Fox News doubles down in defense of Patti LaBelle photo in Aretha Franklin tribute — but they're still wrong
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After erroneously featuring a photo of singer Patti LaBelle in a video tribute to Aretha Franklin, Fox News released a statement apologizing for the mistake. After further review of the photo and the network’s explanation, though, it is evident the statement also contains incorrect information, thereby failing to explain the error adequately.
On Thursday morning amidst reports that the Queen of Soul had died, Fox News broadcast a lengthy video memorial featuring interviews and performances with the singer. However, viewers quickly began calling out an error in a graphic around the 3-minute 30-second mark, which features a photograph of Patti LaBelle in the background of a larger, more prominent photo of Franklin, as well as her name, and her birth and death years.
In a statement to EW, Fox News executive Jessica Santostefano explained the error. “We sincerely apologize to Aretha Franklin’s family and friends. Our intention was to honor the icon using a secondary image of her performing with Patti LaBelle in the full screen graphic, but the image of Ms. Franklin was obscured in that process, which we deeply regret,” the statement read.
However, upon review of the photo in question of LaBelle, EW was unable to find any instance of her and Aretha Franklin performing or appearing together on stage at the “Women of Soul: In Performance at the White House” special hosted by President Obama in 2014, which aired on PBS.
When contacted for further clarification on the photo and performance, Fox News directed EW to the AP photo used in the tribute, saying the caption “notes Aretha Franklin performed at the same event that night.” Though the photo caption does indicate that Franklin, among several others, did perform that night, the legendary singer is not in the photo that Fox News specifically directed EW to — rather, the band and a backup singer are seen.
Likewise, LaBelle is spotted in the audience (seen in the photo below) while Franklin performed that evening, tearing up as she sang “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” That, however, appears to be the closest interaction captured by cameras that the two performers shared that night. She is also spotted in the audience when Franklin returned at the end of the special to perform “Amazing Grace.”
Fox News did not immediately reply to a subsequent email by EW pointing out that LaBelle and Franklin were neither on stage nor photographed together.
Though LaBelle released a statement on Twitter acknowledging Franklin’s passing, the two had a legendarily contentious relationship, which was well documented in interviews over the years, further complicating the possibility that evidence might exist of the two singers performing or appearing together in any capacity on the evening in question.
Though Fox News’ official statement offers up a potential explanation for the error, the available evidence contradicts said explanation and raises questions as to whether they misidentified LaBelle or another individual in the image as Franklin as many viewers originally thought.