“We have an important correction to make,” Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo said at the conclusion of her show Wednesday. “It appears we have been punked.”
Bartiromo believed she was interviewing Dennis Organ, the president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, the self-proclaimed world’s largest pork producer. In fact, she had been interviewing Matt Johnson, press coordinator for animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere. For six minutes.
The embarrassment is hardly the first time Bartiromo has made headlines for head-scratching behavior on her show. Wednesday’s incident follows multiple segments on Bartiromo’s show in recent weeks amplifying conspiracy theories about the election without any pushback.
The repeated mistakes and false information by Bartiromo suggest a lack of editorial standards and basic fact checking. A quick internet search for Smithfield’s CEO points to the company’s official leadership site, including a photograph of Organ – who looks nothing like Johnson (Organ is a balding redhead; Johnson, well, isn’t.)
Responding to a request for comment, a Fox News spokeswoman pointed to Bartiromo’s on-air correction, where she promised more vigilance.
“Fox Business aired a segment that was a complete hoax,” said Keira Lombardo, Smithfield Foods’ chief administrative officer, in a statement. “A simple Google search for a photo of our CEO would have prevented this from happening. This allowed false information to be aired, and Fox has aired an apology for this complete lapse.”
A wacky pretend interview
Wednesday’s interview started innocently enough. Bartiromo asked her guest about a Covid-19 outbreak in a Smithfield Foods South Dakota plant and the company’s plans for vaccine distribution. Johnson (posing as Organ) answered like a CEO would, with corporatespeak and platitudes about the company’s “dedicated and resilient” staff, “courageous” workers and a commitment to providing “extensive personal protective equipment” to employees. Nothing to see here. Yet.
Two minutes into the interview, though, things took a turn.
“As the new CEO and president of Smithfield, I personally promise that we’re going to do better, and the first change under my leadership is transparency and, at times, brutal honesty.”
Johnson went on to say that the food industry could contribute to the next pandemic, arguing farms are “petri dishes” for infectious diseases. Smirking, pausing, “umming” and “you knowing” throughout the rambling interview, Johnson certainly did plenty to tip off Bartiromo and her staff that he wasn’t who he claimed to be.
At the end of her show, Bartiromo issued a correction.
“We want to apologize to Dennis Organ, Smithfield Foods and our audience for making this mistake,” she said. “We will, of course, be more vigilant.”
A history of misinformation
On November 29, Bartiromo gave President Donald Trump his first TV interview since the election, and the conversation was riddled with lies and conspiracy theories that went unchecked. Bartiromo opened the interview saying, “the facts are on your side.” After the president falsely said election fraud had taken place, Bartiromo said, “this is disgusting and we cannot allow America’s election to be corrupted.”
Last week, Bartiromo said “an intel source” is “telling me that President Trump did in fact win the election,” although Fox called the election for Biden. Election officials, the US Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have said there was no widespread election fraud.
She also frequently amplified conspiracy theories and false information prevalent on Fox News about supposed voting machine irregularities – including that software was used to manipulate the election and that there was a direct connection between the companies that make voting machines in America and liberal philanthropic billionaire George Soros. Fox programs hosted by Bartiromo, as well as hosts Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs, later ran a news package debunking those claims after voting technology company Smartmatic sent Fox News a legal threat that accused the network of participating in a “disinformation campaign” against it.