Fox News's Napolitano controversy shows why reporters should claim their sources

Like almost every old fashioned newspaper, major cable news networks have a news side and an opinion side.

But periodically the opinion side provides information to an audience that may run counter or even come as a surprise to the news side of the house, as happened with Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano last week.

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"Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command," he said during a March 14 appearance on "Fox and Friends."  Napolitano added, "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."
 

Napolitano offered that then-President Obama used a British intelligence and security organization called GCHQ, which has access to the U.S. NSA database.
 
"There's no American fingerprints on this," he said. "What happened to the guy who ordered this? Resigned three days after Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump visits Virginia golf club Dem rep: Kushner ‘lied’, should be investigated Meet Trump's new communications director MORE was inaugurated."
 
The problem with Napolitano's report: "Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News..." 

Here's what Napolitano should have said: 

"Three intelligence sources have informed me." 

By doing so, that removed the news division — which reported nothing of the kind until that point — from being brought into the equation. 

The story received more visibility when White House press secretary Sean Spicer quoted Napolitano's remarks during a daily press briefing in an attempt to defend the president's charge that Obama had ordered a wiretapping of Trump Tower last year. 

“Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, ‘Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,’” Spicer noted during a daily press briefing last week.

"'He didn’t use the [National Security Agency], he didn’t use the CIA ... he used GCHQ.'”
 
This prompted Fox News anchor Shepard Smith to clarify to viewers that the network's news division wasn't involved here last Thursday. 
 
"Fox News cannot confirm Judge [Andrew] Napolitano's commentary," Smith said. "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."

GCHQ also staunchly rejected Napolitano's claim that it helped surveil Trump on behalf of the Obama administration in 2016.
 
With the story blowing up, even the president was asked about it, where he deferred back to " a very talented lawyer on Fox" in terms of who was responsible for it. 

"That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox [News]. And so you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox."
 
As the Los Angeles Times noted on Monday, Napolitano has not been seen on the network since last week. And with the confirmation hearing of Trump Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch rightly receiving heavy coverage on the network given the potential balance of power on the highest court in the land, the network not featuring commentary from its senior judicial analyst is telling. 
 
The L.A. Times reports that "people familiar with the situation who could speak only on the condition of anonymity said Napolitano is not expected to be on Fox News Channel any time in the near future." Two sources familiar with the matter tells me the same. 
 
The former New Jersey Superior Court Judge joined Fox News almost 20 years ago and is exceptionally well-liked by those in the organization. 
 
But a big mistake was made and feathers understandably ruffled in the news division. "Special Report" anchor Bret Baier summed up the situation thusly on Friday: 
 
“We love the judge, we love him here at Fox, but the Fox News division was never able to back up those claims and was never reported on this show.”
 
This is a much different media world than one we lived in even a decade ago, all thanks to YouTube, social media and the proliferation of media reporting on media ensuring that comments that used to be said and forgotten quickly now have legs strong enough to get all the way up to the White House. 
 
Moving forward, all cable news networks would be wise to inform all opinion makers/pundits/commentators of a new rule without exceptions: 
 
If reporting an exclusive independent of anyone else: They're your sources. It's your research, your reporting. You own it. 
 
And at a time when trust in media is at an all-time low while media scrutiny is at an all-time high, getting it right is more crucial than ever.
 
Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.