Fox News isn’t apologizing for using a doctored photo of the judge who signed the search warrant on the FBI search of former president Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, FL residence.
Brian Kilmeade, who filled in as host for Thursday’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” ended the program with a doctored photo of U.S. magistrate Bruce Reinhart appearing to be sitting on a plane with convicted sex trafficker Ghislane Maxwell.
The meme, pulled from Twitter, showed the widow of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein giving Reinhart a foot massage.
Kilmeade appeared hesitant after the image showed up on the air at the end of his commentary. “So a picture of Bruce Reinhart. This is the judge in charge of the… warrant. We’ll see if he’ll release it next. He likes Oreos and whiskey,” he said.
Kilmeade then handed off to Fox News host Sean Hannity, who pointed out that the photo was not real.
But the on-air correction was tentative. “I think that’s actually a picture of Jeffrey Epstein with somebody putting [Reinhart’s] head on there,” Hannity said.
While Fox News said the image was presented as a joke, the stunningly insensitive gaffe comes at a time when the conservative network faces two major defamation suits for airing false statements regarding fraud in the 2020 presidential election, promoted by attorneys for Trump.
The segment drew scorn on social media all day Friday.
Kilmeade tweeted Friday that the picture was doctored and its presentation was meant to be humorous.
“Last night while subbing for Tucker Carlson, we showed you an image of Judge Bruce Reinhart w/Ghislane Maxwell that was sourced on screen to a meme pulled from Twitter and wasn’t real,” the “Fox & Friends” co-host wrote. “This depiction never took place & we wanted to make clear that we’re showing a meme in jest.”
But Kilmeade did not issue an apology and a Fox News representative said the matter will not be addressed on Friday’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which will have former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) as a substitute host.
The use of the inflammatory meme follows reports that Reinhart has received death threats over his action to order the search of Mar-A-Lago, where FBI agents retrieved documents from the residence. The bureau’s investigation is related to allegations Trump removed classified documents from the White House when he left office.
The threats resulted in the removal of Reinhart’s biography and contact information from the website of the U.S. District of Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Fox News has led the way in questioning Reinhart’s political contributions and has run unflattering photos of the judge. The network has also presented commentators and Trump’s Republican allies suggesting that the FBI planted evidence to incriminate Trump.