Napolitano "on break" by Fox over GCHQ claim?

Today’s media mystery for prime-time viewer sleuths is … where is Judge Andrew Napolitano? The last signs of the legal analyst on Fox News was his on-air allegation that Barack Obama may have used the British signals intelligence service GCHQ to spy on Donald Trump, a claim he later repeated in a column for Fox. After the story fell apart and his own network’s news anchors debunked it, Napolitano has not appeared on the network.

According to the LA Times, that’s no coincidence:

Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano is being kept off the air indefinitely amid the controversy over his unverified claims that British intelligence wiretapped Trump Tower at the behest of former President Obama.

Fox News did not respond to inquiries about Napolitano’s status Monday. Napolitano was conspicuously missing from the network’s coverage of the confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch — an event in which he typically would have played a significant role. He has not been on the air since Thursday.

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. Napolitano was not available for comment.

“Near future” may be a term of art, however. While the Associated Press’ source also hinted at a longer and indeterminate suspension, the Washington Post and Dow Newswire both report that the suspension may be short-lived. According to the latter, Napolitano might be back on air “as early as later this week,” according to Dow’s source.

There really isn’t much mystery to this, except why the White House and Donald Trump seized on his speculative allegation in the first place. Absent that, few would have noted Napolitano’s theory that provided a strange reverse-engineering for Trump’s wiretap claim. (Since the “wiretap” accusation was initially based on alleged FISA warrant applications, no one would have needed the GCHQ to accomplish it.) As AP noted at the time, not even Fox took it all that seriously, relegating Napolitano’s supposedly triple-sourced news to commentary rather than running it as a top story. And yet, both Trump and Sean Spicer ran with Napolitano’s commentary, necessitating an embarrassing climb-down within days for having insulted our most trusted ally on global security. Napolitano didn’t create the international incident, of course, but he was certainly a part of it, and no one can blame Fox for avoiding the reminder of that on air for a little while.

Under the circumstances, that will require more than just a new-anchor debunking or two. Fox will have to demonstrate some consequences for rash speculation reported as news to maintain its own credibility as a news outlet. Napolitano is a popular commentator on legal matters, however, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him return — perhaps with a more restricted set of topics for analysis — in the somewhat-near future. Perhaps he’ll make it back in time to weigh in on Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, but if not, there will likely be another Supreme Court nomination in the not-too-distant future for a return from the doghouse.

Update: I’ve edited the headline; a Fox source says “break” is more accurate than “suspension,” which suggests that this is a more fluid situation.

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