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.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Media, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    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.

    Are we so far down the rabbit hole already that the enormity of this — the casual assumption by a sitting President that he ought to be able to expect an entire network to conduct its business only in ways that benefit him personally — is just another “yeah, Trump, whatever” moment?

    Can we at least get some acknowledgement from the mainstream media that this essentially outs Fox News as a paid infomercial? Probably not…

    15
  2. Kathy says:

    A news network that tries to inform the public.

    The horror.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Old man is angry that they interrupted his tv. Don’t they know that his show was on?

  4. Kylopod says:

    Fox has interests in inviting these candidates because it helps bolster their claim to be a legitimate news network, which makes them more effective as propaganda. While Fox has abandoned much of its “fair and balanced” shtick over the years, it still maintains at least a fig leaf of the notion. That was Elizabeth Warren’s reason for refusing the invitation; she felt it would be simply lending the network credibility it doesn’t deserve.

    I’m a bit torn on this. I was happy with Bernie’s appearance mainly because I thought he did an excellent job–better than the hosts expected, it seemed. I had a somewhat more muted reaction to Mayor Pete’s appearance. I thought he was impressive, and I would have been fine if it had been on any other network. But I felt he didn’t do enough to expose and demolish Fox’s right-wing talking points the way Bernie did. Sure, he didn’t cut corners about calling Fox a propaganda network and mentioning some of its toxic rhetoric, but I would have liked to see him get a little more in the weeds about these issues. He seemed to end up talking more about his biography and qualifications than his positions (and even then, I would have liked to hear more about his views on being a progressive Christian, which is definitely the sort of thing that just might break through to some in the Fox audience). That may not have been his fault, as the questions Chris Wallace was giving him just weren’t geared in that direction–which I suspect was intentional. But I have a sense that the overall effect was simply to legitimize the network.

    Trump doesn’t understand any of that, because he lacks any understanding of the way propaganda employs the trappings of legitimacy; had he been a Soviet official he’d have been upset that defendants at the state kangaroo trials were given lawyers.

  5. Kathy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    One can also ridicule Dennison’s rank idiocy. Take the complaint Fox “News” is featuring more Democrats than Republicans. Well, gee, not many Republicans are running for the Democratic nomination, are they?

    But surely Dennison will be relieved once Bill weld has a town hall type event at Fox, yes? He wants them to feature Republicans, doesn’t he?

    But in the first place, this is a four or eight year deal, nothing more. After he’s done in the White House, no one will keep licking his ass. And for a news network, it makes sense not to fully alienate everyone who isn’t El Cheeto.

  6. Teve says:

    @Kylopod:

    Trump doesn’t understand any of that, because he lacks any understanding of the way propaganda employs the trappings of legitimacy; had he been a Soviet official he’d have been upset that defendants at the state kangaroo trials were given lawyers.

    Good point.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Jealousy is soooo ugly…

  8. inhumans99 says:

    Folks, I am going to with Ocam’s Razor here and say it is all about the ratings as to why Fox wants to embrace this potential crop of Presidential Candidates. They look at the ratings after the Bernie and Pete B Town Halls and I am sure after the Ratings Gods spoke to Roger and said they are pleased, therefore he should be a happy (heck, a giddy) camper at the prospect of more people tuning in to Fox News Channel.

    I listened to Trevor Noah’s funny bit after the Pete B Town Hall and the clip he showed of the rally in PA had an extreme low energy feel to it. The participants looked beat down by life and well, even the White House’s own internal polling shows that yup, states like PA are slipping out of his (and by extension the GOPs) grasp. He is losing these states because he has done less than nothing for them to improve their lot in life and even made things worse with the tariffs.

    Laura I’s rant about insulting Pete B by calling him the Pope as Trevor Noah points out shows she is out of touch because the Pope is someone you want to be compared too, but yeah, hers and Tucker’s lashing out just shows they know they are no longer the shiny new toy everyone wants to pay attention too and it really highlights the dangers of folks like Fox & Friends, Laura I, and Tucker C putting all their eggs into the kiss President Trump’s basket.

    I would say that even the Democratic candidates who called Fox satan’s toe jam would be embraced by Roger as he will let their harsh words roll of his back (he has a thick skin, running a multi-media empire). I bet he will even make sure that at least one of the moderator’s is not already pre-disposed to trash the candidate with gotcha questions.

    Just to reiterate, it is all about the ratings and relevance (remaining relevant). Put on the up and coming Democratic Presidential Candidates that get standing ovations (a gay Democratic Presidential candidate getting a standing ovation on Fox…can you say wow, that is just so awesome) or just spend all your media time letting the President yell at clouds (you have to love the old man yells at clouds meme from The Simpsons).

  9. dazedandconfused says:
  10. just nutha says:

    @inhumans99: Just one nit to pick. It’s Suzanne Scott who is pleased about the ratings for the town hall broadcasts, not Roger Ailes. He was fired for sexual harassment sometime last year.

    Otherwise, good analysis.

  11. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @just nutha: @inhumans99:

    And, also, he’s dead.

  12. StressNStrain says:

    @just nutha: And also he died in 2017.

  13. inhumans99 says:

    Doh!, Just Nutha, Neil, I should have remembered that he passed.

    I am prone to hyperbole but I think that Fox positively engaging with Democrats could become an existential crisis for the modern Republican Party (in fact, to double down on this I think I may be understating how bad this could be for the GOP). President Trump is just now starting to come to the realization that Fox news is not part of the Trump Empire but rather their own company, and they live or die based on ratings.

    I do not think this is a fluke, where Fox is simply going to move on to business as usual and go back to just teeing up 100 more Hannity/Trump interviews now that they have had a few Democratic candidates on their channel, rather with the 200+ candidates (again, hat tip to Trevor Noah for noting that it seems like 200+ have announced their intentions to become the next President of the U.S.) announcing they want to be the next President I think that even the most obscure candidate will have just enough of a first time curiosity factor to draw in some higher than average eyeballs to watch the Fox Town Hall events they are part of (although I can see some of the lesser known names being clustered into multi-candidate Town Halls).

    Fox will love this, and so should anyone who wants to get this country back on track. We always complain that the Right is a master of being able to say hey, look at me…I have kooky things to say about icky socialist liberals, shine your cameras on me and hand me the mic while saner voices wish the Right did not suck up all of the news cycle oxygen in the room.
    With so many candidates running if most of them embraced Fox we could start to have some influence on what gets reported on in the day to day news cycle. After all, that is a lot (and I mean a lot) of potential events/news cycles that would put the focus on the direction Democrats want to take the country.

    I pretty much know that Trump (certainly his team) personally reached out to Fox’s current CEO over the past 24 hours to wonder why they are embracing Democrats and while I wish I was a fly on the wall to know what they said to him I can only dream that they were blunt with him and said he is not the ratings draw he used to be (i.e., his schtick is showing its age).

    Okay, wow…I am a chatty little critter, time to stop typing and focus on getting a job.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Some of you may have noticed that I’m not overly shy about ‘mentioning’ when I’m right, so here’s an admission of error. I thought we should stay off Fox and I was wrong.