Trump Not Pleased With Fox News Reaching Out To Democratic Candidates
President Trump isn't pleased that a news network that has generally been his own personal propaganda network is reaching out to Democrats.
On Sunday, Fox News hosted another one of its Presidential candidate town halls, this one featuring South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who at one point spoke out against some of the hosts at the news channel even while appearing on it. This clearly didn’t please President Trump or his acolytes at Fox & Friends
The night began with a campaign-style biographical video and ended with a standing ovation. The candidate called President Trump’s behavior “grotesque” and lamented the “media noise machine on the right wing.” He attacked Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham by name.
Viewers of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s town hall event on Sunday could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled onto an hour of prime-time MSNBC.
Nope. This was Fox News.
The network that liberals love to hate wants to be a required pit stop for Democrats running in the 2020 presidential primary. And despite a snub last week from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who denounced the channel as a “hate-for-profit racket,” Fox News is finding some success.
Mr. Buttigieg’s hourlong appearance spawned headlines, solid ratings, and kudos from liberals pleased to see the South Bend, Ind., mayor calling out Fox News pundits on their own network.
The reaction was chillier among some of the network’s core conservative viewers — including one miffed resident of the White House. “Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete,” President Trump wrote on Twitter before the town hall event began. “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems.”
At a rally in Pennsylvania on Monday night, the president kept up his criticism. “What’s going on with Fox, by the way? What’s going on there?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd, which responded with boos. “They’re putting more Democrats on than Republicans. Something strange is going on at Fox, folks.”
He added, “Someone’s going to have to explain the whole Fox deal to me.”
As the 2020 campaign starts in earnest, this is the tightrope that Fox News has chosen to walk. Barred by Democratic leadership from hosting a primary debate — the party chairman, Tom Perez, called its coverage biased — the network is intent on proving that its news anchors can conduct fair interviews with Democratic candidates, even if it irks loyal viewers.
“It’s clear their audience is split on whether it was a good idea to offer Buttigieg airtime,” said Eric Bolling, a former Fox News star who now hosts “America This Week” for the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Fox News has stayed uncharacteristically quiet about the reception to its Democratic town hall events. The network refrained from hitting back at Ms. Warren’s attack last week, and it declined to comment on Monday about Mr. Trump’s taunts.
But the Buttigieg appearance did not sit well with some Trump cheerleaders at the network. On Monday’s “Fox & Friends,” the host Brian Kilmeade scolded Mr. Buttigieg for criticizing his fellow commentators Mr. Carlson and Ms. Ingraham.
“Don’t hop on our channel and continue to put down the other hosts on the channel,” Mr. Kilmeade said. “If you feel that negative about it, don’t come. For him to go out there and take shots on our prime-time lineup, without going on our prime-time lineup, shows to me absolutely no courage.”
Those comments hinted at a larger context: continuing tensions between
Fox News’s reporting ranks and its star pro-Trump commentators.
Intramural squabbles at Fox News are not new, and the network has long insisted that its news and opinion sides operate separately. But the full-throated embrace of Mr. Trump by pundits like Sean Hannity, who has parroted the president’s “fake news” rhetoric, has roiled some Fox News reporters.
Earlier this month, Ms. Ingraham criticized Chris Wallace, the veteran news anchor and host of “Fox News Sunday,” for saying that the Department of Justice may have misled the public about the contents of the Mueller report. Later that day, Mr. Wallace called out “some opinion people who appear on this network who may be pushing a political agenda.”
As Philip Bump notes, the reaction to Buttigieg’s appearance, and Fox’s apparent effort to reach out to Democratic candidates for President for similar town hall appearances reveals that the President views the network as his personal propaganda network:
Trump was seemingly irritated that the network was airing a town hall event with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 — and, therefore, potentially an opponent of Trump’s reelection bid.
“Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems,” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday evening. “They got dumped from the Democrats[‘] boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people who got them there.”
This is a remarkable comment generally, much less from the president of the United States. It’s an explicit expression of his expectation that Fox News will at least play down coverage of Democratic issues and candidates, if not shut them out entirely.
Trump recognizes the symbiosis that the network offers to his political career. A third of the words he’d said in sit-down interviews as of earlier this month went to people from Fox News or the Fox Business Network. Fans of the network have been consistently more likely to support
Trump’s view of what’s happening in Washington, including about the report released by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Fox viewers were much more likely than viewers of CNN or MSNBC to say that they had a very good understanding of the report — and also were much more likely to say that Trump didn’t try to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.
It’s obvious why Trump would be wary of Fox News creating any daylight for Democratic candidates or ideas. But he should be somewhat reassured by how quickly the network’s stars rallied to isolate the remarks made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after his appearance at a Fox News town hall event. After that aired, the network quickly transitioned into an interview with Trump’s daughter-in-law about Trump’s tax returns. Host Sean Hannity later described the event as an opportunity to “hear every Communist idea we possibly can.”
Buttigieg mentioned Fox News’s prime-time lineup in his event on Sunday.
“Even though some of those hosts are not there in good faith, I think a lot of people tune into this network who do it in good faith,” he said.
Contrast that assessment of Fox News viewers with Trump’s: Republicans are “the people who got them there.”
That’s not incorrect, really; it’s certainly the case that Fox News became a juggernaut because it appeals directly to Republican and conservative viewers. As we noted in March, the viewership is perhaps less densely Republican than you might think and, according to a Post Fact Checker poll conducted last year, those identifying Fox News as one of their two most trusted news sources are less densely Republican than those identifying CNN are Democratic.
The Trump-Fox symbiosis is so robust that his administration has been home to any number of Fox News alums, and the network and its affiliated entities have welcomed numerous administration alumni. Groman’s transition is simply a less direct reflection of that relationship between the network and the broader political world.
What’s important, though, is that the president expects that symbiosis to continue through 2020. He expects Fox News to box out anti-Trump voices in the name of staying true to a group he views as their shared base. It’s not even masked, any more than his criticism of mainstream outlets that offer critical coverage of him is masked when he rails against them as “fake news,” as he did Monday morning.
“The Mainstream Media has never been as corrupt and deranged as it is today. FAKE NEWS is actually the biggest story of all and is the true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” he wrote in an apparent response to a New York Times article about his relationship with Deutsche Bank. “That’s why they refuse to cover the REAL Russia Hoax” — unlike Fox News, where viewers came away with the impression that the president had been cleared of wrongdoing.
On some level, of course, it’s not surprising that the President would view Fox News Channel as his own personal propaganda network and be skeptical of any sign that the network might even be interested in presenting alternate points of view (other than the token Democrats that sometimes appear on Fox shows.) As Bump notes, virtually from the moment he got into the campaign until now, Fox has been a sympathetic outlet for Trump and his agenda. Even before he was a candidate for President, Trump was a frequent guest on the network’s prime time lineup and he also appeared regularly on Fox & Friends to comment on political matters.
Since he has become President, the network, especially its prime time lineup and the mind-numbed trio that hosts Fox & Friends during the week and on the weekend have been little more than Trump sycophants who praise the President on a daily basis. These hosts have also helped Trump push his agenda as well as propaganda and conspiracy theories that seem more well-placed on a show hosted by Alex Jones than they do on a news network owned by a major publicly-traded corporation, They have also provided the President with the inspiration for many of his late night and early morning Twitter rants to the point where one can often draw a direct line between something that was covered on FNC and the subject matter of a Trump tweet.
Given the fact that Fox News Channel is immensely popular among the same group of people that make up Trump’s base, this is all very helpful to the President. The fact that they are largely being exposed to programming that is supportive of the Administration means that there is something of a symbiotic relationship between the Trump Administration and Fox News that works to both of their advantages. At least on the opinion side, Fox News is little more than a propaganda network for Trump and his administration. The fact that the network is reaching out to Democrats is probably causing the President to worry that he could be losing his most important ally and propagandist.