesday testimony before Congress.
For some reason, however, certain Fox personalities kept reporting this week that the cable news network had acquired roughly 10,000 messages.
Fox’s Shannon Bream, for example, claimed Tuesday that they had indeed obtained “10,000 texts.”
"It's a very big story,” she said. "There is a lot. When you have 10,000 to read, it takes a little time."
Her reporting was accompanied by a chyron that read, “FOX NEWS HAS OBTAINED 10,000 TEXTS."
Fox’s Kristin Fisher said separately, "Fox News has just obtained those 10,000 text messages … These are the anti-Trump text messages … 10,000 is a big number. We're still going through them.”
That particular segment ran at least four times overnight, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter.
"Fox & Friends First" repeated the faulty 10,000 claim the next day at approximately 5:00 am.
It wasn’t until two hours later that “Fox and Friends” host Steve Doocy got the number right when he said, “Fox News yesterday obtained 375 of them.”
As of this writing, Fox News does not appear to have issued any sort of formal correction. Bream, for her part, eventually tweeted a "clarification."
It’d be one thing if the misstep embarrassed only Fox. But it went beyond that. That 10,000 figure made its way into Wednesday’s congressional hearing.
"How is it possible that Fox News apparently has 10,000 text messages?" Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., asked Rosenstein.
The deputy attorney general responded simply, “I wouldn't assume that's true just because it was in the news, congressman. I'm not aware of that."
As we’ve written elsewhere, it’s important to remember we’re seeing only excerpts of conversations between Strzok and Page, which span several months. Before making any sort of final determination, we should wait to read the full content and context of their correspondences. That said, it’s also important to remember the texts were deemed damaging enough as to prompt Mueller to remove Strzok from the investigation.
This is all a big headache for the FBI, and the texts raise legitimate questions about whether the Russia investigation is being carried out in good faith. In short, this has all the makings of a major news story. So let’s just report what we have, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves with fantastic claims.