Trump vs. Fox News Channel
Even when it comes from his favorite propaganda network, Donald Trump doesn't like bad news.
As I noted yesterday, a new Fox News poll is showing President Trump losing to all of the top tier Democratic candidates in a head-to-head marchup. These results are not sitting well with the President, who is now lashing out at Fox News over the poll:
Before he boarded Air Force One to fly back to Washington on Sunday afternoon, President Donald Trump was asked about a recent Fox News poll that showed him in serious trouble vis a vis the 2020 election. Trump, as he is wont to do, went off at length on his once-favorite network.
The poll showed Trump’s approval rating in the low 40s and had him losing by six or more points to Democratic 2020 rivals Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Unsurprisingly, Trump didn’t like that. Here’s the key bit:
“Well, Fox has always given me — I’ll tell you, Fox is a lot different than it used to be, I can tell you that. … Fox has changed. And my worst polls have always been from Fox. There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it.”
“There’s something going on at Fox.”
Now, let’s be clear here: What Trump doesn’t like is that Fox News conducts a credible national poll – like every other network including CNN — that shows Trump’s approval rating dipping to 43%. (That’s broadly consistent with where other national polls have shown Trump’s job approval.)
In Trump’s mind, Fox’s polling should be favorable to him. As should all of its hosts and the tone of its coverage. He has no idea what an independent media organization should look like. He views the world through a very simple lens: Are you for Trump or against Trump? That’s it. There are only two sides — and for a long time Trump has assumed that Fox is in the “for Trump” camp, largely due to its fawning morning show and Sean Hannity’s open advocacy for Trump during primetime.
(As Trump said in New Jersey on Sunday: “I’m certainly happy — I think Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs, and I think Tucker Carlson and Laura and Jesse Watters, and Jeanine. We have a lot of great people.”)
But there remain elements of serious news within Fox — most notably in people like Chris Wallace, Shepard Smith and Bret Baier. And Fox’s political unit conducts a serious, nonpartisan poll because, well, duh, it’s a major media company.
Trump’s worldview doesn’t understand that nuances like this can exist. Again, you are either for him or against him. No gray area. Simply put: Trump wants Fox to be state-sponsored TV of the sort they have in authoritarian regimes like Russia and North Korea
So the Fox poll does not compute for Trump. And the way he handles things that don’t compute is to assume some dark conspiracy that is out to get him.
Trump’s use of “something” — vague but loaded with suspicion — is the President’s default way of pushing pet conspiracy theories to his followers. He never actually says there is a conspiracy within Fox to get him, but he knows that his backers pick up on any thread of “deep state” conspiracy and run with it.
See it’s not just that Fox News released a poll that showed Trump short of a perfect 100% approval rating. It’s also that Fox News has hosted town halls with Democratic 2020 candidates. And hired liberal commentators like Juan Williams and Donna Brazile.
Again, Trump from Sunday:“But Fox is different. There’s no question about it. And I think they’re making a big mistake, because Fox was treated very badly by the Democrats — very, very badly — having to do with the debates and other things.”
In Trump’s mind, that’s proof that “something” is going on at Fox.
This isn’t the first time that Trump has attacked Fox News in general or particular hosts in particular. While he continues to praise the propagandists such as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity who dominate the weeknight schedule on the channel, as well as the softball-throwing hosts on Fox & Friends who treat him with kid gloves and provide him with much of his morning Twitter material, he hasn’t hesitated to attack others on the network who are far less obsequious to him. This includes people such as Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry, FNC hosts like Bret Baier and Shephard Smith, both of whom tend to be much more “hard news” than their colleagues, and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, all of whom have not held back in being critical of the President and holding Administration officials who appear on their shows to account.
In his case, though, Trump isn’t just criticizing a single FNC host, he’s attacking the entire network because he doesn’t like the results of their most recent poll. This despite the fact that FNC and its pollster have been fairly highly ranked by Nate Silver and others in recent years. The reason for this, of course, is that they’re delivering bad news to him and if there’s one thing Donald Trump doesn’t like it is bad news. He seems to believe that the job of the media in general, and Fox News in particular, is to make him look good, so when this poll, which like the poll that is run by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, is conducted by a partnership involving pollsters from both sides of the political aisle, presents him with bad news he assumes that it means that there’s “something wrong” at Fox News. This says as much about what Trump expects from FNC as it does about Trump’s own narcissistic personality disorder.
The other thing at play here is that this is another sign that there has been at least some effort by the news side of Fox News Channel to stay separate from the opinion-based programming. This hasn’t been entirely successful, of course, but it does show that in the long run hitching themselves to the political star of Donald Trump may not be the best thing for business after all.