- President Donald Trump has recently taken to alternately bashing and praising reporters and opinion hosts at his favorite media outlet, Fox News, in a highly public fashion.
- “@FoxNews doesn’t deliver for US anymore. It is so different than it used to be. Oh well, I’m President!” Trump tweeted on Thursday.
- Trump’s staunchest defenders are so far holding up under the pressure of the Ukraine scandal, including Fox prime time host Sean Hannity, who regularly attracts the largest audience of any cable TV host.
- And the split between Fox’s opinion and news sides has never been more stark. It burst on Friday with the stunning resignation of Fox’s chief news anchor Shep Smith.
- On Wednesday, just prior to Trump’s anti-Fox tirade, Attorney General William Barr met privately with Rupert Murdoch, the international media mogul and chairman of Fox News, The New York Times reported.
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President Donald Trump has recently escalated his attacks on his favorite media outlet — Fox News — in a highly public fashion.
“Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” he tweeted in late August.
The president’s vitriol has been spurred by some prominent voices at the network who’ve increasingly pushed back on Trump’s version of events amid the House impeachment inquiry and Trump’s controversial moves in Syria.
So the president is attempting to influence the largest and most powerful cable TV network by personally attacking his detractors at the network, which depends on a heavily pro-Trump viewership, while simultaneously lavishing his boosters with praise.
The strategy appears to be working.
Trump’s staunchest defenders — including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity — are so far holding up under the pressure of the Ukraine scandal. Hannity, who regularly attracts the largest audience of any cable TV host, has aggressively parroted the president’s talking points, providing crucial support to the administration and the GOP in perhaps the most chaotic period of Trump’s presidency thus far.
And after an explosive on-air back-and-forth between Fox’s chief news anchor Shep Smith and right-wing Fox host Tucker Carlson, Smith shocked the world on Friday by announcing his resignation from the network after 23 years.
“Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive,” Smith said during his final closing monologue.
‘Fox isn’t working for us anymore!’
Trump has lodged some of his most pointed attacks against Fox in recent weeks.
In late August, he lashed out at the network following an interview with Democratic National Committee spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa. He accused it of “heavily promoting the Democrats” and called reporters including Smith, who’s long been critical of Trump, “HOPELESS & CLUELESS!”
“The New @FoxNews is letting millions of GREAT people down! We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” he tweeted.
Late last month, Trump tweeted and re-shared over 20 critical messages about host Ed Henry following a heated Fox & Friends segment in which Henry asked pro-Trump commentator Mark Levin basic questions about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. And the president personally attacked legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, who called the president’s contacts with Ukraine “a crime.”
On Wednesday, the network released a new poll finding that a majority of American voters want Trump to be impeached and removed from office. The next morning, Trump slammed the network over the unfavorable poll, which aligns with other recent national surveys on impeachment.
“From the day I announced I was running for President, I have NEVER had a good @FoxNews Poll. Whoever their Pollster is, they suck,” Trump tweeted at 9 am on Thursday. “But @FoxNews is also much different than it used to be in the good old days.”
He went on, “@FoxNews doesn’t deliver for US anymore. It is so different than it used to be. Oh well, I’m President!”
Trump sent a separate tweet encouraging his supporters to watch the pro-Trump One America News Network instead.
The attacks serve as a warning: If Fox attempts to hold the president or his administration accountable, they’ll face Trump’s wrath, and perhaps lose viewers among his loyal base.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to share the Fox content he found favorable many dozens of times on Twitter, indicating that he’ll reward the network personalities who fall in line.
Fissures in right-wing media
The split between Fox’s opinion and news sides has never been more stark.
Chris Wallace, the veteran anchor of “Fox News Sunday,” made headlines last month when he argued that the “spinning that has been done by the president’s defenders” concerning the Ukraine scandal “is not surprising, but it is astonishing, and I think deeply misleading.”
On Tuesday, Hannity called the House impeachment probe an “insane, obsessive, compulsive, psychotic witch hunt” and the “latest attempted coup” staged by Democrats.
Wallace called the impeachment probe “the exact opposite of unconstitutional” on Friday.
—Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 27, 2019
The long-simmering rift between the network’s news and opinion hosts came to a head late last month.
During Smith’s September 24th show, legal analyst Andrew Napolitano said it was a “crime for the president to solicit aid for his campaign from a foreign government” in reference to Ukraine.
Hours later, former US Attorney Joseph diGenova called Napolitano a “fool” on Carlson’s show. The following day, Smith rebuked diGenova’s “unchallenged” comment as “repugnant.”
Carlson ended the back-and-forth by asserting that “unlike some dayside hosts, I’m not very partisan.”
—Oliver Willis (@owillis) September 25, 2019
But even Carlson has admitted — although not on air — that Trump’s request of Ukraine wasn’t “a good idea.”
“Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden,” Carlson and Neil Patel, both co-founders of The Daily Caller, wrote on Oct. 3. “Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.”
Carlson has had a hard time breaking that news to his audience, though. Just hours after writing that there’s “no way to spin” Trump’s Ukraine request, Carlson called the “Ukraine scandal” “manufactured” on his nightly Fox show.
There’s a pervasive sense that Fox’s deeply pro-Trump morning and prime time hosts have enormous power in determining how Trump’s base feels about the president.
“If it wasn’t [for] your show, Sean, they would destroy him absolutely,” Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera told Hannity earlier this month. “You are the difference between Donald J. Trump and Richard Nixon.”
From cold to hot
The night before Trump’s anti-Fox tirade, Attorney General William Barr met privately with Rupert Murdoch, the international media mogul and chairman of Fox News, The New York Times reported.
It’s unclear what Barr and Murdoch discussed at the latter’s New York home, but Trump and his deputies, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, have long had a close personal relationship with Murdoch.
The next night, Trump quickly disproved any theory that he may be attempting to distance himself from Fox as a way to refute claims that the network has its thumb on the scale for him, or “state TV.”
He embraced and heavily promoted Fox during his Thursday night rally in Minneapolis, praising a dozen hosts by name.
“Fox & Friends, they treat us great,” Trump said. “What a great group. Ainsley and Steve and, by the way, Brian’s gotten a lot better, right? Brian was a 7 and he’s getting close to 10 territory. And Steve has been so great and Ainsley’s just incredible.”
Trump continued to single out his favorite hosts to big cheers.
“And how good does Jesse Watters do?” Trump said to cheers. “And the legendary Sean Hannity … Sean’s got the number one show. And Laura Ingraham’s knocking them out of the park.”
Trump went on, calling out Fox hosts Greg Gutfeld and Jeanine Pirro, “How about Greg? Greg used to hate me, now he’s good! … Oh, we can’t forget Judge Jeanine. I would be in such trouble if I forget Judge Jeanine!”
Hannity, who has made numerous public appearances with Trump and in support of him, took to Twitter on Friday to wish his former sparring partner well. “I’ve always said there is nobody better at breaking news than Shep Smith,” he tweeted. “He has always done great things and I know he will continue to do so. Looking forward to seeing Shep crush it in whatever he does next.”